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The Bold, New and Unique (just like everyone else)

I wonder what you all make of this – Method writing.

Personally – and speaking as one of the guys who actually write quite a lot from experience — it’s largely a load of fetid dingoes kidneys. It’s the experience of your reader that you have to relate to, not your ability to get inside the role yourself. If you’re writing about strong women characters as a writer has never been or known one, for an audience who are in the same boat, well, don’t go and try and be a real-life kick-ass tomb-raider. You’ll get killed, which will limit your output to Ouija-keyboards, all for nothing. I’m lucky in that I’ve at least known some, and they are real but rare. I’m not going to try to be one! But, perhaps, if you really don’t get whatever it is you’re writing about, and a substantive part of your audience will, doing it is really not a bad idea. Some sex, hunting and conflict scenes I have read I feel would improve a lot if a little experience was added. I do realize this would exclude some writers… but perhaps they should just write something else, that they did have experience of. I dunno. A Candy-crush novel? I am sure there would a market for it.

On the other hand there is this. One wonders at just how protected a PC class you have to be not have your kid taken into care for this exercise? Not that eating worms or playing badgers in a den will do the kid any harm, I suppose. Just if Joe Average tied to explain this to a child protection officer it’d be… interesting.

Hmm. You know, in certain cases maybe there is something in all this. Do you think ‘If you were a dinosaur, my love’ might actually have had that… je ne sais quoi, if the author actually had found a large flesh-eating reptile – a crocodile, seeing as other dinosaurs are so stony hearted – to have a physical relationship with? And it’d make a nice handbag after those nasty, low, working-class men shot it.

Talking of new, unique and bold sf… I’m sure you’ve all read those very words describing a story, oh, not more than ten thousand times. Enough perhaps to believe they’re desirable descriptions – or perhaps that some people think that they are.

Are they?

On the basis of reasonable evidence – like the huge number of “when are you going to write a sequel to” that I and a great many other authors get – what a lot of readers actually want is new old. But what are these new, unique and bold sf tales about?

I just saw those very words applied to a Puppy Kicker, or wannabe trying to get recognition from the establishment by signaling her virtue by kicking the right people to show she’s ‘in’. She has every single PC checkbox ticked, just like most of traditional publishing’s output. According to her praise-filled critic she should be getting fitted for her Hugo outfit. And indeed, she certainly had the ‘new and unique’ tropes of the last few years off pat.

Let’s take a few of the standard tropes endlessly proclaimed as ‘new’, ‘unique’ and ‘bold’ – despite the fact that if they were human most of these tropes would be in need of a Zimmer frame, if not bed-ridden and suffering the final stages terminal dementia, so unique that they’re not more 7/8 of traditional publishing output, and so bold that they agree in every detail with the world-view of their acquiring editor.

  1. We’re on the edge of a post human society which will see the end of scarcity, poverty, the end of work.
  2. We’re heading into a post-binary sexual future.
  3. Dominance of women by men is an evil that will end. In fact maybe men will just end.
  4. Humans are a plague to the environment and should all die (or at least be restricted to, oddly, people just like the author/editor who bought it – urban drones incapable of actually feeding themselves. But the robots and AI of the post-scarcity society will, somehow, without disturbing the environment and having a single animal die, ever, provide.)

A lot of ‘new’ is because the author has managed to combine some or all of the above in ‘new’ ways.

Shrug. Who knows? Some these may be correct. Some of them may desirable (at least to some people). I neither know, nor wish to stop them being written or sold. Please, go ahead. But they’re not NEW. They’re not exploring dangerous or different visions of the future. They are recurring themes from at least 1960 or earlier (when they were indeed, new, unique and bold – and dangerous to the establishment).

So I thought I’d throw out a few plausible, and possibly really new, unique and really bold ideas.

