Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Can’t Believe I’m Denouncing Racism in 20-Freaking-17

I’ve held off on blogging about this for the last couple of days, primarily because I’m trying to focus on YA science fiction and relevant matters like my struggles trying to write it. Writing about how we shouldn’t discriminate against black people, or why we should definitely discriminate against Nazis, doesn’t feel like science fiction.  It feels like history from before I was even born. 

I wasn’t around when we whooped the Nazis in 1945, and I wasn’t around in the 1950s when we had to send in freaking combat troops so that black people could eat lunch at five and dime stores. Come to think of it, I wasn’t around in the middle ages and therefore have never had a reason to speak against burning witches. I wasn’t around during the days of the Roman empire, so I have no reason to protest the gladitorial games. 

And yet here we are, in 20-freaking-17, with our newsfeeds full of stories about businessmen and generals and former presidents denouncing the current White House occupant for sucking up to Nazis and white supremacists. Following a “Unite the Right” rally at which one of our homegrown Nazis pointed his car at a crowd of human beings and floored it – occupant can’t seem to collect the cojones to denounce this man, as he tiptoes around allegations of bad behavior on “many sides.” 

I have been very lenient about my free speech opinions in the past. I allowed that we on the left can be censor-happy and screechy. However, with regard to white supremacists, I stand shoulder to shoulder with every screechy censor-happy leftist in the world. Every brave Allied warrior who helped defeat the Nazis too. This stuff doesn’t count as free speech any more than farting and belching does.

So from now on, I only believe in free speech that consists of actual expressions of coherent thought. Demented vocalizations, deliberate incitement and Hitler quotes fall under noise ordinances. Marching through the streets waving torches and chanting “blood and soil” … that’s something akin to a performance artist like G.G. Allin who craps on the stage and eats it, except without the “artist” part.

Call it Free Speech 2.0. There is now a style manual, with requirements such as moderate volume, complete sentences, coherent thoughts and peer-reviewed cites.  Speech that is not submitted in the proper format is hereby rejected. That's how it's going to work in my house/brain/blog, anyway.

Occasionally the – properly formatted – arguments of the neoright can get my attention. I pride myself in being a fair-minded and tolerant person. Although I do have huge biases (mainly against people who refuse to read books), I can be sympathetic to their claims of having their religion bashed, their heroes mocked, their communities ignored (but isn’t that what they want – low taxes and ignored communities?). I go out of my way to avoid the temptation to make villains that are lazy caricatures of religious bullies and moral conservatives.

When it comes to opinions that certain types of people should have their rights curtailed based on their innate DNA … nope. That's incorrect and offensive. First of all, there’s the Constitutional part about being created equal, which obviously has more to do with souls and metaphysics than literal capabilities.   

Secondly, the part about white supremacy is garbage. White supremacy is not in any protected class whatsoever. Yes, I’ve read up on human biodiversity and all the non-reproducible junk science associated with it, plus I do 23andMe, which briefly classified me under the one-drop rule and is now identifying me as 100% Northern European, under the maternal haplotype of J1c1a.  You can’t get much whiter than that, so since white supremacists -- by their own logic -- have to heed whatever I say unless they have whiter DNA and a higher IQ than me, I’ll use up all my imaginary supremacy points to state with genetic authority, that white supremacy is a crock of shit and people who believe in it are full of bad genes and low IQs and foul temperaments and poor hygeine.  

Superior people are well-learned and even-tempered. They have better things to do than marching through the streets waving tiki torches, identifying with the losing sides of tragic wars.  They don’t scream abuse and threats and incitement like shit-flinging gibbons. They don't claim that the reason they're screaming abuse/threats/incitement is because they are extra smart and superior.  And they don’t drive into crowds. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Writing Science Fiction About Science

Figuring out how much science to stuff into science fiction is a subject I spend considerable amounts of time worrying about. In my initial novels I’m proceeding nice and slow, throwing in a little chemistry here, a little periodic table there.  I’ve got plenty of bioengineering handwavium (e.g. the ultraviolet light is very harsh in the future, but we’ve engineered ourselves to have more impermeable skin) but at the same time, I’m busting myths, especially with regard to clones.

I came across this piece by Nancy Kress about the science in science fiction and the part about clones resonated – thanks to bad science fiction, people think clones are telepathic, or have bizarre mind-melding powers, or will cheerfully surrender their organs to their donor upon demand.  Fact of the matter is that cloning is merely an artificial way of making large numbers of identical twins.  In fact, my story has a good guy that is part of a delayed set of artificially-increased natural twins and several bad (and good) guys who are members of a nation of clones. I’m trying to approach that particular subject with some nuance.

One of my science fictional pet peeves has to do with another point Ms. Kress notes: the overwhelming amount of science fiction that has a “don’t trust science because it’s evil” theme.

