The Unfinished Compendium

Indians set 60-man pool at 55

Yesterday was the deadline for teams to set their pool of players for the 2020 season. The 60-man pool is supposed to represent the entire pool of players in the organization a club could conceivably use during this season, though many clubs (including the Indians) are adding lower-level prospects that they want to work with this summer. During a normal season, teams will have a 40-man roster, but they’ll substitute in many players that weren’t originally included as the need arises.

Who makes up the 60-man pool? Anyone who is on the 40-man roster is automatically on the 60-man pool, and the remainder will be made up of players signed to minor-league contracts, most of whom would be playing at the AAA or AA levels had there been a minor-league season. Once the MLB season begins, those on the Tribe’s 60-man pool who don’t make the MLB roster (30 players to begin the season, then gradually reduced to 26) or are on a 3-man taxi squad (used only on road trips) will work out in Lake County (Cleveland’s “Alternate Training Site”) until needed by the big league club. During the summer training period, two sites will be used, with the Progressive Field approximating major-league camp and Classic Park in Lake County approximating minor-league camp.

Keep in mind if a player is on the 60-man pool but not on the 40-man roster, the Indians would have to remove a player from their 40-man (via Designation for Assignment) to add that player, just like normal. Teams can also add and subtract players to the 60-man pool whether via trades or signings. Teams can only trade players who are on their 60-man pool.

With all that said, here’s what the projected roster looks like right now. For the purposes of this exercise, I assumed a 26-man major-league roster, even though there will be 4 additional players on the roster to begin the season. For those that aren’t projected to make the 26-man roster, I’ve indicated where they have been assigned to work out (either Progressive Field in Cleveland or Classic Field in Lake County).

View roster spreadsheet

The Indians can add 5 more players, whether that be from other minor-leaguers in the organization, free agents, or via trade. I do not think the Indians are required to have a full 60-man pool, so they could start the season with fewer than 60 players if they wanted to.

Sources:

Tribe announces player pool: 5 spots open (indians.com)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

Here’s the Indians’ 60-man roster for 2020 (and how they might use it) – (The Athletic – subscription required)

On the benefits of reading fiction

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe or take for granted; nor find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

Francis Bacon, The Essays

One of the upsides to having to spend several months largely confined to my home and without the normal distractions (read: baseball) is that I’ve been able to devote some attention to pastimes that for many years (decades?) have been largely pushed aside, only dabbled in when I’ve had nothing else to do.

When I was a kid, reading books was one of my main ways of entertainment. I didn’t have the Internet or cable TV to fill up my free time, so most summer vacations were primarily spent playing baseball or reading. We would head to the library at least every couple of weeks, participating in the summer reading program, and once school was back in session I would use the school library and the Bookmobile (essentially a bus with books from the local library in it) to get my fill of books.

But as time went on and technology entered our house less and less time was spent reading. First came cable TV when I was about 10 years old, then a couple years later dial-up Internet, and then when I went away to college, high-speed Internet. I still would haunt the shelves of whatever library I was near, but more and more time was spent in the digital world. And after a while I practically stopped reading fiction, or anything that wasn’t posted on a website.

That was fine at first, given that in the early days of the Internet most content was written in the style of print articles at the time, but as people adapted to the medium so did the style of article as well as the mechanism for reading them. Because users could and often did quickly click away or scroll past an article once they read the headline, it became more and more important to grab your attention. It was no longer profitable to cover an issue in a nuanced way, leaving it up to the reader to make his or her mind up. Instead, the average article not only told me who was right or wrong in stark moral terms, but told you how to feel about it. I was outsourcing not only my thinking, but also my emotions.

So when I first committed to reading fiction again, it was difficult to not fall back into “Internet reading mode” in which I was just skimming the words and not trying to understanding the content. I didn’t even know I was doing this until I sat down with a book; I had to force myself into reading each word aloud to follow the story, and then it slowly sunk in how screwed up my reading habits had become. I kept looking for the phrase or sentence that would tell me how to feel about a topic or a character, looking for that hit of emotion. But no, the novels I read didn’t reward in you that way. There would be heroes and villains, but the heroes would have their flaws and the villains their rationales. I had to supply the conclusions, the reasons why the decisions made were good or bad. I had to determine which characters I liked or loathed, and the reasons why. And it wasn’t as if I was reading some stuffy literary fiction that concentrated purely on character, but bog standard science fiction and fantasy. One of the novels was about a group of settlers on an alien planet taking on what essentially were intelligent giant gila monsters. Another one was about the travels of a young sorcerer who carries a chaos demon (and the memories of its 12 previous hosts) inside him. These were plot-centered novels in strange and interesting settings, but all of them, even those I ultimately didn’t enjoy, had far more subtle characterization than the typical online article.

