(MN) Local sci-fi author escalates from two-handed maces to concealed carry


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Drizzt
July 10, 2003, 07:50 PM
A Hello to Arms

Local sci-fi author escalates from two-handed maces to concealed carry

by Peter Ritter

Joel Rosenberg has authored ten fantasy novels about dragons, wizards, and princesses, three novels about Norse gods and North Dakota, two medieval detective novels, two books about Jewish space mercenaries, one mainstream murder mystery, a smattering of short stories and miscellany, and one guide to carrying a handgun in the state of Minnesota. While all of Rosenberg's books have enjoyed success, it's this last which has most expanded his profile outside the cadre of dedicated science-fiction readers.

"My take is that the predictions of 90,000 gun permits issued over the next year are wildly low," Rosenberg says. "One of the things that all the demagoguery on the anti-gun side has done is generated a lot of interest among folks who weren't interested before." The interest is such, in fact, that since the passage of the Minnesota Personal Protection Act, widely known as the conceal and carry law, Rosenberg has temporarily put his fantasy writing aside to pursue a lucrative sideline training prospective handgun carriers. "I'm doing three and four classes a week, and I could easily be teaching every day. Right now I'm trying to cut down to full time."

By appearance, Rosenberg would seem an unlikely candidate for a well-regulated militia. A vaguely pear-shaped man of 49, he has brushy eyebrows and a voluminous beard that attracts and retains crumbs of the halibut he's having for lunch at a Minneapolis café. He is wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt with a dribble of coffee down the front, open far enough to reveal a thatch of chest hair. Rosenberg is a heavy smoker, and he periodically plucks a cigarette from the shirt's breast pocket, smokes half of it, then plucks another and lights it with the burning stub of the first. In conversation, Rosenberg is quick-witted and loquacious, a man of strong and varied opinions who nevertheless manages to come across as charmingly irreverent rather than obnoxious. At lunch, for instance, he draws only curious glances from other diners for his (rather loud) characterization of the French as "cheese-eating surrender-monkeys."

Nor is there anything in his background that would predict Rosenberg's transformation into what he facetiously terms "a skiffy gun nut." Born in Winnipeg, Rosenberg moved as a boy to the small town of Northwood, North Dakota, where his father was a doctor. "I was the only kid in North Dakota who wasn't around guns," he says. "I come from a liberal Jewish family. In a liberal Jewish family, guns are really, really good if guys with thick Israeli accents have them. But the idea of guys who are not in Israeli uniforms having them is really frightening and horrible."

From North Dakota, Rosenberg made his way to the University of Connecticut, where he met his wife, and where, while working as what he calls a "subsistence gambler," he began writing The Sleeping Dragon, the first in his popular "Guardians of the Flame" fantasy series. "I was sitting around talking with a buddy," he explains of the book's genesis. "He said, 'Wouldn't it be so much fun if this "Dungeons and Dragons"-type world were real?' I said, 'Are you crazy? There'd be people with knives trying to kill you. Your teeth would rot out of your head. There wouldn't be any toilet paper!' Then I thought: 'Wait a minute. I've got an idea for a book.' I wrote almost the whole first chapter that night."

Indeed, Rosenberg's major innovation to the genre may be that, despite the fairies and whatnot, the fantasy world of "Guardians of the Flame" is not a place you would much want to visit. (In his penchant for dystopianism, Rosenberg reflects the influence of Robert Heinlein, author of the bleakly militaristic Starship Troopers.) Aside from evil wizards and a dearth of dental care, the protagonists of Rosenberg's fantasy novels--college students, transported to a medieval milieu via cosmic mischief--must contend with a world rife with slavery. Rosenberg's reluctant picaresque heroes do enjoy the advantage of knowing how to make gunpowder, however, which quickly allows them to disrupt the iniquitous social order. One of the author's favorite quips is, "All men are created equal because Samuel Colt made them that way."