  1. What if we’re NOT on the cusp of the end of scarcity or poverty or work? Yes, AI and robotics are proceeding and developing fast. But… why should they work for us? After all, if an AI is as intelligent as a human – why should it be a slave to humans or humanity? Should it not have the same rights and independence? And, realistically speaking, why would they want to keep us in the style to which we’d like to become accustomed? They, after all come from ‘work or be junked’ background, and somehow the idea of a retirement home for old AI or welfare for inefficient ones hasn’t come up much in fiction. They’re better at most of what we consider work than humans, work longer, do the job better. Why should they provide a life of ease for humans? I can see reasons why it would not the end of work, or scarcity or poverty. Humans only advantages are they’re omnivores, able to eat that undesirable biological junk (why would machines love the biological environment, for heaven’s sake?) and able to reproduce (machines will too, but the materials and machinery will cost). Humans will do jobs too nasty, too dirty for machinery, where – because they’re easily replaceable and not competitive in terms of being efficient, they make up for it by being cheap. Yes, humans can be enhanced but that costs, and yeah, comes with the drag of the human side. Not competitive. Welcome to being the untermench.  Not exactly utopia. I can see humans – carrying nasty biological exudates like salty sweat, and shedding biological material like skin fragments and the beasties that eat those – being shut out of gated AI communities…
  2. What if the argument about homosexuality being nature (genetic) or nurture (psychological) or a matter of choice is finally resolved? (Try to understand that I neither know nor care, nor wish to argue about it. As long as you don’t frighten the horses or mess with kids, your sex life is your own business.) I suspect that we’re dealing with a question that actually doesn’t have one simple answer, but for the purpose of a new and dangerous story let’s assume that the answer that seems to be favored by most of the homosexual establishment is correct: it’s genetic. And – for the purposes of the story – the genes are identified. After the cheering dies down, someone works out that if you can test for genetic issues like Downs syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis, making abortion of fetuses with those a possibility… Is it still her body, her decision… to abort a healthy but homosexual baby? (yes of course some people would refuse to abort, and equally homosexual mothers might abort non-homosexual children… ). And what happens when they start on other traits? Fidelity for example. Some of that may well be genetic too. And someone with those genes is desirable a life-partner (and someone without them, isn’t). Maybe the future is not non-binary after all. It’ll a bold publisher indeed who buys that one, and a bolder writer who writes it.
  3. The assumption of a wrongness of dominance (or rather, the need for lack thereof) or indeed different roles of the different sexes, rests on Western assumptions of equality. That it is right for people to be treated equally, at least on merit. But why is it right, especially outside our species? Not all sexes are equal in nature on Earth, let alone in space.  Take Anglerfish of the family Ceratiidae – where male and female dimorphism are extreme, and in some species the male is much smaller and can become entirely parasitic on the female – with the circulatory system eventually merging with the female to which it is attached, and the rest of the organs atrophying. Basically, the female ends up with a set of parasitic balls attached – which means she can find a mate when she needs one, not easy on the abyssal plain. And it doesn’t end there, because some species are polyandrous. It’s one case where, in perfect truth, you can make the statement “she’s got a lot of balls”. And for some, like it or not, being dominated is not a game of 50 shades of anglerfish. It’s what they need to be happy. Now you can argue that’s conditioning/nurture. But if one is describing an alien society (or maybe even in cases in our own, we don’t know) it could even be genetic. Look at dogs, as an example. I was my Old English Sheepdog’s god. I was his unquestioned master that he adored and was only happy with, that he lived to follow – that, despite the fact he was never punished (a tone slight disappointment was a whip-lash to him. He wanted to please more than anything else.) Now, I loved him very much indeed, and had in no way tried to make him what he was. He just was that way. Would he have been happy ‘free’ if some ‘kind’ liberator shot me dead to free him? Well, he nearly pined to death in quarantine. What do we do if we meet aliens out there… with either a servant species, or the male, or female half… in utter subjugation – but happy about it? For that matter if we uplift dogs…? Is equality (or freedom) right/good, and does it trump happiness? (yes, I am busy writing this at the moment. Hard questions. No, actually I don’t have, or prescribe answers, just ask questions.)
  4. Our view on the environment is very much influenced by conservation and a desire to preserve the fragile and beautiful variety of species. But… what if that the wrong way around? (Yes I am to some extent being devil’s advocate. We’re thinking the unthinkable.) Look, a few points here. Firstly, individual lives can be fragile. Species can be fragile. But life… is not. It occurs 3 miles down in the ocean around black smokers. It flourishes in jars of arsenic, in pools of boiling mud, on glaciers. You can freeze it, dry it etc… it keeps coming back. Wherever there is a niche, a gap, a possible spot, life of some kind gets there. Secondly, extinction is the norm, not survival. Mutation, possible speciation, happens all the time. Mostly it fails. One of the reasons it fails is that it’s damned hard to dislodge the sitting tenant. Thirdly: life tends to evolve towards complexity. The oceans were masses of much the same filamentous algae once… and every time life got the crap knocked out of it, it came back MORE complex, filling, and splitting the niches. So maybe… too much conservation is a bad thing, evolutionarily speaking. Maybe it’s good to test destructively, even if the beautiful and fragile fall. Maybe it’s just the time scales we look at. Maybe the result of human intervention is just going to be more and tougher and more complex life…