As the weeks passed, I began to get used to this different mindset, and suddenly the online articles that used to appeal to me seemed simplistic, and in some cases, fraudulent and pandering. It was like drinking a pop after months of abstention. Before, I limited my social media exposure because I knew it was bad for me; now I limit it because I just don’t like it.

Reading fiction is an active form of entertainment, meaning that your mind needs to construct a picture of the action, the characters, and setting, things that spark creativity in ways that more passive forms of entertainment (TV, movies, etc) won’t do because entire picture is already there for you to see.

Reading fiction has also been a way to get my mind into a different place, at least for a couple of hours a day. Escapism seems to have become a dirty word in some circles, but I maintain it is a helpful way to reset your mental state; it isn’t healthy to constantly immerse yourself in whatever conflict is raging online or in the real world. Besides, by inserting yourself into another world, seeing it through a fictional character’s eyes, you can gain a new perspective on fundamental questions. Perhaps seeing how a fictional character deals with a similar situation in a different time and place may at least help you to understand another point of view better.

From a practical standpoint, reading for pleasure is one of the cheaper (and accessible) sources of entertainment out there if you know where to look. Sure, if you only buy new hardcovers at the bookstore you’ll exhaust your budget quickly, but there are many ways to get many hours’ worth of great reading material for much less than the equivalent of other forms of media. The obvious example would be your local library (meatspace or cyberspace versions), but there are many other ways to get your fix, such as used book sales, buying e-books instead of paper books, utilizing public domain sites like Project Gutenberg, or buying bundles of books. I’ll go into more detail on this in a separate post.

I’d like to end with a callback to the epigraph at the top. Many problems, whether they be of the moment or inherent in the human condition, have no easy answers. Fiction, while ostensibly taking place in far-off places and populated by beings that may have little relation to us, can still address these fundamental questions in subtle yet profound ways. By taking the time and space to carefully and honestly examine a character or situation, a book can not only entertain you, but (done right) can gently reveal new avenues of thought. To weigh and consider, not to contradict or confute.

Overview of 2020 MLB rule changes

Here’s an overview of the rule changes added specifically to deal with the COVID pandemic and the shortened 2020 season. In addition to these, there are a number of rules designed to limit physical contact (such as no fighting, no getting close to umpires, etc), but I’m only listing changes affecting gameplay, schedules, and rosters.

In-game changes

Universal DH. This means all games, including those between National League teams, will have the DH. This is supposed to be temporary, with the National League reverting back to no DH in 2021.

Extra Innings – runner on second to start each inning. The runner would be the player that made the last out in the previous inning.

Position players will be allowed to pitch. A rule that was supposed to virtually eliminate this was supposed to take effect this year, but will not be implemented until next year. This is to protect pitchers who may yet be fully stretched out for the season.

If a game is suspended due to rain before it is official (before the top of the 5th is completed), when it is made up it will resume from where it was suspended rather than started from scratch.

Schedule

The MLB season will be 60 games, starting July 23-24. The end of the season remains September 27, and the postseason format will not change (for now).

The Tribe’s schedule will consist of 40 games against AL Central teams (10 each), 20 against NL Central teams (6 of which will be against the rival Cincinnati Reds). The official schedule should be released in the next couple of days.

The games are scheduled to take place in the normal home stadiums without fans, though that is subject to change based on local conditions. For example, a team whose home city/state has issued restrictions may have to play on the road or at a neutral site.

Rosters/Transactions

60-man roster. Teams have to submit a roster of 60 eligible players by Sunday, June 28. This will include the current 40-man roster plus 20 minor-leaguers. This is cover for injuries or players who contract the virus. Any player not on the MLB roster will train at a nearby minor-league facility (likely Lake County), as there will be no minor-league season. Teams can only trade players that are on their 60-man roster, so that limits the types of deals that can be made during the season.

Major-league roster will be 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, then the normal 26 for the remainder of the season. This is to compensate for a short Spring Summer Training. There will no limit to the number of pitchers allowed on the MLB roster.

The trade deadline is now August 31, and the postseason roster deadline is now September 15.

Injured List is 10 days for all players (was 15 days for pitchers). The 60-day Injured List is now 45 days. There will also be a special COVID List for players that either test positive or have a confirmed exposure; teams will not be able to activate a player who tests positive until he tests negative twice.

