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New Dan Simmons Story

At his website, Dan Simmons posted an entry called April 2006 Message, a short story about current events. In it, a time traveler from the future comes back to warn about the impending Century War with Islam.

Even though I’m not a fan of politics in sf, I still found this to be a good read. There’s also a reference in it to Ken Grimwood’s awesome book Replay. Here’s an excerpt of the story:

The Time Traveler appeared suddenly in my study on New Year’s Eve, 2004. He was a stolid, grizzled man in a gray tunic and looked to be in his late-sixties or older. He also appeared to be the veteran of wars or of some terrible accident since he had livid scars on his face and neck and hands, some even visible in his scalp beneath a fuzz of gray hair cropped short in a military cut. One eye was covered by a black eyepatch. Before I could finish dialing 911 he announced in a husky voice that he was a Time Traveler come back to talk to me about the future.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

17 Comments on New Dan Simmons Story

  1. I find that dan simmons short story deeply disturbing. actually, I hesitate to call it a short story. more a thinly veiled polemic.

  2. Indeed, it is more editorial than short story. Unfortunately, I think his point is correct.

  3. Which of his points is correct?

    The point that all Muslims are fanatics plotting to take over the world, subjugate all of humanity, exterminate all Jews and Christians anywhere near the Holy Land and, for safe measure, kill our children and grandchildren?

    Or the point that we have to be “as ruthless as them” to stop them?

    Because I’ve heard similar points before numerous times, only about different groups of people. (I mean, have you heard? Mexico is invading us too! They wanna take Texas back!) And every time, it’s been nothing but paranoid claptrap, used to rationalize doing horrible things to others.

    Sorry. This is a fun site. I’ll not comment about this again, as I don’t think politics really belong here. Whoever wants can have the last word on the subject.

  4. Thanks for the “polemic” clarification, Dave. Although I saw it for what it was, I read it (since I tend to be apolitical) as an sf story and not as a polemic. So, to answer your “which is correct?” question, I might respectfully reply “who cares?”.

  5. Johnson // April 8, 2006 at 3:37 am //

    John wrote:

    Although I saw it for what it was, I read it (since I tend to be apolitical) as an sf story and not as a polemic. So, to answer your “which is correct?” question, I might respectfully reply “who cares?”.

    Are you sure you want to phrase things that glibbly, John? It matters a great deal if Dan is throwing his views into the world in this way and that he might be suggesting certain actions. Is Dan advocating a strategy of ‘first strike’? Is he trying to convince others that an iron hand is needed in the middle east?

    I agree, it is disturbing. I’m sure that’s what he wanted.

  6. No glibness intended here…I’m just saying that I approached the writing as if it were a science fiction piece and found it to be an enjoyable read. I read fiction for entertainment – not to be preached at. I generally have little interest in any political message put forth by any author further than whether that message noticeably impedes the entertainment value of the story. I therefore make no comment on someone’s political suggestions or leanings. And if I ever intended to, this would certainly not be the forum to do so.

  7. Dave, before 1775, most people thought Washington and Jefferson and Franklin and company were a small group of intellectuals who could never take a colony away from the mighty British empire. Before 1917 most people thought that the Bolsheviks were a minor radical group that could never control Russia. In the ’20s most people thought that the Nazis were a minor radical group that could never control Germany. Before 1994 or so, most people thought that the Taliban were a minor group of religious students who could never control Afghanistan, and would certainly never be a threat to the United States. Etc.

  8. So John, let me get this straight – you just ignore the political message and proclaim it ‘a good read?’

    That selectiveness is almost as disturbing as the piece itself. Dan has a message, pure and simple. If you’re seriously suggesting that everybody should just calm down because it was nothing more than a story, I humbly suggest you read it again because you missed something – like Dan’s whole point.

  9. I read Dan Simmon’s story (or, if you prefer, essay) with great interest and admiration. The astonishing part was not the story itself, but, rather, the reaction in his comments boxes on his website and elsewhere.