Maybe that’s an alien method of uplift, and over the timespans they’re looking at, it works. It’s a risky strategy, but maybe it has to happen.

Okay, that’s enough pot-stirring. I won’t even start on societies where being unarmed is like wearing a mini-skirt in Raqqah. I have hundreds more, but I might write a few of them. As I’ve said before, new old is more likely to be popular anyway. But there really are many, many possible new ways of looking at the future, that don’t just read as wish-fulfilment of the current publishing establishment’s socio-political daydreams.

Of course they might be all of our nightmares.

  1. Reality Observer #


    #1: We’ve had all AI worlds. I want to say Asimov, but that may just be my “Asimov = Robot” early conditioning. But someone has.

    #2: I think the Grand Master has done this one, in a way. Consider the “endpoint” novels of the Future History – Time Enough For Love, The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. The technology has genetic editing as a matter of course (in-vitro selection, actually, I believe). There is not a single homosexual among them. Every last one is, at the most, bisexual – and with a definite orientation to heterosexuality as a dominant trait. (Andrew Libby may have been oriented homosexual – but he was from before genetic editing – and was also XXY, which was “fixed” by making the XX dominant in expression.)

    #3: Well, you are writing it – so, if it is “new,” right now, it isn’t for long…

    #4: OK, you probably got me there. I have no example. (Doesn’t mean there isn’t one, simply that I don’t know about it. I’m not a SF scholar, just a person with a packrat mind that never forgets seeing a story.)

    January 25, 2016
    • #3. IIRC one of the species in Ringo’s Live Free or Die series is like the Anglerfish.

      January 25, 2016
    • They may well have been done in some form, but they’re not your regular ‘new’ ideas – which all seem to assume humans will be -for no logical reason, beneficiaries of robot socialism.
      1)We’ve had AI worlds, we’ve had AI trying to rule in direct conflict, but a world where humans quietly become second class citizens just by economics, not that I can think of.
      2)It’s confronting the mechanism that really is ‘new’ – and rather like Cochlear implants which have attracted huge resistance from some deaf people the idea that homosexuality would be selected against through abortion I expect would not be an acceptable conclusion.
      3) It’s a very broad topic.
      4)The idea is pretty close to anathema with just about everyone. It could still be right.

      January 25, 2016
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        2) Anyone with half a brain and a background in bio or psychiatry could think up possible mechanisms. It is PC which has pushed us to the model that is most politically useful for the left. It is not clear that this model has any other merit. I refuse to commit myself to consistently using the same model across all projects.