Sources:

Rosenthal: Blockbuster trades are less likely; Schedule complaints; scramble for jobs (The Athletic – subscription)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

FAQ: All you need to know about the 2020 season (MLB.com)

With no agreement, the 2020 MLB season is announced

What a waste of time. Instead of the 2020 MLB season beginning in early July, with almost no competing sports, it is now set to begin on July 23 or 24, when it will be directly competing with several other sports.

The more aggravating aspect of this delay is that it did nothing to smooth over the underlying labor dispute. When it became apparent that no fans would be allowed into stadiums when the season did begin, the owners and players were at odds over how long the season would be because the two sides had earlier agreed that the players would be paid on a per-game basis. The owners now wanted as short a season as possible, as they would be losing money for every game they played, while the players would be losing money for every game they didn’t play.

So, you might be thinking, the owners actually won this battle by delaying the start of the season. No, because the players are undoubtedly going to file a grievance to get back the money they would have made had the season started on time. The grievance will work its way through the laborious legal process in parallel to games being played, and won’t be resolved for months, even years. The potential of losing the grievance (and having to pay hundreds of millions as a result) is going to hang over the owners in the meantime. That’s why one of their key demands in a settlement was the players agreeing not to file a grievance.

The players, meanwhile, are only going to get 60 game checks instead of 82, and although they could possibly get more if they win their grievance, aren’t going to get some of the benefits they would have got had they signed an agreement, such as a higher share of playoff revenue (plus an expanded playoff), and a universal DH through 2021 (which would effectively make it permanent).

What makes this non-agreement even worse is that this was a chance to repair some hurt feelings, and perhaps make a future work stoppage less likely. Because the entire if going to lose billions of dollars, this coming offseason is going to be brutal to any free agent, as there are likely going to be a record number of non-tenders flooding the market. That will make the relationship between players and owners even worse, and then of course the CBA expires after the end of 2021 season. If a strike or lockout affects the 2022 season, then even more financial and reputational damage will be done to the sport.

Meanwhile, fans will have been without baseball for four months by the time the regular season begins, and with nothing gained; no labor peace and no financial stability. I fully expect many teams, including the Indians, to dump players after this season as possible in an attempt to cut costs. And if there are as many teams doing that as I think there will be, they’ll be trading for pennies on the dollar.But before that horrible scenario plays out, the Indians are going to have as good a shot of any team of winning the World Series. I say that because their revised 60-game schedule will be played solely among AL and NL Central teams, meaning that the Indians will have one of the easiest schedules in baseball.:

MLB has submitted a 60-game regular-season schedule for review by the Players Association. In order to mitigate travel, the schedule would include 10 games for each team against its four divisional opponents, along with 20 games against the opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (for example, the AL East will play the NL East, and so on).

There’s all kinds of other changes because of the shortened season, which I’ll go over next time.

Book Review: The Lesser Devil

The Lesser Devil (2020) – by Christopher Ruocchio

Genre: Science FictionSpace Opera

Series: Sun Eater (1.5)

205 Pages

$3.99 (e-book), $20.99 (audio)

Amazon (e-book/audio)Kobo (audio)

Minor spoilers ahead

Setting

It is the far future, many thousands of years after the present day. Mankind has colonized a sizable chunk of the Milky Way, with the largest polity being the Sollan Empire, consisting of hundreds of millions of settled planets. Faster than light travel is not possible (interstellar travelers utilize cryonic chambers for the decades-long trips), so while the empire is ultimately ruled by a single emperor, the individual rulers (all appointed by the emperor) of the various planets have de facto control over their demesnes. The aristocracy, called palatines, are genetically enhanced, and can live for many centuries. The state religion of the empire, called the Holy Terran Chantry, is also its judicial arm, with a main point of emphasis curbing forbidden types of technology, especially anything related to artificial intelligence.

One of those planets is Delos. It began as a strategic commercial hub, only to gain further importance when vast uranium deposits were discovered on the planet and throughout the system. It is ruled by Duchess Elmira Kephalos, and her son-in-law Lord Alistair Marlowe of Meidua rules a small (but extremely wealthy, as it is home to said uranium deposits) prefecture on the planet. Alistair is the father of Hadrian, the main protagonist of the series, as well as Crispin and later (after Hadrian leaves) Sabine.

Characters

(from the beginning chapters….there are other major characters introduced later on)

With Hadrian’s departure, Crispin now is the heir apparent to Meidua. Even though it has been many decades since his brother’s disappearance, Crispin is still struggling to fill Hadrian’s shoes, not to mention still haunted by how he acted the night before his brother fled.