    More than half the commenters did not take the warning of the story seriously. They thought it was an April Fool’s Day prank.

    Imagine reading NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR in 1948, and having half your audience laugh and roll their eyes and say, “Well, life under totalitarian nazism or communism is not that bad. The show trials are on the level. There are no secret police, no gulags, no mass starvation. We can trust Walter Duranty. Obviously George Orwell is penning a send-up of those absurd conservatives, exaggerating their simplistic fears.”

    More sinister would have been the reaction of mumbling, “Well, whether or not there are actual death-camps in Russia is beside the point. Orwell is merely writing a good story, and I read it as such.” Such a man would have been a weak stick to lean on during that long seige we call the Cold War.

    Since the Dan Simmons story is about the inability of the intellectuals to recognize the duration and deadliness of the war we are in–indeed, to hear most comments, one would think they do not believe there is a war at all (Perhaps an earthquake knocked down the Twin Towers? Perhaps the SS Cole struck a rock?)–to see those same attitudes on display in the reactions to his peice quiets any skeptics who think the author is exaggerating.

    Dan Simmons wrote a wake-up call for those of you still taking a nap from history. One can not always hit the snooze bar and turn over for another forty winks.

  10. Dave, it has come to my attention that my comment to you may have come across as sarcastic. Apologies if you read it that way; that was not my intent. I am sincerely thankful that you pointed out that Simmons’ message is more political message than story. Not mentioning it in the original post was an oversight on my part, which was why I was glad you clarified it.

    To all, I saw that Simmons’ piece had several political messages and yes, I found it disturbing. I just choose not to make any political comments on it.

  11. quite all right, John. No offense was taken. I always try to take a comment in its most favorable light, knowing that tone is so often miscontrued on the Internet. Btw, apologies for almost starting a never-ending political discussion on your site.

    Love the site, btw. Even when you do something silly like give a PDK book half a star. 😉

  12. Tim Bartik // April 20, 2006 at 6:26 pm //

    In response to John C. Wright, the Simmons piece is counterproductive as a wake-up call because it is extremely politically naive about how to conduct a winning foreign policy and how to conduct a winning war.

    First, regardless of what you think about the inherent tendancies of Islam towards political fanaticism (opinions differ), it is obvious that in practice most Moslems are not political fanatics. It is foolish to frame the problem in such a way as to create a war of all Moslems vs. the West. This is precisely the war that Osama wants. We are much wiser to frame this as a war against violent terrorists pursuing a radical Islamic ideology.

    Second, “total ruthlessness” is hardly the optimal strategy to win a war. I don’t think the indisriminate use of torture has helped the U.S. in Iraq or in the overall war against terrorism. Obviously you sometimes in war have to do terrible things. You must be extremely selective and wise about when and where you do those things.

    In terms of some of the historical arguments used in the Simmons story, it would not have been wise (let’s leave aside morality for a second) for President Roosevelt to define WWII as a war against the Japanese or German people, or even Japanese or German culture. You need to identify the relevant enemy so that that enemy is only as large as it absolutely needs to be, and no larger. It would not have been wise for FDR to say that as a matter of policy, in the interest of ruthlessness, all German and Japanese POWs would be tortured to death. Leaving aside the morality of such a policy, there are political costs to both internal morale and external support that must be carefully weighed against the information that one supposedly gains from the totally “ruthless” policy.

    I think Simmons and John C. Wright are confusing what is emotionally satisfying, which is a total war against a clearly defined “enemy ideology” defined in broad terms, with what is politically wise for a foreign policy. A foreign policy must try to be firm but subtle.