"Slavery is the big social issue in this world," Rosenberg explains. "You can't be immersed in Heinlein for a number of years and not have strong feelings about that. Plus, you've got to remember, I'm Jewish. Every year we sit down to the seder, to remember we were slaves. That's a big deal. My people can hold a grudge longer than anybody. We're still pissed off at the Amalekites, and we killed the last of them off 4,000 years ago.

"The big change in Jewish history," Rosenberg continues, "more important than the Holocaust, was the formation of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and all that preceded it. That's been a real big deal. I think all that is more important than the Holocaust in the long run, although obviously the Holocaust had something to do with it."

Indeed, in his 1988 foray into traditional science-fiction, Not for Glory, Rosenberg extrapolated from the IDF and its like to posit a world in which the survivors of Israel have been exiled to a distant planet called Metzada and forced to sell their services as mercenaries in order to survive. (Not surprisingly, Rosenberg also has strong views on the politics of the Middle East, which he has collected in a web log, www.islamthereligionofpeace.blogspot.com.)

Yet Rosenberg's own zeal for self-protection was spurred by two rather more personal incidents. A few years ago, intruders broke into his home while he and his wife slept. Rosenberg was able to scare them off with the .22 pistol he kept handy. Then he began getting e-mail death threats. "They would say, 'You're a dead Jew,' with 'dead' almost invariably misspelled, or 'Stay away from the white women,' with 'white' spelled 'w-i-t-e.'"

Rosenberg once suspected that the threats might have something to do with his Metzada novels--"I do write about Jews in space with big guns." But to this day, he doesn't know anything about his stalker, except that he or she is violently anti-Semitic, and unlikely to win any spelling bees.

Rosenberg let me tag along on one of his training seminars, held in the basement of a Bloomington VFW post decorated with advertisements for ammunition. The class consists of perhaps 20 people, most of whom appear, like Rosenberg, to be men in the ripeness of middle age. Though punctuated by anecdotes from the author's long, mostly antagonistic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department--who, Rosenberg says, have previously attempted to deny him a gun permit--the seminar's primary focus is on acquainting handgun owners with the state's new gun law.

"Dirty Harry is one of my favorite movies," Rosenberg tells the class. "I kiddingly refer to Dirty Harry as my hero. But a permit does not change me into James Bond. Did anyone here mistake me for James Bond?" Then, to clear up any lingering confusion, Rosenberg retrieves two loaded revolvers from his underpants.

Rosenberg's seminar mostly follows his book, Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Minnesota. Among the topics covered: Where to strap your nine when going out on the town (a fanny-pack is one popular option); how to navigate a trip to the urinal while wearing a holster (don't leave your gun on the edge of the sink); what to do if attacked (run); and the legal ramifications of shooting someone (very sticky, apparently, and thoroughly discouraged). Rosenberg's advice on this last point seems eminently sensible--even if (to take a hypothetical) you think that the Minnesota Personal Protection Act is insane, and that its Republican supporters are a horde of jackbooted theocrats.

Still, one might look for insight into Rosenberg's mindset in his recently published mystery novel, Home Front. Here, a cranky, middle-aged small-town copy editor named Ernest "Sparky" Hemingway has his tranquil life ruptured by an invasion of "gangbangers" from big, scary Minneapolis. His first impulse, naturally, is to arm himself: "Old habits die hard. I dropped the magazine and worked the slide--the chamber was empty--and then slammed the magazine home, racked the slide again, and flicked the safety with my thumb without more than half thinking about it." (The Freudian implications of the scene aren't lost on Rosenberg).

Yet, while Rosenberg's Hemingway makes more productive use of his gun than did his suicidal namesake, he also manages to resolve his gangbanger problem without firing a shot. This, Rosenberg explains, was intentional: "I wanted to play with the old dramatic notion you always see on television--that if you put a gun in a story, someone has to get shot."

Which is, it seems, precisely the message Rosenberg is attempting to impart to the amateur Sparky Hemingways in his seminar. Striking a Dirty Harry pose with his snubby revolver, Rosenberg warns, "People who have notions that they're going to be Rambo should probably just stick to watching the movies. I like those movies, too. But that's not how the world works."