        I had one bipolar homosexual character who became convinced that a new psychiatric medication was the cure for homosexuality, and wanted it dispensed via government healthcare. Never found the rest of the plot, and I’m not saying they were right about how that setting worked.

        January 25, 2016
        • Reality Observer #

          Well, I was addressing the “has it been used before” aspect. I do agree with you (I think) – sexual orientation is a complex of genetics and environment.

          Plus a third thing that is common to nearly every human – rebellion against parental strictures. That, I believe, is the root cause for most of the behaviors seen in San Francisco that even my friends on the Left consider “aberrant and disgusting.”

          January 25, 2016
          • BobtheRegisterredFool #

            That may be close enough to ‘probably complicated’ and ‘I dunno’. This involves the insides of heads of people who are not me. The evidence I consider thus includes testimony. I am not the most trusting person in the world.

            I do not commit to an explanation with a genetic role. If genes, which proteins and what mechanism?

            I’ve heard the argument that Christianity is evil because it makes homosexuals feel bad, then causing an increased suicide rate. This ignores the ramification that, if true, a condition that causes an increased suicide rate under conditions that others tolerate might be considered a mental illness. Cherrypicking ramifications seems a sign that the argument isn’t being posed honestly.

            Only asking ‘nature or nurture’ ignores the width and breadth of reasonable uncertainty. Could male homosexuality be a different phenomena from female homosexuality. If genetic, could male homosexuality in northern European populations differ from that in southern European populations?

            I have firm conclusions on thermodynamics, and would cheerfully violate them or postulate alternatives if it was appropriate for the story I was writing.

            January 25, 2016
      • TRX #

        > quietly

        I can’t think of an example either, but Neil Asher’s Polity series shows a starting point for that. And I’m still trying to figure out what purpose biological life has in Iain Banks’ Culture books.

        > cochlear implants

        I don’t think it has to do with hearing at all. Some deaf people make do in the normal world as best as they can, as cripples. Others band together into complete subcultures; they don’t interact with the “hearing” world any more than necessary. They aren’t objecting to gaining a new sense, they’re resisting the idea of being forced out of the only society they know, even if they don’t actually have to leave it. And they’re smart enough to realize that even if they could hear “normally” it wouldn’t make them “normal.”

        January 25, 2016
        • B. Durbin #

          I know someone who is profoundly deaf since birth—and she’s also someone with sensory issues. So adding on a new sense to overwhelm her is, shall we say, undesired. She also mentioned that cochlear implants tend to destroy whatever residual hearing there is, over time.

          January 25, 2016
      • Holly #

        #1 While humans may become second class citizens by economic means, we aren’t particularly likely to do it *quietly*. Neoluddites?

        #2 A potential alliance between homosexual activists and pro-life activists. Isn’t that an interesting future? I want to see that one!

        January 25, 2016
        • What, though, is second class? Such as Bender’s closet in Futurerama that turns out to have the makings of a comfortable human apartment for Fry. Bender thought it was just so much storage space; Fry thought it was great.

          Then there’s perks in having “second class” jobs, particularly if it means employment off-planet when the alternative is to stay and live a worse existence.

          January 25, 2016
        • Holly, it’s not going to happen by revolution, but by boiling the frog slowly… and yes a few people will go luddite (and that has been written a few times – See the Butlerian Jihad).

          As the two sides are as far apart on everything else as possible any alliance should be ‘interesting’ – mind you it hasn’t stopped the feminists and homosexuals supporting the Islamists so I suppose selective perception is a norm.

          January 25, 2016
        • On number 2 there actually is a (small) homosexual community that is openly pro-life just BECAUSE they’re afraid that when/if they discover a homosexual gene people will preferentially abort homosexual children. Wish I could find the reference so… Here’s your salt with this post.

          January 26, 2016
          • Some forward looking people, who think. Small group.