    To use another historical analogy, in the Cold War, it might have been emotionally satisfying to say Soviet Russia needed to be opposed with total ruthlessness, including imprisoning anyone who we thought had anything in common with that enemy. People at the time did advocate “pre-emptive war”, arguing that there was no compatibility of Soviet ideas with Western ideas of freedom, which is certainly true. People did argue, especially during the McCarthy era, that Stalinist Russia and communist ideology was so terrible that anyone whose ideas seemed at all similar should be treated as an enemy of freedom. Luckily, wiser and cooler heads prevailed. We rejected the indisciminate labeling as enemies of anyone whose ideas had some link to socialism. And we adopted George Kennan’s very wise policy of containment, which in the long-run, proved extremely successful without causing WWIII.

    Barry Goldwater, in his famous acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention, said that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” But extremism is a vice if it is a less effective strategy for defending liberty. And moderation is a virtue if it is a more effective strategy for pursuing and achieving justice. Obviously, situations vary. But rhetoric about having to be ruthless against a too broadly defined enemy is an extreme and immoderate position that is foolish because it is rhetoric that leads to a losing strategy for the U.S. and the West.

  13. Mr. Bartik chides me that it is “obvious that in practice most Moslems are not political fanatics.” If he can point to where in my letter, or in the Dan Simmons story I was applauding, this quote appears, I would be grateful.

    “It is foolish to frame the problem in such a way as to create a war of all Moslems vs. the West.” The question here is one of cause and effect. If we ‘create’ the war by the act of identifying the enemy, well, then, by all means let us not name whom we are fighting. If on the other hand the enemy defines himself and commits lethal attacks against our home soil and are interests abroad, to refrain from naming him is counterproductive.

    We are currently in a war with an enemy whose motive and common characteristic is Islam. Not all Mohammedans participate in the war to the same degree; some are our allies. But it is misleading to refer to the enemy as ‘terrorists’ merely because this convinces the public that anyone not using terrorism as a tactic is not an enemy. For example, Saddam Hussein was the secular leader of an Islamic nation: his history, his stated goals, and his national interest set him firmly in the enemy camp. As a practical matter he was both the most dangerous, and because he had no allies, the most vulnerable, of the foe: to select him as first target was wise. But he was not the mastermind of 9/11, which to many people meant he should not be called a terrorist: and, since not a terrorist, not a legitimate target in the misnamed ‘war on terror.’ This folly could have been avoided by naming the enemy.

    “… it would not have been wise (let’s leave aside morality for a second) for President Roosevelt to define WWII as a war against the Japanese or German people, or even Japanese or German culture. … It would not have been wise for FDR to say that as a matter of policy, in the interest of ruthlessness, all German and Japanese POWs would be tortured to death.” The logic here is obscure to me. Were we not at war with Germany and Japan during World War Two? Did either I or Mr. Simmons recommend torturing the combatants captured during this war to death?

    What I am recommending is that the Western powers show a little backbone. The Spanish reaction to the Madrid bombing, and the Danish reaction to the Cartoon Riots, all show an exaggerated deference to a barbaric religion.

    Re-read this paragraph I wrote above. If you are shocked to hear Islam called ‘barbaric,’ if you think I am voicing an opinion too ugly and too hateful for polite company, then I humbly suggest you may be making the categorical error in philosophy the Dan Simmons tale addresses. The categorical error in this case is the enlightened axiom that all religions are sacred, and therefore none can be condemned, no matter what the facts might be of their history, goals, past or current behavior.

    Anyone who, no matter what the facts might be, will not regard the facts, or who rejects it as impolite (or even insane) to bring up facts, is making a categorical error.

    Islam should be welcomed into the civilized community of the world once the religion purges itself of its barbarism but not before (as Christianity, in the dark ages a barbaric religion, but after the treaty of Westphalia, no longer the source of deadly religious wars). To welcome it before it reforms itself, and to defer, in the name of religious liberty, to the sentiments of intolerant fanatics bent on destroying the West, is suicidal at best.