Sabine, who was conceived after Hadrian’s departure (children of palatines are essentially grown in vats) is now an adult, and is getting ready to depart with her brother on a trip to see their dying grandmother, ruler of Delos.

Kyra, who in Empire of Silence was a young woman, is now nearing retirement age (she is fated as a plebian to a normal lifespan) but still serves the Marlowe family as a trusted shuttle pilot.

Story/Review

Before he leaves to see his grandmother, Crispin’s father hands him a highmatter sword, a rare and deadly weapon, anticipating palace intrigue. After all, depriving Lord Marlowe of his heirs could mean his aunt Amalia, who is in line to inherit Delos, could also inherit the lucrative prefecture.

When their shuttle is shot down over the mountain wilderness, killing most of the guards assigned to protect them, Crispin is forced into a leadership role as the survivors of the crash flee what he believes is an assassination attempt directed by his aunt.

In Empire of Silence, Crispin is seen through Hadrian’s eyes, and the picture wasn’t exactly sympathetic. In The Lesser Devil, we see a different Crispin, who still has some of the flaws noted by his brother, but a side of him that Hadrian wasn’t able to perceive. This passage, from chapter 1, gives a different view of their relationship:

Crispin stood anxiously in the doorway, eyes taking in the two packed trunks stacked at the end of the bed, remembering - as he always did when it came to leave Devil's Rest and visit their mother's family - that last fateful trip with his older brother. He had gone to visit Hadrian that last night at Haspida. He had sneered, mocked Hadrian's friend - the old scholiast tutor Gibson. He wanted something, anything from his brother besides his aloof coolness. Any reaction. A kind word, a smile. He'd settled for anger instead, had been glad of any emotion from distant Hadrian, such that a piece of him leaped for joy when the older boy screamed and threw himself at Crispin. 

Crispin would never make it as a diplomat; an unfiltered outburst nearly costs him precious allies at a critical point if not for cooler heads around him patching things up. Even in his 50s he’s still a haughty, spoiled palatine that still has some growing up to do, if that makes any sense. But he also has a steadfast sense of honor and noblesse oblige which propels him to action, and thankfully he’s much better at that than cultivating relationships.

As always, Ruocchio’s world-building continues to astonish me. One of the things that drew me to this series and has kept me reading it is that although it takes place thousands of years in the future, chock full of weird creatures and situations, it balances the new with much that is familiar from past and present, much that is still recognizably of our times. That still applies here, especially in the interesting way an ancient religion is introduced as having survived millennia of drastic social and political change; these “adorators” are placed under restrictions but yet tolerated by the Chantry on Delos.

The action sequences are excellent as well, with that highmatter sword getting plenty of use (along with sundry other weapons and vehicles).

The main series is written in the first person (in Hadrian’s POV), so I went into The Lesser Devil not knowing how the change of viewpoint would affect the flow of the story. I need not have worried, as the prose is still as fluid in third person as it was in first.

Book/Series Information

This is a side story in the Sun Eater series, which begins with Empire of Silence (review). The Lesser Devil takes place after the first section of Empire of Silence, so if you wanted to read the series in strict internal chronological order, you could read the first 21 chapters of Empire, switch over to The Lesser Devil, then return to Empire, starting at Chapter 22. Or you easily could just jump in here as an accessible entry point into the series if you’re still unsure about committing to one of the mainline novels.

(all prices as of 31 May 2020)

#TitleYearPubReview?HCPBEBKAU
1Empire of Silence2018DAWYes$40$6$9$36
1.5The Lesser Devil2020indyYesn/an/a$4$21
2Howling Dark2019DAWNo$20n/a$9$21
3Demon in White 2020 DAWNo$27n/a$15n/a

There are also many short stories that take place in this universe:

TitleYearIn AnthologyPubTPBPBEBK
“Not Made for Us”2018Star DestroyersBaen$16$8$7
“The Parliament of Owls”2018Space PioneersBaenn/a$8$7
“The Demons of Arae”2019Parallel Worldsindy$15n/a$5
“Kill the King”2019The Dogs of Godindy$22n/a$5
“Victim of Changes”2020OverruledBaen$16n/a$7

For More

Fantastic FictionInternet Speculative Fiction Database

Just figure it out, players and owners

(For transparency: where my interests lie.)

Seven weeks after what should have been the beginning of the 2020 MLB season, there is now a reasonably detailed road map for to play a shortened version of it.

