Doctoral defense approaching, dissertation publicly available

I will be defending my doctoral dissertation “Evidence-based programming language design: a philosophical and methodological exploration” on December 4, 2015 at noon, in the Seminarium building, auditorium S212, of the University of Jyväskylä. My opponent will be Professor Lutz Prechelt (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany), and the custos is Professor Tommi Kärkkäinen (University of Jyväskylä).

The defense is public; anyone may come. Dress code for the audience is whatever one would wear to any lecture or regular academic activity at the university (no formal dress required). There is a Facebook event page.

The dissertation manuscript was reviewed (for a permission to publish and defend) by Professor Matthias Felleisen (Northeastern University, USA) and Professor Andreas Stefik (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA). The dissertation incorporates most of my licentiate thesis, which was examined last year by Doctor Stefan Hanenberg (University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany) and Professor Stein Krogdahl (University of Oslo, Norway).

The dissertation is now publicly available as a PDF.

The dissertation mentions Haskell in several places, although that is not its main focus.


Kaijanaho, Antti-Juhani
Evidence-Based Programming Language Design. A Philosophical and Methodological Exploration.
Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, 2015, 256 p.
(Jyväskylä Studies in Computing
ISSN 1456-5390; 222)
ISBN 978-951-39-6387-3 (nid.)
ISBN 978-951-39-6388-0 (PDF)
Finnish summary

Background: Programming language design is not usually informed by empirical studies. In other fields similar problems have inspired an evidence-based paradigm of practice. Such a paradigm is practically inevitable in language design, as well. Aims: The content of evidence-based programming design (EB-PLD) is explored, as is the concept of evidence in general. Additionally, the extent of evidence potentially useful for EB-PLD is mapped, and the appropriateness of Cohen’s kappa for evaluating coder agreement in a secondary study is evaluated. Method: Philosophical analysis and explication are used to clarify the unclear. A systematic mapping study was conducted to map out the existing body of evidence. Results: Evidence is a report of observations that affects the strength of an argument. There is some but not much evidence. EB-PLD is a five-step process for resolving uncertainty about design problems. Cohen’s kappa is inappropriate for coder agreement evaluation in systematic secondary studies. Conclusions: Coder agreement evaluation should use Scott’s pi, Fleiss’ kappa, or Krippendorff’s alpha. EB-PLD is worthy of further research, although its usefulness was out of scope here.

Keywords: programming languages, programming language design, evidence-based paradigm, philosophical analysis, evidence, systematic mapping study, coder agreement analysis

Ramblings inspired by Feyerabend’s Against Method, Part II: My preliminary take

Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method is a scandal. Most people who have heard of it know its tagline: “Anything goes”. As I mentioned in my previous post, my impression of the book from secondary sources was that Feyerabend was a madman and the book is sacrilege. Now, having read the book myself, I find myself impressed by the depth and clarity of his arguments and by his insight.

His key claim is that a successful (general) method of science is impossible and that trying to impose a (general) method is harmful.

In Feyerabend’s terminology, a method must “contain[] firm, unchanging, and absolutely binding principles for conducting the business of science” (p. 7 of the Fourth Edition, Verso 2010). To be counted as a success, such a method must “remain[] valid under all circumstances and [… be an] agency to which appeal can always be made” (p. 161).

I agree that all such general methods in the literature that I have been exposed to are failures, by Feyerabend’s standard. Neither of the theories I adopt in my doctoral dissertation (pending a public defense), the Bayesian approach to epistemology and Imre Lakatos’s theory of research programs, satisfy this test, and I freely admit this; both are very permissive and neither give objective and precise decision rules for considering the merit of a scientific hypothesis or theory, and thus do not count as methods under Feyerabend. And Feyerabend is quite correct (assuming his historical research is sound, which I am not qualified to judge) in his conclusion that no existing method (as the term is here defined) could have allowed certain key historic developments, and therefore none of them succeed.