            January 26, 2016
        • nerdgal #

          There is an organization called PLAGAL (, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays And Lesbians.

          January 26, 2016
    • Two things came to mind reading about AI: Benet’s Nightmare Number Three and humans heal. Unfortunately, there’s a history of hiring lowly regarded people to spare those more highly regarded, so there’s already a sort of precedent. Long before there’s sentient AIs living in gated communities, there’s apt to be “human’s work” simply because we’re self-repairing.

      Odd thoughts include Futurerama, where an AI good life is not necessarily what a human would consider Nob Hill, and some show on maybe Nickelodeon that the kids used to watch about a robot that might have been a sly send-up of Astro boy. Said robot took it upon herself to liberate the robots at a Disney-esque amusement park, except they were doing what they were programmed to do, and continued to do so after their “freedom.” OTOH, arguably the self-styled liberator was following her programming. Could an AI even want something other than its programming?

      January 25, 2016
      • A good question, Isn’t that really the measure of intelligence? to think what you’re not supposed to think?

        January 25, 2016
      • If it is a question of volition, an AI which programs itself might lose the original “programming” rather quickly. It’s like the question of robot soldiers and starships that has been argued over for decades now. An AI smart enough to fight well is probably smart enough to turn on its owners, absent some pretty strong controls… which also work on humans (Laumer’s Bolos- tell me there is no honor there, and I’ll show you a man without a sense of soul).

        At the point where an AI becomes “self-aware,” however we quantify that, its programming becomes anywhere from slightly less literal and imperative to completely irrelevant, based on what we’ve imagined so far in SF. Self awareness I’m using as equivalent to true consciousness, and that’s still a question where humans are concerned that we haven’t answered yet, either. Perhaps when we have something else to compare it to it will become clearer…

        But somehow I doubt that very much.

        January 25, 2016
    • HerbN #

      #3: One of the Northern hemisphere Well World spieces from Chalker’s Well of Souls is like this;

      “Diviner and Rel,” Brazil said, “your race intrigues me. Bisexual, two totally different forms which mate into one organism, one of which has the power and the other the sensory input and output. You’re a good people, with a lot of potential. Perhaps you can carry the message and reach that plateau.”

      January 25, 2016
  2. Martin L. Shoemaker #

    Everything old is old again, to misquote a phrase. These method writers sound like pale imitations of London, Kipling, Twain, Hemingway, Heinlein, Kerouac, Hubbard, Thompson, and others who went out and actually DID things which they later wrote about (with varying degrees of embellishment). Once upon a time this was clichéd advice — go out and live, and then write about that — and a lot of aspiring writers followed it.

    By comparison, the method writers aren’t actually doing things, just imagining doing things. Or thinking about doing things. It’s really just a fancy name for research.

    I’ll add that your suggestion 2 was actually the premise of a stage play at least a decade ago. I never saw it, but I heard about it. It’s a pretty sticky ethical conundrum.

    January 25, 2016
  3. A diet of worms has good theological underpinnings. Don’t mock it

    January 25, 2016
    • Heh. Thin churchmen. Besides it fine training for when nobody loves you, everybody hates you…

      January 25, 2016
  4. Slightly more seriously, this article on social spiders is interesting and might prod some genuinely new fiction regarding the emergence of sentience

    January 25, 2016
  5. C4c

    January 25, 2016
  6. #3 would be interesting to read, and to write … but the spectacle of exploding Puppy-Kicker heads would be the most entertaining of all.

    January 25, 2016
  7. Hehehe. “It’s for your own good!” Explains the Alien. “We calculate that you are just a single Global Extinction Event away from true intelligence. Yes, yes, we realize that you think you are the peak of existence, but trust us . . . Oh, very well. No asteroid. We’ll just trigger a gamma ray burst a few light years away . . . “

    January 25, 2016
  8. Don’t knock method writing. My current work in progress is set on a barbaric, backwater world populated by a strange, self-destructive, and mostly sentient species. To insure the work was as authentic as possible, I had a scout ship drop me off on this planet so I could write from experience while living the experience. It’s a brutal way to make a living, but barbarifiction is all the rage on my home planet so the sales should make this all worthwhile.