The plan right now is to have shortened spring training starting in June, leading up to the season starting in early July. The games would be played without fans (at least to begin with), and could be played either in the home stadiums, or if that can’t work because of local restrictions, then in neutral locations. The season is tentatively set at 82 games, though that too could change. Teams would only be playing teams in their division and the teams in the other league that correspond geographically. For instance, the Indians would play their AL Central rivals and the teams in the NL Central. At the end of the season would be an expanded playoffs, with the goal of ending at the normal time (late October/early November).

All of this is dependent on a couple things. First, that effective precautions can be put in place to minimize risk to the players, coaches, and other people who are necessary to put on the games. And second, that an agreement be reached between the players and the owners to split a smaller revenue pie that will be made even smaller if teams can’t sell tickets.

The first stipulation should not be contentious. Neither the owners nor the players want an outbreak to happen within a clubhouse, and judging by the details (The Athletic, $) that have reached the public, these concerns seem to have been taken seriously. Testing would be done often, using “the least invasive and fastest methods commercially available without adversely impacting public health needs,” temperatures would be taken twice daily, and family members would also have access to testing, etc. An almost comical set of guidelines would also preclude close contact off the field, including no fist-bumping, no showers, and no spitting (just to name a few). Thankfully, there are very few instances during play in which two or more people are close to each other (catcher/hitter/umpire, first baseman/runner) so little if anything will change to how the game itself is played. The only outstanding issue regarding player safety I see coming up is how at-risk players would be handled financially if they didn’t want to play, and who could be considered at-risk. But I don’t think that would sink an agreement.

The second stipulation is more intractable. The owners and players came to an agreement in late March, shortly after Spring Training was cut short, in which the players would be paid based on the number of games played in 2020, and if there were no games played at all, they would be paid a total of $170M. In return, all players on the major-league roster would receive a full year of service time regardless of what would happen. In other words, if the season is 82 games, all players would be paid roughly half of their original salary, but if they were a year away from free agency, they would be eligible for it at the end of the season.

However, because in most of the country bans on mass gatherings remain and are likely to continue for a while, that means teams will be without a significant portion of their revenue if games are played without fans. And so the owners have made another proposal to the players to pay them 50% of the total revenue made during the shortened season rather than 50% of their original contracts. This is a non-starter to the players, who view any attempt to base salaries on revenue as tantamount to a salary cap. MLBPA president Tony Clark said this back in April, when the issue was first brought up:

“Players recently reached an agreement with Major League Baseball that outlines economic terms for resumption of play, which included significant salary adjustments and a number of other compromises. That negotiation is over,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement Monday.

As Jeff Passan reports, there is a clause in the March 2020 agreement that can be interpreted as requiring a separate negotiation in case the games could not be played in front of fans or had to be played in neutral locations:

That said, on Page 1 of the agreement, the first point of the Resumption of Play section includes the words: "(T)he 2020 championship season shall not be commenced unless and until each of the following conditions is satisfied." One of those conditions ends with: "(T)he Office of the Commissioner and Players Association will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites."

However that interpretation is not shared by the MLBPA, who feels that financial negotiations were completed in March, and so you have this standoff. That we’re even getting the details of these arguments (including a detailed accounting of how much each club is projected to lose if games are played in empty stadiums) is an indication of how far apart the owners and players are on this point. Now the negotiations will be held both in conference rooms and in the public, and both sides are hoping to garner enough public support to improve their negotiating position.


Given all this, I think it is crucial to understand the current sports media environment. Various media outlets and commentators are going to ramp up the rhetoric even more than usual in this now public financial negotiation, because unlike in previous negotiations, in which the two sides were divvying up a consistently growing pie of revenue, this time they will be fighting over a smaller pie. Most outlets have picked a side in this ongoing conflict, and because of that their coverage is slanted in one way or another. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has of recent years become more transparent as the economics of the industry has changed. No longer do most media outlets even try to attract a broad readership because the paradigm demands they sell their product (via Internet advertising) to a core base who will only countenance reading articles that reinforces their worldviews AND to readers of the opposing base who read the articles only to rail against them (aka hate clicks). There has always been media organizations with ideological agendas, but now the current paradigm states is that it is more profitable to operate a site with one. I disagree with that, especially in the long term, but that is what the media corporations, who don’t tend to prioritize things like public trust and long-term viability when next month’s traffic report is just a week away, think will keep them afloat in an era where a single person with an Internet connection can theoretically have the same amount of influence as the largest organizations on the planet.

So expect lots of over-the-top rhetoric. Expect documents and quotes that normally wouldn’t see the light of day in a good faith negotiation to be freely distributed to friendly media sources (as already has been done). Expect copious emotional arguments that reference the ongoing pandemic to try to sway you to one side or the other. Expect more Twitter outrage than usual, if that’s even possible. My advice is to ignore all of it, go do something else, and only re-engage when there’s an agreement to re-start the season. That’s what I plan to do here, so expect nothing but non-baseball posts until an agreement happens, whether it’s tomorrow or next year.