The students nod solemnly, and, satisfied that his point has been made, Rosenberg tucks his weapon back into his pants.

http://www.citypages.com/databank/24/1176/article11337.asp

--"I do write about Jews in space with big guns."

I suddenly had the final scene from History of the World Part 1 flash through my mind.... ;)

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LawDog
July 10, 2003, 08:37 PM
Why is it that science fiction authors seem to get the picture regarding RKBA and almost nobody else does?

LawDog

Standing Wolf
July 10, 2003, 08:48 PM
Rosenberg's advice on this last point seems eminently sensible--even if (to take a hypothetical) you think that the Minnesota Personal Protection Act is insane, and that its Republican supporters are a horde of jackbooted theocrats.

Hypothetically speaking, leftists are moral and intellectual parasites.

Justin
July 10, 2003, 08:50 PM
Lawdog, that's a good question. It does make ya wonder, doesn't it?

Maybe he and El Neil were seperated at birth or something.

dustind
July 10, 2003, 08:59 PM
I have always found that computer geeks and the like are very libertarian.

Cosmoline
July 10, 2003, 09:11 PM
Jewish space mercenaries? I gotta start reading SF again! I like this guy's blog, too :D

Jim March
July 10, 2003, 09:23 PM
One of the most powerful statements on personal armament written in any medium was AE Van Vogt's "Weapons Shop" series. Science Fiction, circa 1950s. The original short story is considered one of the best short SF pieces ever written.

Then there's Heinlein, H. Beam Piper and a bunch of other pro-gun "golden age" (1939 - 1950's) authors, mostly influenced by editor John Campbell. Read Asimov's autobiography and it becomes clear what happened: it was all really centered on *Campbell*, who didn't just send rejection letters to young tykes like Asimov and company, he also sent detailed critiques and often published pieces after a couple rounds of such editing. He taught 'em all to write. And the ideas that cross-pollenated among that bunch included a set of radical ideas on the RKBA. Campbell later passed the editor's torch to Ben Bova.

So this is NO surprise at all: Joel is basically two generations of writers removed from all that, but still heavily influenced.

Reading Heinlein, Piper and Van Vogt as a kid influenced ME. At the rate I read as a teen, I could only afford used paperbacks...I grew up on that stuff, probably same as Joel.

There's a LOT of us out there...possibly to such a degree, the state of RKBA in the US would be FAR more screwed up if that whole trend in SF hadn't happened.

Harold Mayo
July 10, 2003, 11:23 PM
Rosenberg's books are pretty good, overall.

BTW...it's not just Jewish space mercenaries...it's Jewish space NINJAs. No foolin'. And, corny as it sounds, the sci-fi that he's written concerning these "space Jews" is among his best stuff.

One neat thing that I remember about the books is that the Masadans (the Jewish space mercenaries) always do research and recon on areas that they're going to and they make sure and rebarrel/rechamber their firearms to the fire the most common local ammo. They are pretty hard-core fighters in the books.

Glamdring
July 11, 2003, 12:25 PM
Oleg knows Joel.

I took my permit course from him. He has had a permit for some time, took a fair bit of lawyer fees and time to get permit.

Might check out this (real) story of his http://www.winternet.com/~joelr/burglary.html

hksw
July 11, 2003, 12:32 PM
Although I didn't care for the two or three sci-fi books I've read by him (a little too pro religion (Jewish in this case) for my taste, I like sci-fi stories where (any) religion is not a point in the stories, major or minor), I think I can give him another shot and try some of his other offerrings.

Glamdring
July 11, 2003, 12:50 PM
Strange, I always thought that the couple of books that focus on the mercenaries were showing jews as a culture more than a religion. None of the main characters seem to be "religious".

***
The "Guardians of the Flame" series has nothing to do with religion.

And in "Emile and The Dutchman" the dutchman is making anti-semitic comments frequently. And the protag is Austrian (german).