For example, Popper’s falsificationism fails for two alternative reasons. If we suppose that it is a method (under Feyerabend’s definition of a method), then it must be followed literally in all cases, but in that case it fails the test case of Galileo, as discussed extensively in the book. But Popper can also be read metaphorically, or as general guidelines not to be taken as a literal method, in which case it can be understood to be consistent with the Galileo case; but then, it is (by assumption) not a method. In either case, it is not a successful method.

I also agree that it is probably impossible to come up with a successful method, by that standard. The history of philosophy is full of expounded theories, all of which seem to fail for some reason or other. It is very easy to move from this to a general scepticism: there can be no such successful method. It seems to me that it is also the correct (though defeasible) conclusion.

Further, if (as I have conceded) it is impossible to devise a successful method, then trying to impose a method is certainly harmful. I accept this.

The catch is here: this conclusion must be read with Feyerabend’s definitions firmly in mind. It is a misunderstanding of Feyerabend to further conclude that he denies the value of scientific methods. The singular in the title is a conscious choice, and very significant: Feyerabend does not oppose methods; he opposes a unified, one-size-fits-all method, singular.

Where Kuhn talks about paradigms and Lakatos about research programs, Feyerabend talks about traditions. Within a tradition, Feyerabend acknowledges there to be quite a bit of value in binding rules, and within a tradition there can be a successful method. Feyerabend’s “anything goes” is not a license to forget consistency requirements in a single piece of work or when working within a tradition:

Admitting velocities larger than the velocity of light into relativity and leaving everything else unchanged gives us some rather puzzling results such as imaginary masses and velocities. […] Admitting contradictions into a system of ideas allegedly connected by the laws of standard logic and leaving everything else unchanged makes us assert every statement. Obviously we shall have to make some further changes [… which] remove[] the problems and research can proceed as planned. (p. 246)

One of Feyerabend’s key conclusions is that traditions can only be evaluated from within a tradition, whether itself or some other one; an objective, meta-traditional evaluation is impossible. I will concede that his argument looks plausible (I will not review it here). Once this is accepted, it easily follows that no tradition is objectively better than all others. (I note that it is theoretically possible that some tradition appears superior to all other traditions viewed from any tradition; but certainly, no existing tradition has that rather remarkable property. Usually all other traditions appear weaker than the one being used as the vantage point.)

Feyerabend goes even further. He claims that traditions are incommensurable: a tradition involves a whole world-view, and there is no lossless conversion of ideas, thoughts and claims from a tradition to another. The only way to truly understand a tradition is to first become its adherent.

This conclusion seems rather absurd to anyone who has been educated in one tradition and has never made a leap from one tradition to another. However, the truth of this claim seems quite plausible from my own experience trying to read both quantitative and qualitative methodological literature: the former typically dismisses the latter as unscientific, and the latter typically dismisses the former as “positivistic” (that this label is a misnomer makes no difference). It is even more plausible to me having discussed methodology with both quantitative and qualitative researchers, and having observed discussions of methodology between quantitative and qualitative researchers. Usually, they talk past each other, each hearing nonsense from the other. It’s like they’re using different languages even though all are using ordinary scientific English.

Yet, I cannot accept incommensurability as a binding constraint. I hope to be able to transcend several traditions, to be able to work in them and hopefully function as a bridge of sorts. Maybe I am a lunatic in that hope; I do not know.

Finally, Feyerabend claims that because traditions are incommensurable and an objective comparison of them is impossible, there is no good reason why science should have priority in politics over any other set of traditions. Feyerabend died in 1994, before the evidence-based movement became the force it is today, but I suspect he would have loudly protested ideas like evidence-based policy (or more commonly nowadays, evidence-informed policy). He makes a forceful claim that basing policy on science is a form of slavery.