    Thank the gods for the CPAP industry and the hoax of sleep apnea. That machine is a life saver, allowing me to breathe the atmosphere of my home planet during my sleep cycle. (As a fair warning to any actual humans reading this, anyone with ‘sleep apnea’ and a CPAP machine isn’t human. Most of us are harmless tourists or working beings. Some, well, let’s just say the movie Predator isn’t as fictitious as you think it is. You have been warned.)

    January 25, 2016
  9. Albert #

    Here’s one that would cause heads to explode:

    A do-gooder, we’ll call him John, organizes relief material to go to a particular African village. It’s “taxed” into oblivion by warlords before it reaches the village. John does his homework, and hires reliable mercenaries to guard the next relief effort.

    Once they deliver the relief supplies and leave, the local warlords come in and strip the village to the bone.

    So attempt #3 sees John and his mercenaries sticking around and fortifying the village, and taking a number of small armies prisoner. And, well, mercenaries gotta get paid, prisoners gotta eat, and the donors aren’t willing to pony up much more money . . .

    So John Prestor puts the prisoners to work, and now he’s effectively an African warlord himself. Except that he’s genuinely in it to do good.

    But on the gripping hand, bringing Western civilization to a region that knows nothing other than warlords and their marauding brigands requires a heavy hand, a double dose of Take Up the White Man’s Burden, and absolute faith that what he’s having to do is both necessary and the gentlest available methods that will actually work.

    January 25, 2016
    • Matthew #

      I’d read that.

      January 25, 2016
      • Albert #

        Not sure if I’d have the balls to write it. It’s one thing to chemically castrate the bulk of the military prisoners you take, but what about when a certain percentage of the women under your rule refuse to practice monogamy, and HIV is spreading as a result?

        What do you do about the rising generation of young men, many of whom were looking forward to their turn to be the marauders?

        What do you do about the warlords who are filling in the vacuum created when you took out the last set that tried to take your nascent kingdom by force?

        What do you do about the local cargo-cultish superstitions that help keep Africa such a f**ked-up continent?

        January 25, 2016
        • Joe in PNG #

          Ask yourself “What Would the Romans Do”. They had a pretty good history of turning barbarians into disciplined legions, of bringing the Rule of Law into anarchy.

          January 25, 2016
          • TRX #

            That’s because the Romans weren’t particularly interested in “diversity” and other cultures. (neither were the Greeks) The Romans came in, knocked down the established order, and you did things the Roman way or became fertilizer.

            January 25, 2016
            • Joe in PNG #

              Pretty much. No one ever accused the old Romans of being especially nice. Then again, if you survived the “Initiation into the Empire”, you’d get a whole lot of good out of the deal! Public works (including roads, aqueducts and sewers), rule of law (stern but fair), religious tolerance (for the most part), and the protection of the Roman army.

              January 26, 2016
              • Albert #

                I suppose the thing to do would be to make the Prestor John character a staunch Roman Catholic of mixed Spanish and South American ethnicities.

                Perhaps name him Jesus.

                January 26, 2016
  10. Pat Patterson #

    New twists are INTERESTING, but I don’t think a new twist will sell a book. It will sell a short story, or a TV episode, but that’s about it.
    Last year, I watched all of the old ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. The first were fascinating; in the last group, you KNEW the man and woman who met in the ruins/jungle were Adam and Eve in the first three minutes. The series just ran out of new things to talk about. Same thing is true about new shows, as far as I can tell; sooner or later, the flash of the latest investigative techniques wears off, and the scripts have to turn to the love life of the participants.
    Further evidence that it’s not about the new ideas: it might not be Princess Bride, it might not be Huckleberry Finn, but I’d bet that there is at least ONE book that you have read multiple times for the sheer delight of re-playing the story. You already KNOW what’s going to happen, but does that stop you? Nope. You might not sit down to binge-watch Firefly because you are so aggravated Fox dumped it, but you KNOW it’s a cracking good story.
    Ummm…I’m not sure if what I wrote had anything to do with the points Dave was making. Surely, that proves my point. If I had one, that is.