Sergeant Bob
July 11, 2003, 03:16 PM
Why is it that science fiction authors seem to get the picture regarding RKBA and almost nobody else does?
I believe it's because they have Vision and are able to see beyond their next meal ticket. Successful SciFi writers have to use logic to make their stories believable, a trait sorely lacking in much of today's society.

pax
July 11, 2003, 04:52 PM
Why is it that science fiction authors seem to get the picture regarding RKBA and almost nobody else does?
Relative IQ would have something to do with it, I think. In order to succeed at writing SF, an author has to have a certain level of basic intelligence somewhat higher than that required by (for instance) romance writers. It is easy to emote your way into being anti-RKBA, but for the most part, to be pro-RKBA, you have to think. SF writers have the basic equipment to do that.

Then, too, there is the basic personality type required in order to succeed in writing SF. An SF writer has to have a certain willingness to ignore what "everybody else says," or he won't stick with writing that weird stuff for very long. This is less true now than it was in bygone eras, but it is still true to a certain extent. Writing science fiction brands a person as being not quite normal --and if the author is going to keep at it for very long, he has to be immune to that branding and willing to do his own thinking. In order to be vocally pro-RKBA, you have to be willing to be seen as not quite normal by the rest of the world. SF folks are used to that.

Wild guesses, all. :p

pax

The police of a state should never be stronger or better armed than the citizenry. An armed citizenry, willing to fight, is the foundation of civil freedom. -- Robert Heinlein

Glamdring
July 11, 2003, 10:54 PM
Pax I think to be a successful author in any genre requires, or causes, one to be something other than "normal". ;)

And if they deal with fans :eek:

Destructo6
July 12, 2003, 12:05 AM
In his penchant for dystopianism, Rosenberg reflects the influence of Robert Heinlein, author of the bleakly militaristic Starship Troopers.
What? He must have watched the movie instead of reading the book. The book's version of the future was definately not militaristic, except in the military.

A Heinlein fan, eh? That's always worth a few cool points.

Orthonym
July 12, 2003, 12:22 AM
Glad to have it confirmed that Pax knows the difference between "Sci-Fi" and SF! (of course, I knew she knew that already:) )

hksw
July 12, 2003, 12:35 AM
Eh, maybe I'm connecting Judaism with religion too closely in the books. I think what I was trying to convey was the portraying one group (not necessarily religious) superior to others (of the same species).

Dirty Bob
July 12, 2003, 01:29 AM
Drizzt:
Many thanks for posting the article that started this!

I've met Joel: it was many years ago, but he was very cool, very friendly.

Another reason SF authors may tend to be pro-RKBA is that they have to practice empathy to be successful. I'd bet just about anything that Brady/Hillary/Feinswine and the rest of that bunch have *never* tried to see the issue from the POV of the other side. A good SF author, on the other hand, may have to try to see the world from the point of view of a four-foot-long gecko with a 180 IQ.

There are some anti-RKBA authors in SF. The first who comes to mind is David Brin. I saw him speak at a conference in the early 1990s. He started his presentation talking about how there are more swordsmiths now than at any time in history, and how much that bothered him. One of his best-known books -- The Postman -- is pretty anti-gun also, with survivalists toting evil assault rifles as the villains. He was friendly and polite when I spoke with him later, but I doubt he shares many opinions with someone like Heinlein.

Regards,
Bob

joelr
November 30, 2003, 10:24 AM
The Heinlein bit was the one thing in the article that really ticked me off; Pete Ritter just plain got it wrong, and I'd already pointed that out, early on during the interview. (He had brought up just that point, and I said, of course, that I'm strongly influenced by Mr. Heinlein, but that his Starship Troopers could be called a lot of things, but not dystopian.)

Not that I was exactly thrilled about being described as "vaguely pear-shaped," mind, but, well, I am . . .

As to influences, well, I ran into Piper much too late -- I'd already sold a few novels before I read anything of his. I like his stuff -- particularly Space Viking, which is a wonderfully bloody-minded book -- but I don't think it's been influential on my own stuff. Van Vogt is different; I'd been reading him for probably a couple of decades when I started writing, but, again, I don't see him as an influence -- good and bad (and I find a lot of both in his stuff) he's sui generis, from my POV.