I can see his point but I am also in violent opposition. A lot of scientific activity is truly traditional, where things are done in a particular way just because they’ve always been done that way (though the “always” often can be as short a period as a couple of years), and when one goes to examine the history of that particular way, it turns out it was an accident, with no good rational reason for its adoption, and sometimes even was adopted despite good reason to abandon it. In these cases, adopting a scientific consensus position just because it is one is folly. And in general, where a decision one makes only affects oneself, it is better left to individual freedom and not impose any sort of an outside rule, whether scientific or otherwise. But there are quite many problems where a decision has to be made collectively, and I will vote for the decision to be evidence-informed; if I prevail, the only form of slavery involved is that of the tyranny of the majority.

In conclusion, it seems to me Feyerabend is more right than not, and that he has been mostly misunderstood (like he claims himself). I would recommend this book as a guide for anyone interested in multitradition (or mixed methods, as it is often called) work in the sciences. I would not recommend it as a methodology itself – and neither would Feyerabend:

‘anything goes’ is not a ‘principle’ I hold – I do not think that ‘principles’ can be used and fruitfully discussed outside the concrete research situation they are supposed to affect – but the terrified exclamation of a rationalist who takes a closer look at history. (p. xvii)

Let me repeat this: There is no Feyerabend method, and conducting research following Feyerabend is to misunderstand him. (At least to the extent one only considers Against Method; I have not read Feyerabend’s other work.) He preaches tolerance, but one should look for methodological guidance elsewhere.

Ramblings inspired by Feyerabend’s Against Method, Part I: My road to Feyerabend

About 15 years ago, I studied for an exam on the philosophy of science, a required (and very much anticipated) part of my minor in philosophy. I must have learned about Karl Popper and his falsificationism, which did not really appeal to me. There was one thing that hit me hard, one that remained stuck in my mind for more than a decade: the idea of paradigms, which consisted of a hard core (usually immutable) and a protective belt (easily changed to account for discovered anomalies), and of scientific revolutions which occasionally happen (usually by generational shift), replacing one hard core with another.

About a decade later, I started debating the methodology and foundations of science with my colleague Ville Isomöttönen. At some point I suggested we both read an introductory textbook on the topic to inform our discussions. I believe we read Peter Godfrey-Smith’s excellent Theory and Reality.

In this book, learned again about paradigms, and noticed that there were several philosophers I had conflated together. Thomas Kuhn talked about paradigms, but the idea of hard cores and protective belts comes from Imre Lakatos, who did not talk about paradigms but used his own term, that of a research programme. Then there was Paul Feyerabend, who was basically crazy. Or that’s how I remember my reaction of reading about him in Godfrey-Smith’s textbook.

This was around the time I started working on the research that became my licentiate thesis. Very early on, one of my advisors, Dr. Vesa Lappalainen, asked me to explain what evidence is. That turned out to be a very difficult question to answer; I continued reading and pondering about it until I submitted the thesis, and even beyond that point. I figured that the philosophy of science probably has an answer, but I cannot really base my discussion of it in a thesis solely on introductory courses and textbooks. I needed to go read the originals.

The first original book on the philosophy of science I read during this period was Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I also borrowed from the library a copy of Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery, of which I was able to finish only the first chapter at this time. Kuhn was very interesting, and I finally realized how thoroughly I had misunderstood him from the secondary sources; his arguments made quite a bit of sense, but his insistence of at most one paradigm in each discipline was obviously false. Popper’s falsificationism is obviously true, but also severely inadequate.

Very early on during the licentiate thesis study, as I was doing preliminary literature research on evidence-based medicine (EBM), I came across the blog Science-Based Medicine, and particularly their post series critiquing EBM (start from Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future Part V). From this and other sources, I learned of Bayesian epistemology, which I started reading about over the next couple of years. As I have written previously on this blog, it is my current preferred theory of epistemology.

This Spring, some months after the licentiate thesis was approved, I traveled to Essen, Germany, for a three-month research visit at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Two very significant things happened there: I wrote a substantial part of my doctoral dissertation (currently pending public defense) and I spent quite a bit of time discussing the philosophy and methodology of science with Dr. Stefan Hanenberg, who had been one of the examiners of the licentiate thesis. The topics of those discussions probably had something to do with that the chapters I was writing there dealt with philosophy and epistemology.