I particularly noticed it in Jurassic Park.  The camera lingers over the initial shot of the brachiosaurs while ethereal music plays … 

and moments later, the film is snottily denouncing its audience as empathy-lacking savages for wishing they could visit the brachiosaurs too.  It’s an old theme, one that goes back at least as far as Icarus and his wax wings.

So I’m being reactionary, and trying to write science fiction about people that have good, beneficial relationships with science.  Without throwing in a bunch of telepathic clones or other examples of the kind of BS that raises my blood pressure.

I got my start in science writing not from fiction but from summarizing evidence from experts of various disciplines like medicine, physics, metallurgy. Since the summaries were being read by opposing scientists I had to be precise enough to completely capture the technical impact of what they were saying, and since they were also being read by non-scientists, I had to strive for clarity and lack of jargon.

As a result, when I write about science, I tend to think of it as providing some jury with a chain full of logical steps. That’s only one of many approaches. Some writers prefer to unfurl the science like colleagues at a conference, or like professors lecturing to students.  There are a few that just assume anyone coming close to their science fiction already has at least a Masters, and they’ll launch right into esoteric concepts.

It all depends on your audience. The more understandable your science is, the larger your potential audience. One important thing to realize is that a lot of scientific knowledge doesn’t translate to other disciplines. Your botanist isn’t going to intuitively grasp biomechanics, and a brain surgeon doesn’t necessarily know how to hack computers, and therefore you need to kind of calibrate your scale as far as the kind of people you’re hoping to meet at book signings later on.

That’s the real purpose of writing, you know. To attract the kind of people by whom you wouldn’t mind being surrounded. Nice, fun, smart people who understand the health benefits of showering – these are often people who are into science. Encourage and entertain them at every possible opportunity and you will be rewarded.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hugo Award Winners!

Here's File 770's complete list of them.

N.K. Jemisen won best novel again. This was one of the books I failed to read. Last year I voted for her in a spirit of "this is some quality writing and the author seems like a good person so I'm gonna vote for it even though I thought it was nihilistic in that particular early 2000s way that sets my teeth on edge."  I couldn't do it twice, but I assume her writing is still of very high quality.

My pick, the Becky Chambers book, came in dead last, having offended the kind of people who enjoy the kind of nihilism that sets my teeth on edge. I'm kind of sad about that, but I'm happy that at least some of these nominees are stories I find enjoyable.

"Every Heart a Doorway" won novella. More pouty angst, here to reassure you that there are a gazillion portals, and they're not all that magic, or that wonderful, and all they really do is make you sad and crazy, which is the normal way to be, so when you're fantasizing about cavorting in Narnia or Redwall or the lands beyond the Phantom Tollbooth or Nevernever Land -- or the gothy land of the dead, which is where the protagonist goes, where everyone wears dark colors and holds real still -- just remember that you're nothing special and life sucks anyway. *flips hair, runs into room, slams door, composes poetry*

"The Tomato Thief" won! I loved TTT. And not just because author Ursula Vernon has a jackalope on her book cover while I've got one embossed on my skin!  There are important stakes -- the best tomato sammich in the world!  The character cares very much about those stakes!  And does something affirmative in pursuit of them!  Instead of standing around mutely and passively while horrible things happen!

"Seasons of Glass and Iron" won short story, and I briefly wrote it off as one of those stories where characters sit around eating symbolic fruit, which to me smells of a calculated attempt to win the hearts of professors and editors (as opposed to civilian readers).  Maybe I owe it a second look.

The Le Guin book beat the one by Silverberg, which is fine by me. I voted for Silverberg's in part to demonstrate to the Puppies that it's not about dislike for non-liberals, since Silverberg identifies as a conservative libertarian and still managed to do some gracious presenting at the Puppyfest Worldcon. I love Le Guin too, and am thrilled she's still getting major awards.

Arrival beat Rogue One and Deadpool and Moana and Hidden Figures and other worthy movies.  Sheesh. I refuse to see this one based on the Wikipedia summary and discussion I've heard. Aliens come to share their language, which is a literal tool/weapon and can change your consciousness just by speaking it, while foolish barbarian earthlings run around doing tragic macho posturing in response.  The same kind of thinking that shuts down lecturers, burns books and criminalizes particular alphanumeric sequences.

Today I was reading an article by my comrades at the ACLU about why they were defending the right of conservative gasbag Milo Yiannopoulos to run his mouth. And I agree with them. I have no problem with people declaring their beliefs in public. Once they make threats or encourage others to commit crimes it's a different ballgame. No, I don't think their saying terrible things normalizes it, not as long as people have the right to object. No, I don't think words are weapons that change your brain and give you psychic powers. Thoughts can change your brain; words are how we express them.