    Mr. Bartok is correct that we should encourage moderate Muslims to reject the excesses of the terror-masters, and we should promise any factions who rebel peace and good-fellowship. Every besieger promises the commoners that his only enemy is the aristocrat in the citadel: such a maneuver weakens enemy will to resist. However, this must be balanced against the danger of self-imposed blindness.

    As to the seriousness of the war, the barbarism of the enemy, and the frivolity of objections to it, allow me to quote one example from many: Here is an excerpt from a letter to the editor

    “My sister attends a small church in London Ontario. They have, for the last decade been sponsoring Christian refugees from the Sudan. One of the Sudanese women from her church lived in a village in southern Sudan with her husband and their five children.

    “Several years ago the Muslim militia flew into her village, rounded up all the men, loaded them on their troop plane, flew them over the village and forced them to jump from the plane in front of their wives and children. They all died.

    “The women prayed the soldiers would fly away. But it was not to be. They came back and, noticing her baby, they pulled him out of her arms and, in a Herodian display of evil cut off her breasts. She survived but had to suffer watching her child die a slow agonizing death with no sustenance. She now lives in London Ontario with her remaining children.

    “Every one of the dozens of refugees their church has sponsored has a similar story to tell. […] These Muslim are doing this to their own countrymen. […]

    Hermina Dykxhoorn


  14. Tim Bartik // April 24, 2006 at 4:23 pm //

    Mr. Wright refers to Islam as a “barbaric religion”.

    Two points:

    First, I do not think this is true. I think Islam, like most religions, is a complex mix of many elements, some of which are quite reprehensible, and others of which are praiseworthy. And as in all human affairs, the actual behavior of adherents to this ideology is even more diverse than the original doctrine.

    I hardly think there is space here to debate this issue adequately. We could go on all day trading alternative quotes from the Koran, Sufi masters, different Moslems of different eras, and I don’t think it would settle this issue. We could trade stories of atrocities committed by Moslems against other groups, and by other groups against Moslems, and that wouldn’t settle the issue either.

    By the way, I don’t think the same can necessarily be said of all faiths. For example, the core of Nazism and fascism is rotten in a sense that is not true of Islam. Perhaps Mr. Wright can explain why the “Five Pillars of Islam” are fundamentally barbaric in nature, as opposed to subsidiary doctines that have arisen in Islam. Obviously certain interpretations of Islamic law are reprehensible, but there are a wide variety of interpretations of Islamic law. I don’t know why we should regard the interpretations of certain fundamentalist groups of Islamic law as being “true”, any more than we would regard fundamentalist Christians as the only true Christians.

    Second, even if it were “true” in some sense that Islam was a “barbaric religion”, is there anyone who seriously thinks that Mr. Wright’s statement, and attitudes like it, are helpful in the attempt to encourage moderation among Moslems? In my opinion, Mr. Wright’s and Mr. Simmons’s extreme views are counterproductive. This is exactly the war that Osama bin Laden wants: a war by the West against Islam as a whole.

  15. We do agree on one point. Religions are complex, with both enlightened and benighted elements. Islam can perhaps be civilized, as Christianity was civilized by the time of the treaty of Westphalia. However, we sharply disagree as to the approach.

    You and yours seem to think (if I understand you) that merely ignoring history will convince the millions who follow the Prophet to rectify their way of life from start to finish, grant equality to women, apologize to the Jew, and put away the sword of Jihad.

    I and mine seem to think that, as from alcoholism, the first step to recovery from barbarism is admitting the problem exists.

    Islam does not become a civilized religion, and Islamic nations do not become safe neighbors, merely because we put the word “barbarian” in sneer quotes.

    Let me remind you what barbarism is: “… noticing her baby, they pulled him out of her arms and, in a Herodian display of evil cut off her breasts. She survived but had to suffer watching her child die a slow agonizing death with no sustenance.”

    Saddam wiped out 180000 Kurds at Goptata, Birjinni and Zewa; Danny Pearl’s head was sawed off with a knife on videotape. Need I go on?