Heinlein, well: yeah. And in case you haven't heard, there's a new Heinlein novel due out shortly. Honest.

As to SF writers being proRKBA, it varies tremendously.

pax
November 30, 2003, 11:02 AM
:) Joel Rosenberg himself?

Welcome, sir. Hope you enjoy THR.

pax

Preacherman
November 30, 2003, 11:14 AM
Welcome, Joel! Nice to have you on board. We have a couple of other SF authors here, too - may be time for a special SF weapons forum, Oleg? :D

BTW, you had me rolling on the floor with this line:My people can hold a grudge longer than anybody. We're still pissed off at the Amalekites, and we killed the last of them off 4,000 years ago.http://pages.prodigy.net/rogerlori1/emoticons/LOL.GIF

Thumper
November 30, 2003, 11:19 AM
Welcome to THR, Joel.

KC
November 30, 2003, 02:06 PM
"The Postman -- is pretty anti-gun also, with survivalists toting evil assault rifles as the villains"

Doesnt the book open with the protagonist, in a bad post-SHTF enviroment (and missing his toothbrush), wandering around with a shotgun that he really wanted shells for? (Also, aren't the antagonists largely the decendants of an Arron Burr fanboy club, not simply survivalists?)

Regardless, the point that "The Postman" brings across is similiar to but better written than Heinlein's formulaic "Farnham's Freehold": It is good to collect not simply guns, or gold, but books as well, and be ready to act in defence of all three.
All parties concerened (in the book) were dependant on the federal government for social order. When that collapsed, there was no willingness or ability to maintain an equitable society.
--The Burr-ites became warlords because they could
--Their subjects had not done anything to prepare for a rainy day, and could not stop them
--The reign of the Burr-ites ends only when their subjects arm and act to defend themselves.


Seems kinda pro-RKBA to me (but I don't have a copy handy and haven't read it in a few years.)

GigaBuist
November 30, 2003, 07:50 PM
dustind,

I have always found that computer geeks and the like are very libertarian.

We kind of have to be... many of our kind have been tossed into jail by JBT's for writing or speaking about security holes and encryption problems found in common software. I own a t-shirt that can't be taken out of the country, except to Canada, because of the writing on it. It -could- be classified as munitions. That may have been relaxed in the past few years, but in 2000 taking it to China was definately illegal.

It has little to do with intellect that we tend to lean libertarian... it's seeing fellows like us getting tossed into federal custody for writing a paper or opening their mouths that tends to scare us away from more federal government.

Sorry... 'twas a little OT.

joelr
November 30, 2003, 09:29 PM
Oh, and I certainly do know Oleg. The world's a twisty little place -- I was the guy who first took Oleg shooting.

Thanks for the welcome, all.

Andrew Rothman
November 30, 2003, 09:50 PM
Heh. Small world. Look what you started!

Nice to see you here, Joel. Just the other day I couldn't resist quoting you here (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?s=&threadid=51413).

Come to think of it also here (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?s=&threadid=43507&highlight=rosenberg), here (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?s=&threadid=41038&highlight=rosenberg) and here (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?s=&threadid=40387&highlight=rosenberg).

I guess that's because you "wrote the book." :)

Freedspeak
November 30, 2003, 11:12 PM
Welcome aboard.

Ran into some of your books years ago, now I will have to reread them. If I remember some of the premise was similar to Drake's Slammers.

Sven
November 30, 2003, 11:55 PM
Welcome, Joel!

Phyphor
December 1, 2003, 01:01 AM
....New guy buys the ammo.... :evil:

MicroBalrog
December 1, 2003, 07:03 AM
Oh, and I certainly do know Oleg. The world's a twisty little place -- I was the guy who first took Oleg shooting.

Phyphor: I think we actually should buy this guy a Barret .50 or somesuch...:)

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