And it's sort of funny how strenuously I'm objecting to even seeing this movie, when it's linguistics sci fi, for frog's sake, and I love linguistics!

All right, maybe I'm still salty about Moana.

The Expanse won best TV show. I will have to investigate that to see if it's something I would like. [How Charon watches TV: repeated word of mouth inspires her to Google TV show and read synopses of a few episodes, complete with spoilers, before deliberating on whether I feel like watching.]

This post is getting way too long to summarize the rest, aside from the Campbell Award going to Ada Palmer. I like that. I like Ada Palmer.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Crazy Men With Nuclear Weapons

My books make no predictions whatsoever regarding the rest of this century. I’m fast-forwarding all the way to 3748, when technology is high and travel is complex. So I have no idea whether Donald Trump got into a pissing match with Kim Jong Un and triggered a nuclear war back in 2017 in my artificial timeline. Or whether it'll happen in this one. 

One thing both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump seem to agree on is that San Francisco shouldn’t exist, so maybe killing us will bring them together and help them bond despite their differences.

Other targets that have been mentioned include Hawai'i and Guam. You already know how I feel about Hawai'i, and I would also be mighty irate if Guam got hit, even though I’ve never been there. We’ve already done enough to that long-suffering island.

I’m not a particularly suicidal person. I have my moments of gloominess, but I very much enjoy being alive and partaking of life’s pleasures. I’ve probably been an asshole to friends struggling with depression because I have absolutely no tolerance for that negative mindset where someone wants to argumentatively declare how much everything sucks. And yet I feel like I’ve accomplished most of what I want to accomplish in life, and more, and everything from here out is bonus material.

It would suck if I didn’t finish my trilogy, of course, but there’s enough foreshadowing for people to figure out how it ends, assuming it ever acquires any fans. Plus there’s that whole post-midlife-crisis career writing exciting science fiction which would no longer exist in this timeline, but that would be your loss, not mine.  You’ll just have to figure out how to get yourself over to the alternate universe where Bernie Sanders won if you want to read them. 

Other than volume three of the trilogy, I don’t have a lot of loose ends. I have one very distant and very young relative whom I hope survives, prospers and has plentiful offspring, but we’re not in contact and I don’t really know him. I do have a cat, who will hopefully be sleeping in my arms when the bomb vaporizes us. If he should somehow outlive me, hopefully concerned bystanders will make sure he finds his way to the rescue where I got him before he devours my corpse. He’s a very picky eater, so it might not occur to him that I’m edible until I’m full of botulism. Everyone else in my family is old and has already lived their lives, although I’d be bummed if the missiles took out their portions of California instead of mine. 

I don’t believe in life after death. I’ve known several people that died, and not a single one came back to show me their ghostliness after it happened. I’ve had coincidences regarding remembering them, but I do believe in coincidences, in fact, I think they happen all the time.

I think it’s pathetic that we’re having nuclear war scares again. That was happening around the time I was born, and I grew up under its shadow, living in a place surrounded by military bases and the Arizona Memorial, which inspired horrible nightmares when I was little. For a moment there it almost looked like we were moving toward a world ruled by intelligence and fairness and respect for human rights and rule of law, but I guess not.

Regardless, I’m going to keep pretending that’s the case, and writing novels that take place in a world where it does indeed happen.  Because stubbornness is one of my most enduring qualities.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Further Opinions on the YA Dogpiling Thing

I read a little further into the controversy, wondering if I was being jacked around by some writer’s hit piece against the dreaded SJWs.  I saw lots of thoughtful commentary from a variety of angles. The gist is that people didn’t like having to wade through a lengthy section showing the hero’s bigoted and unenlightened upbringing before getting to the juicy part where she casts it all off and moves in a different direction. Some of the critics thought it felt like the writer was having too much fun writing the bigoted-upbringing parts. That’s probably a valid criticism. Some of the reaction to that seemed a little excessive.

Some of the critics also seemed overly concerned with purity. One commenter wanted to feel represented within the first several pages of a story … I couldn’t do it, I like Watership Down too much. I respect her wish to only read books about people like her, though (and henceforth swear I will never write any).

It all made me wish people would be less mean to each other, so we could have actual discussions instead of spite voting and dogpiling.

Oh hey, some rebuttal already

The plot thickens!  Another article alleges that the last one I linked was a hit piece which included "hate-links."  A comment about layers upon layers mentions the initial article is dog whistling.

Either I'm falling for a bunch of fake news here or I'm knowingly entering a community that has all kinds of dysfunctional drama in it, and now I definitely can't say I wasn't warned.



The adapter arrived and monitor is now securely bolted to my bracket and floating at eye level, an arm's length away, just where I like it.

But before that happened, while it was right in front of my face, I watched Rogue One on it, plus the episode of Game of Thrones with the dragon attack scene. Holy moly. I may never go to a theater again.