    Let me remind you that the Islamic world did not condemn the terrorist attacks on 9/11: they danced in the streets and passed out candy to children. We might like to think Jihad and Islam are disconnected; but that is not what Islam thinks.

    At his moment in history, Islam, in one interpretation (by no means far from the mainstream), is the fountainhead of bloodshed, a grave threat to civilization. This is the truth of the matter; we might as well say so. We are at war. We are bound to offend somebody. An excessive deference to moderate Islam, or to internationalism, has hindered our war efforts, and placed us in a supine posture.

    I submit that wars are determined both by cultural and by material advantages.

    Of the cultural, philosophical and psychological, what we might call the spiritual advantages, the ear-biting and eye-gouging grit needed to see a fight through to the bitter end, simple manliness, the faith in the superiority of one’s own culture and way of life … well, let us say that this is our weak spot, isn’t it? Look again at the comments boxes on Dan Simmons’ website: the reaction to his warning was hatred and derision. We do not have the spiritual strength, the confidence, to recognize this war for what it is, or to fight it.

    Of the material advantages, the West is strong compared to our foe, immeasurably so; as strong as the British Redcoats facing the disorganized militia of the colonies; as strong as the Russian tank divisions facing unarmed civilians just before the Berlin Wall fell; as strong as Goliath of Gath.

  16. Not to stoke the embers of this dying flame war or anything, but Dan Simmons has posted his May/June Message

  17. I loved the story. Sci Fi is about “speculation” of “possible futures”. Is the eventual domination of Islam and Sharia law over freedom and democracy worthy of speculation? Well, there are many thousands of people in the world praying for (and acting towards)that particular outcome. To shout this story down as “polemic” simply because you disagree with its politics is quite sad.

    I would like to thank Dan Simmons for putting this disturbing picture of one possible outcome out there for people to mull over. Those who don’t like it have every right to pen their own story about Muslims living at peace with the rest of us in the future. (That genre is pure fantasy, by the way.)

    Just remember, when you talk about those moderate Christian- and Jew-respecting Muslims who–according to Tim’s math–make up the vast majority of the Islamic world: you should not judge Islam by the strange restrained form of it that is forced to exist in the West. The real Islam is seen in Islamic countries ruled by clerics, where there are no bounds on how “Islamic” they can live. Where is this gentle and enlightened moderation in Saudi Arabia? Tell me about your tolerant Muslims there, where it is illegal to carry a Bible, hold a Bible study in your home, or for people to convert from Islam to another faith of their personal choice. Tell me about the majority of moderate Muslims in the lands where they cloak their women from head to toe and, for good measure, pluck out their clitorises. Yep, I think Dan Simmons is way off base for writing a story about a future in which people are forced to fight against this religion. You know, the one that calls its adherents to “slay the unbeliever.” He was way out there on this one.

    Tell me, Tim…when you take a good, long look at the lands where the Qur’an rules unfettered and Islam shows its true face, in the madrassahs where you and your whole world is cursed, in the streets of Arabia where cartoonists and filmmakers are condemned to death and fatwas are issued with zeal…Tell me again how we shouldn’t strongly oppose the supremacist ideology of Islam that is spreading across the world. Tell me again how we should cool our jets and count on the moderate Muslims to rein in the “handful” of fanatics in their midst. We’ve been waiting for that since Beirut and Lockerbie. Yeah, they really seem to be doing a great job of moderating those extreme beliefs in the lands where Islam is state-faith.

    Tim, keep telling yourself they don’t really want to rule us. I guess it feels good to believe that, deep down, most Muslims love their Christian and Jewish neighbors. You have to avert your eyes from the 7,000+ terror attacks since 9/11, but if your mind and heart allows you to stick your head that far into the sand, well, good for you. As for me, I strongly oppose the modern Crusade of Islam, and I will until I die. Europe is falling to them even now, but Texas never will.

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