During that time, I finally read Imre Lakatos’s work on the philosophy of science (The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes) and on the philosophy of mathematics (Proofs and Refutations), both of which were eye-opening. Lakatos spends a lot of time in the former construing and critiquing Popper, and that discussion allowed me to understand Popper the first time ever (though I recognize it’s from Lakatos’s version of Popper); I finally read Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery properly also at that point.

The discussions with Dr. Hanenberg frequently came back to Paul Feyerabend and his Against Method. I knew it well enough from secondary sources to know that I was not going to cite it in the dissertation, and so I did not read it at that point. The time to do that was once the dissertation was submitted.

My next post will discuss my actual reactions to the book, as I just finished it yesterday.

Leikkaus / Surgery

Olin 4.­–7.10.2015 Päijät-Hämeen keskussairaalassa kirurgian osastolla 5.10.2015 toteutetun mahalaukun ohitusleikkauksen vuoksi.
I was hospitalized between 4th and 7th of October in Päijänne Tavastia Central Hospital due to a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery performed on the 5th of October.

Tänään olen vielä sairauslomalla toipumassa leikkauksesta, mutta piakkon pääsen varmaankin töihin.
Today I am still on leave recovering from the surgery, but I expect to be back to work in a couple of days.

Omakuva 21.10.2015
Omakuva 21.10.2015

Leikkausta edeltävä päivä osastolla oli huomattavan tylsistyttävä, mutta onneksi sain erinomaista ENED-ruokaa.
The preoperative day at the hospital was very boring, but fortunately the VLCD food was excellent.

ENED-lounas PHKS:ssa 4.10.2015
ENED-lounas PHKS:ssa 4.10.2015

Leikkaus tehtiin tähystämällä, ja minulla on nyt viisi hyvin paranevaa pientä leikkaushaavaa vatsan iholla.
The operation was laparascopic, and now I have five well healing small incisions on the skin of my abdomen.

Leikkaushaavat 16 päivää postop
Leikkaushaavat 16 päivää postop

Sairaalassa piti opetella taas syömään ja juomaan. Varsinkin jälkimmäinen oli hankalaa ja kuivuinkin aluksi aika pahasti.
In the hospital, I had to relearn eating and drinking. Particularly the latter was problematic, and I suffered from noticeable dehydration at first.

Aamupala 6.10.2015
Aamupala 6.10.2015

Kotiuduin toisena leikkausta seuraavana päivänä, ja olen hiljalleen toipunut leikkauksesta ongelmitta, mitä nyt kävin kerran päivystyksessä tarkistuttamassa vatsakipuja.
I was discharged from the hospital on the second postoperative day, and I have been slowly healing from the operation. I did go have abdominal pain checked out once at the local ER, though.

Olen vielä toistaiseksi soseutetulla tai pehmeällä ruokavaliolla, mutta parin viikon sisään saanen ryhtyä hiljalleen syömään normaalia ruokaa. Tehosekoitin ja erilaiset maitotuotteet ovat olleet kovin hyödyllisiä. Päivittäinen energiansaantini on ollut nyt noin 1200 kcal. Proteiininsaantiin on pitänyt kiinnittää huomiota (maitotuotteet ovat tässäkin hyödyllisiä).
I am currently on a pureed or soft foods diet, but I will probably be allowed to start introducing normal foods within two weeks. A blender and various milk products have been very useful. My daily energy intake has been around 1200 kcal. I have had to take extra care to eat enough protein (milk products are useful here as well).

Painoa on pudonnut nyt 7 kiloa, josta suurin osa tippui ensimmäisellä viikolla. Paino putoaa edelleen mutta hitaammin.
My total postoperative weight loss is 7 kg, most of which came off in the first week. Weight loss is still ongoing but slower.

On vielä liian aikaista sanoa, oliko leikkaus onnistunut mutta nykytiedolla en sitä kadu.
It is too early to tell if the surgery was a success, but I do not currently regret it.