Ultimately this is a conflict that should be solved in (virtual) meeting rooms and not in the public sphere, because the players and owners have the most to lose. If no season is played, they will have thrown away a massive opportunity with all the other team sports sidelined until at least the fall to dominate live sports, and more importantly regain mental real estate in the minds of current and potential customers (fans). Fans just lose something to do in their spare time, while the owners and players lose their livelihoods.

If you break the habits of fans that for generations have gotten used to turning the game on every night during the summer months, you’ll lose a significant portion of them when you do return. Baseball is just one of many entertainment options now, and something will fill that gap if it’s not available. Think of the lingering financial effects of the 1994 work stoppage, and consider that was well before most people had access to the Internet, never mind video streaming or other related entertainment industries that didn’t exist back then.

So my response to this PR offensive by the players and owners is this: stop leaking your arguments to the public, stop wasting time engineering your narratives, and start figuring out how to make a season happen safely.


Update (5-25-2020): Here’s one of my comments at LGT, which repeats much of the above, though a bit more to the point:

Agree completely. Now that these positions are staked out in the open, it only makes it harder to retreat from them.

It’s obvious that the parties are trying to get their negotiating arguments out into the public (via their media mouthpieces) in the hopes of getting some kind of leverage if one side or the other gains the public support. IMO this is a colossal mistake, as the vast majority of MLB fans have way more important issues to work through right now rather than to take sides in a labor dispute in an entertainment (read: non-essential) industry.
The good news, if there is any, is that the longer this floor show goes on, the more money is lost, so they have an incentive to settle quickly. Based on the proposed schedule, they need to have some kind of agreement by early June at the latest. For every week of delay after that, that’s another week of games lost, and the more you alienate the fans you are trying to court. Think about the fans who have for generations gotten into the habit of turning on the game every evening in the summer. Already MLB is going to have to re-aquire those fans because they will have cancelled half a season, but they have a great opportunity to do so because every other team sport is sidelined. MLB should be the first one back because of how the game itself is structured (it’s not a contact sport, unlike the NFL, and to a lesser degree, the NBA and NHL).

But if they screw this up, and MLB is the last team sport to return, after those more exposed to outbreaks, then whatever financial pickle they are in now gets monumentally worse. Think about the aftermath of the 94-95 work stoppage and the lingering effects from that, and that took place in a stable economy and without many competing entertainment options (almost nobody had high-speed Internet, never mind streaming services or video games on demand) that baseball fans have now. Don’t just assume that fans will just come back, especially not if everyone’s entertainment budget has been slashed because of the economic downturn, not to mention the sour taste you left in their mouths. Don’t assume that your TV partners won’t want their money back even as they try to remain solvent themselves. Don’t assume that your franchise values will always increase, or that you’ll even have a willing buyer. Don’t assume that your salaries are always going to increase because that’s how it’s always been. Because if you cancel the season and are the last to return, good luck ever getting back to where you were at the end of 2019 in the minds of the public, and that ultimately determines how much money you make.

In other words, owners and players, stop your PR campaigns and narrative constructing, and treat this like the industry crisis it is by shutting the fuck up and getting to the negotiating table.

Life goes on

While our domain has been in an uneasy holding pattern the past couple of months, the rest of nature continues on unperturbed.

This is the third nest in as many years that the local robins have built around my house, but the first that I’ve been able to see down into. They built their nest on the outer sill of my garage window; I’m around it every day, but the robins don’t seem to mind too much, only flying away if I get within about 10 feet of the window. The mother laid all four eggs (one a day) before starting to incubate them, something I didn’t know before. Normally it takes about 14 days for the babies to hatch, and then another 14 days for them to fledge (or leave the nest).

I grew up in the country, but only since moving to the city have I been able to view many of these creatures up close, especially the deer, who seem to have almost no fear of humans.

The grosbeaks, catbirds, and orioles just arrived from the south in the past couple days, a sign that the weather will be getting warmer soon.

Another sign is the azaleas blooming.

Despite the cold weather (it even snowed yesterday), the peas I planted earlier this month have sprouted. I’ve planted a small garden for the past several years, but this year, given the uncertainty with the global food supply, I thought I’d get an early start.