Leikkaus lähestyy / Surgery imminent

Lihavuusleikkaukseni, josta kerroin aiemmin, on maanantaina. Huomenna aamulla aloitan matkani kohti Lahtea ja Päijät-Hämeen keskussairaalaa.

Tiedotan kunnostani ensisijaisesti Facebookissa (valitettavasti osa tiedotuksesta näkyy vain FB-kavereille) mutta koetan laittaa tietoa myös Twitteriin. Tänne blogiin en välttämättä sairaalasta pääse. Kotiutuminen tapahtunee muutamassa päivässä.

Ja sananen leikkauksen riskeistä. Lihavuusleikkauksessa on pieni komplikaatioriski ja erittäin pieni mutta olemassa oleva kuoleman riski. Kerron tässä ja nyt, että menen leikkaukseen niistä tietoisena ja hyväksyn ne. Jos riskit sattuisivat kohdallani toteutumaan, minua ei saa käyttää varoittavana esimerkkinä leikkauksen suhteen. Minä en ole uhri, kävi miten tahansa.

My bariatric surgery, which I discussed earlier, will take place on Monday. Early tomorrow morning I’ll hop on a bus and go to the hospital.

I will be reporting my status mostly on Facebook (partially friends-only), but I will try to get some info onto Twitter as well. I will probably not be able to write here on my blog at the hospital. I expect to be released from the hospital within a couple of days from the surgery.

Now, a word about surgical risks. There is a small risk of complications in bariatric surgery and a very small but nonzero chance of death. I hereby announce that I am undergoing this procedure informed of them and I accept the risks. If something bad should happen to me, I forbid anyone to use me as a cautionary example with respect to the operation. I am not a victim, whatever happens.

Bariatric surgery approaching

Update: Due to the surgeon being ill, the surgery has been moved back to October 5, 2015. The original blog post follows:

I will be checking in to a hospital for bariatric surgery on August 31, 2015. The surgery is scheduled for September 1.

The plan is to perform the roux-en-y gastric bypass (RYGB), in which the stomach is cut into two pieces. A small pouch is left connected to the esophagus, and the rest of the stomach is cut off from the food flow. A Y-connection is created in the small intestine, allowing both parts of the stomach to connect to it. The main result is a reduction in meal sizes, accompanied with a faster fullness signal and apparently some hormonal changes; some people have reported a change in their taste sense after the surgery. It is not a miracle cure, and I will weigh about as much when I leave the hospital compared to when I enter it.

Studies [e. g. 1, 2] show a significant reduction in overall mortality and improvement in several relevant outcome measures (such as weight loss, diabetes status) in favor of surgery compared to nonsurgical weight management techniques. This is my main motivation for undertaking this surgery.

The operation will be laparascopic and will require several weeks of recuperation time off work.

Comments and questions welcome, but please, be gentle. This is a touchy subject.

How a wrong model can lead you astray

The other day I got on a bus at the downtown main bus terminal. Behind me, a woman started to interrogate the driver.

“Do you go to Pohjantie?”

When the bus driver did not respond (likely, he does not remember all the names of the roads on his route), she changed tactics:

“Your sign says Kuokkala. Which route do you take?”

There are three roads to Kuokkala, which is on the other side of Lake Jyväsjärvi: two drive around the like on opposite sides, and one takes a bridge over the lake. One of the drivearounds in fact goes through Pohjantie (as well as a neighbourhood called Tikka), and several buses take that route. Buses also use the bridge; to my knowledge, no bus uses the other driveraound route.

“On the way back I’ll go through Tikka.”

“So you end up at Viherlandia?” Viherlandia is the terminus of one of the bus routes that drives through Pohjantie.


“But Kuokkala, how do you get there?”

“I’ll take the bridge, then drive around the Kuokkala centre and then turn right …”

“… toward Nenäinniemi. You’re not my bus, thanks.”

In fact, she was wrong; it would have been her bus had she waited to hear the bus driver’s reaction to Nenäinniemi; he wasn’t going there, instead, he would have just turned to Tikka and from there through Pohjantie back to downtown.

But I suspect she had a mental model: all buses in Jyväskylä run (so she probably thought) pendulum routes, going back the same route they take. So, once she had established that the bus took the bridge, she had all the information she thought she needed.

In fact, that particular line runs a mixed pendulum and ring model: going Northeast from the downtown terminal, it runs to a particular suburb and retraces its steps back to downtown; however, southbound, it goes over the bridge to Kuokkala and drives a semiring route in Kuokkala, existing through the Pohjantie drivearound and making its way back to the downtown terminal.

Route of Bus 20
Route of Bus 20 (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)

People sometimes say that science is objective and empicial, and that the data speak for themselves. This sort of a statement forgets that data mean nothing by themselves, and your conclusions are no better than your model.

The Imitation Game

Viewed on its own terms, The Imitation Game is a good enough entertaining film among many such. It has suspense, romance, and triumph in all the right proportions, all according to the formula. Breaking the pattern, it also tackles the treatment of gays in the 1950s, as well as the kind of social awkwardness very common among geeks and highly intellectual people. Although the film does push some of my triggers (one scene in particular I was only able to watch about three seconds at a time, pausing the film in between), that’s not the film’s fault.

But the film is not just any other film. It depicts Alan Turing’s life, and in large part dramatizes the codebreaking activities at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Viewed in this light, the film disappoints. Certainly, a film needs drama, and while codebreaking at wartime is crucial, the suspense involved is too abstract to sustain a film alone; thus, the filmmakers were justified in adding interpersonal conflict to the mix, to inflate the role of Turing at Bletchley Park, and to emphasize Turing’s attachment to coworker Joan Clarke. But where they come up short is that they did it in such a formulaic manner. I am not very good at guessing plots, and I was able to guess large parts of this film (beyond what I knew of Turing’s life). Clarke, who was a capable mathematician in her own right, was cast (based on the historical record, true) in this movie in the role which in any other movie I would call the token love interest, but in this movie that label seems off.

Benedict Cumberbatch gave a suberb performance as a very eccentric Alan Turing; I have nothing negative to say about his work in this film. But that’s to be expected; he is, after all, one of the great stars of my generation. I was more impressed with Alex Lawther’s interpretation of the young Alan Turing. Keira Knightley brought Joan Clarke to life in an unforgettable manner, though I do wonder how much that is due to her and how much is due to Clarke being the only significant female character in the movie. The other actors, however, were rather forgettable.

Alan Turing certainly deserved to be given his own film. Although the movie is wrong to state that we call Turing machines computers nowadays, Turing’s work certainly is foundational and fundamental to all of computing. And, true enough, he is a war hero. In the end, I enjoyed the film, and it certainly deserved to be made. Therefore, ★★★☆☆.

[Edited to add words about Knightley’s performance and about Clarke’s formulaic role.]

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Dragon in Exile

I will not bow to ignorance

In this brand new Liaden novel, Clan Korval deals with the consequences of its actions. Not everybody on Surebleak want them there, and not all Liadens are willing to treat with them honorably now that the Council of Clans on Liad no longer counts Korval as a member. The Department of Interior still poses a threat, and Korval must figure out what to do with the agents they captured. In the most part, however, Dragon in Exile is a tapestry woven from many small threads, most following the mundane (and sometimes not so mundane) lives of one or two characters each.

There’s the story of the exquisite rug that a Liaden clan had been meaning to buy and now adorns a whorehouse. And there’s the baker who says no to an insurance salesman. Oh, and what happens when a busful of tourists attempt to use the tickets they bought offworld to actually get to visit Korval’s Tree? There’s several arsons; an attempted armed revolution; and, oh, I almost forgot, a wizard who becomes addicted to his own magical powers.

Dragon in Exile includes a prologue of the “previously in this series” variety, though it is framed as a bona fide scene in the book. Likely the prologue will be useful for the new reader of the series, and I think a new reader will catch on quite well with this book. Readers already familiar with the series will get added richness and texture, of course.