Book Review: O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin Series, Books 1-3

Aubrey/Maturin series, Books 1-3 – by Patrick O’Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction

Setting the Scene

It is 1800, with Europe convulsed in the Napoleonic Wars. On the Mediterranean island of Minorca, a ship-less British lieutenant and an impoverished doctor attend a concert, sitting next to each other by happenstance. The officer has the temerity to keep time to the string quartet a half-beat fast, which draws the ire of the doctor…

Review

Don’t do what I did when I first tried to get into this series decades ago and get frustrated trying to understand all the 18th/19th century sailing lingo thrown at you. For an example, try to parse this passage in chapter 2 (page 79) of Master and Commander, the first book in the series:

 "Hitch on the runners," said Jack. "No, farther out. Half way to the second quarter. Surge the hawser and lower away." The yard came down on deck and the carpenter hurried off for his tools. "Mr. Watt," said Jack to the bosun. "Just rig me the brace-pendants, will you?" The bosun opened his mouth, shut it again and bent slowly to his work: anywhere outside Bedlam brace-pendants were rigged after the horses, after the stirrups, after the yard-tackle pendants (or a thimble for the tackle-hook, if preferred): and none them, ever, until the stop-cleat, the narrow part for them all to rest upon, had worked on the sawn-off end and provided with a collar to prevent them from drawing in towards the middle"

There is no glossary at the end of the book, or much of any kind of info-dump to this point. There is only a drawing of a typical square-rigged ship with all the different sails identified. But upon my second reading, I realized that you aren’t required to understand the jargon in order to enjoy the series. In fact, it’s the total immersion within the world of the British navy and life during the Napoleonic Wars that is one of the draws of the Aubrey/Maturin series. Reading them is akin to walking through a time portal into that era with no preparation; you will at first struggle to comprehend the lingo, the culture, the motivations of the characters, but slowly you begin to tease out the rules the society is based upon, then later begin to know the characters, and by then it doesn’t really matter if you still don’t know the difference between a spritsail and a topgallant. O’Brian almost never will tell you anything directly, instead you either hear it spoken of in conversation, or have to imply it from the actions of the characters.

Normally this steep learning curve wouldn’t keep the reader engaged long enough to endure those growing pains, but O’Brian has provided two of the most compelling characters I’ve ever come across to keep you turning the pages. Jack Aubrey is a talented leader of men and a cunning strategist on board a ship, a man of action, yet fails at practically every endeavor he attempts on shore. Stephen Maturin, an Irish-Catalan physician, is a man fascinated with the natural world, a spy for the British government, and a man of introspection. These two could not possibly be more different, but as the series goes on, their friendship, though tested at times (including upon their first meeting), endures and if anything gets stronger.

O’Brian’s prose is another bright light to help you through your initial struggles. His words are of the time, but his style is certainly not. Unlike the authors of the early 19th century, O’Brian does not spend much time in setting the scene or spend hardly any time in authorial asides. He will flit from perspective to perspective at a whim, not caring too much if the reader doesn’t follow, at least right away. He will bring up subject matters the authors of that period would not touch with a 20-foot pole. His humor is subtle and dry and of course era-appropriate, so don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize much of it until your immersion training is almost complete.

Once you start to get a handle on O’Brian’s world, you will be irreparably hooked. That moment for me happened about half-way through the second book in the series (Post Captain) at which point I finished the last 250 pages or so in one sitting. I then waited impatiently for Book 3 (H.M.S Surprise) to arrive in the mail, then finished that 400-page book at a more leisurely pace (one week) only because I wanted to savor it. I am so far resisting the temptation to buy the next batch of volumes in e-book format, but I already have the first three in physical form and don’t want to mess that up (plus, the Aubrey-Maturin trade paperbacks, though expensive, are well-made).

What makes this series so great? I think the amalgamation of the sublime main characters, O’Brian’s almost poetic prose style, and his complete commitment to immersing the reader into the period gets you half an explanation. But ultimately it’s the plot that completes the package. After all, if there was nothing for Aubrey and Maturin to do, it would be a boring, though aesthetically pleasing, set of books that would be praised only in elite literary circles. Thankfully, O’Brian uses these brilliant foundations to support a cracking story. If you like naval action, you have it in abundance. If you like reading historical romance, you have plenty of that. If you like political intrigue, you have that in spades as well.

While the story is set during the Napoleonic Wars and the general historical events that occurred during this period, O’Brian does not limit himself to depicting naval battles that actually happened. However, it is clear that although much of the action that occurs in the books did not happen in real life, they could have happened because of his singular commitment to correct detail, and most of the characters, though they didn’t exist, feel as real to the reader as any who actually did. In his introduction to Master and Commander, O’Brian writes that “when I describe a fight I have log-books, official letters, contemporary accounts or the participants’ own memoirs to vouch for every exchange. Yet, on the other hand, I have not felt slavishly bound to precise chronological sequence.”