Audible calls Dragon in Exile Book 1 of the Arc of the Covenants. The arc title is nowhere to be seen in the print and ebook editions, but it does make a certain amount of sense given certain scenes in the book and it does point to an interesting direction for the rest of the five-book dash that this book starts.

Kevin T. Collins narrates here his first “modern” Liaden book. I still like him a lot as a narrator, but his pronunciation is in places jarring, as it differs markedly from that used by other narrators.

I enjoyed this book immensely. And with this, my re-listen of this series is complete. It was fun, and I will do it again at some point. And I will re-read the books myself occasionally ­– my inner voice is unlike all the narrators.

Dragon in Exile is available as a hardcover paper book, an ebook, and as an audiobook.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Fledgling

The major export of planet Delgado is higher education and scholarship. Not everybody on the planet likes this, and an significant minority of the nonacademic population are “simples”, who abhor complexity and look for ways to return to simplicity. The eradication of the University of Delgado is one such way.

A professor of Delgado is discovered to have falsified her data. More alarmingly, it is discovered that the certified copies of the original archives she used, which are held by the university, have been tampered with. Sub-Chair Kamele Waitley of the History of Education Department must act decisively to discover the full extent of this sabotage.

Her daughter, Theo Waitley, is used to living in the off-campus house of her mother’s onagrata (registered lover), Gallowglass Chair Professor of Cultural Genetics Jen Sar Kiladi (who we have already met in earlier books in the series). Suddenly, Kamele moves back to a traditional scholar’s apartment at the campus, taking Theo with her and to all appearances ends her relationship with the man Theo calls Father. Theo does not like it at all, but she has no real choice. But when Kamele takes her offworld, to an expedition where Kamele and her team intend to find out exactly how bad the sabotage is, everything changes.

Fledgling has a curious history. Back in 2007 or so, the then-publisher of the well-established Liaden series went bankrupt, taking with it the near-term rights to the existing books and the royalties the authors had recently earned on them. The authors had to scramble. One of the ways of making money they came up with was to publish a first-draft novel, straight from the word processor, so to speak, a chapter a week, so long as the readers kept donating a reasonable sum per week (300 dollars, if I recall correctly). They expected, I understand, to have weeks off due to the slowness of the donations’ flow, but were surprised: the full book was funded very early on. So they kept their promise, and posted a brand-new hot-off-the-word-processor chapter each week. I had just finished my first read of the series as it then existed, and followed the web serial as it unfolded. A couple of years later, when the Liaden rights had been released from the old publisher’s bankruptcy, Baen picked up the series and published Fledgling (with significant edits ­– recall, the web serial was a first draft by intent) as its first Liaden offering.

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I really hate the young Theo who is the narrator for most of the book (she does eventually grow up, and becomes much more fun a character in the later parts of the series). The kinds of problems she has early on are really cringeworthy. Well written, mind you, but I sure don’t like to be reminded what the teens were like. However, I really love the second plot involving Sub-Chair Waitley, Gallowglass Chair Kiladi and others who essentially become self-appointed detectives in order to solve a mystery that potentially could ruin the whole planet. I also love the introduction to pilot-lore we get through Theo when she gets off planet and starts encountering non-Delgado people and mores.

I should probably write a whole separate post comparing and contrasting the academic environments depicted in this series. Fledgling certainly has one of the most detailed (and realistic) academic environments of the series, but I think a deeper discussion will have to wait for that other post. However, I will mention the rather curious female chauvinism of Delgado, which is perhaps a bit too blatant for my taste but certainly is an effective commentary on the traditional male privilege in our present-day culture.

Fledgling is the first Liaden audiobook narrated by Eileen Stevens. She is really well suited for this book; her voice works very well with a young woman as the lead narrator and it also deals quite adequately with the elderly professors on display.

Fledgling is in print and also available as an legal free ebook. There is also an audiobook.