Prose Examples

Jack Aubrey addresses his men before an engagement in Post Captain:

"Shipmates," he said, loud and clear, smiling at them, "that fellow down there is only a privateer. I know him well. He has a long row of gun-ports, but there are only six- and eight-pounders behind 'em, and ours are twenty-fours, though he don't know it. Presently I shall edge down on him - he pepper us a while with his little guns, but it don't signify - and then, when we are so close we cannot miss, why, we shall give him such a broadside! A broadside with every gun low at his mizzen. Not a shot, now, until the drum beats, and then every ball low at his mizzen. Ply 'em quick, and waste not a shot."

(Chapter 9, page 330)

Stephen Maturin writes in his diary about an interaction with Aubrey in H.M.S. Surprise

"I must go down into the yard, said he: we are stepping the new capstan this evenings. Had there been powder-smoke in the room, a tangible enemy at hand, there would have been none of this hesitation, no long stare: he would have known his mind and he would have acted at once, with intelligent deliberation. But now he is at a stand. With that odious freedom I prattled on: in doing so I overcame my shame; but it was bitter cruel and sharp while it lasted....

(Chapter 7, page 222)

Book/Series Information

I’ve seen many say that the 20 books (and one fragment) in the Aubrey/Maturin series is one long book, therefore they should be read in order. Based on the first three books in the series, I think that is mostly correct. I think you can get away with starting with Post Captain and not miss much of the ongoing story (I think O’Brian originally intended Master and Commander to be a stand-alone novel, so all of the plot points were tied up neatly at the end), but for the remainder of the series I recommend reading them in published order.

(All books published by W.W. Norton)

  1. Master and Commander (1970)
  2. Post Captain (1972)
  3. H.M.S. Surprise (1973)
  4. The Mauritius Command (1977)
  5. Desolation Island (1979)
  6. The Fortune of War (1980)
  7. The Surgeon’s Mate (1980)
  8. The Ionian Mission (1982)
  9. Treason’s Harbor (1983)
  10. The Far Side of the World (1984)
  11. The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
  12. The Letter of Marque (1988)
  13. The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)
  14. The Nutmeg of Consolation (1990)
  15. The Truelove (1992)
  16. The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
  17. The Commodore (1994)
  18. The Yellow Admiral (1996)
  19. The Hundred Days (1998)
  20. Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
  21. 21 (fragment) (2004)

Prices (as of May 2020): $26.95 hardback, $15.95 trade paperback, $8 to $13 e-book, depending on the store or volume number (Amazon is the cheapest). If you’d like to try before you buy, your local library will undoubtedly have copies of at least the first few books in the series.

Other Works by the Author

Fantastic Fiction

Book Review: The Legacy of Heorot

The Legacy of Heorot (1987) – by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Heorot (1 of 4)

408 pages

Publisher store pageAmazonKobo

Setting the Scene

Consider the following assumptions…

  • In the near future, the National Geographic Society raised enough money to pay for a slower-than-light starship, sending several hundred of Earth’s brightest people to Avalon, an Earth-like planet in the Tau Ceti system.
  • Because of the long time it would take to get there, the settlers would be placed in state of deep freeze, a technology that wasn’t entirely worked out yet, with the result of killing a small percentage of the settlers and causing brain damage of varying severity to another significant portion.
  • Because of the expense and the distance, there would be only one ship headed to Tau Ceti, with no immediate re-supply, so whatever the settlers took with them would be the only supplies they’d have in their lifetimes.
  • Once there, parts of the starship would need to be used to construct a colony on the planet’s surface, so although the ship can still serve as a warehouse and temporary living quarters for a handful, it could not take them back to Earth or go anywhere else.

Given all this, what would happen to this colony if, one night, months after getting settled, one of their dogs go missing? And what if, soon after, some of their chickens are killed? And what if, the colonists discover that whatever is killing their livestock is more than capable of killing them?

Review

It’s apparent that the authors of this tale wanted to confine the people of the colony to the surface of the planet, and particularly the island they settled on. Otherwise the smart option would have been to either escape back up to orbit to buy themselves some time or even to leave the system altogether. However, the residents of Avalon have with them plenty of tools to combat this threat. They have helicopter-like vehicles called Skeeters, they have defensive and offensive weapons, and all the advanced technology they could cram on their starship.

Minor spoilers ahead….

Continue reading “Book Review: The Legacy of Heorot”