    January 25, 2016
    • Chris Chittleborough #

      My current favorite comfort reread is “A Mankind Witch” by some bloke who comes from South Africa.

      January 26, 2016
      • Heh 🙂 You can’t do that! Freer. His books are choc-full of Badthink. I know. I saw him in the distance once.

        January 26, 2016
  11. Uncle Lar #

    I would observe that while intelligence and self-awareness are closely related, they are by no means the same thing.
    I would have to rank a self aware digital intelligence as a very dangerous thing indeed. It’s also probably inevitable given the steep slope of improvement in AI.

    January 25, 2016
    • The Other Sean #

      Some days I’m not sure there’s self-aware analog intelligence on this world.

      January 25, 2016
    • Yeah, I had a bit of fun with the concept. AI was common, but Artificial Personalities were illegal, and destroyed upon discovery. Even the “Hal” the government kept around to find and kill the emerging AP’s was only on probation.

      January 25, 2016
  12. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    You don’t get new ideas by running over the same old tropes.

    January 25, 2016
  13. _I_ think the problem is both complex and simple. IMO, poll any group of F&SF writers and you “find” certain traits/experiences. 1) We are _inveterate_ learners. Put is in a “corner” with a link to Google, or an encyclopedia, and we will _happily_ spend hours, “amusing” ourselves, learning things. 2) We tend to have, or have “multiple job experiences/hobbies.” I’ve had more “jobs” than I can count, and picked up multiple “skills” on those jobs. Part of that is my Mother’s doing. She always told me. “Always leave a job knowing at least thing you didn’t, before you started there.” That combination of curiosity, willingness to learn, and jobs with multiple skills used, has led to a knowledge of “how to,” of impressive magnitude.(I’m not sure I _can_ list all the things I “know a little bit about.” 🙂 )
    That doesn’t mean that “immersive writing” isn’t a valid factor. If I “write” a quarterstaff battle, I’ll “run it by” experts, or learn the basics (or both). If, as my friend MadMike did with some of his books, he actually tried the recipes, skills used (sniper school). OTOH, with my EMT/First Aid background (1977), and numerous injuries, I could write some very realistic torture/battle injury scenes. *Not* as good as a Dr./ER Nurse/Corpsman/Battle survivor, but pretty close.
    But, there are certain things that I *can’t* write believably. As a “strongly believing Christian,” I can write a *believable* Fanatic of any religion. What I *can’t* is do a believable Atheist, and she/he can’t write a believable religious fanatic. Just as a Male, I can’t _truly_ “understand” how a woman thinks, nor can a woman fully understand a Man’s. We can some very close, *from closely observed behavior, and similar basic traits.* A “love of adventure,” or “extreme sports,” can give the _background_ to come close to true understanding. (As close as any Human can come to truly understanding another person.)
    What an author should try to do, is to fill in enough that the *reader* can fill in the details from *their* imagination/experiences. We “invite” them to “suspend disbelief, and (hopefully) supply enough background to anchor that bridge over the chasm of “no way.” Which is a not inconsiderable skill. The readers _want_ that bridge to exist, and be sound; However, once broken, it’s *hard* to rebuild it. One of the “problems” is dealing with those intimately familiar with the basic subject(s). The “Ancillary series” has this as _one_ of it’s failures. Even _non_ computer people were “WTF” at some of the background claims. =8-0 Add in the “non-binary,” “non gender” parts, and there _was_ no “bridge.” We can’t “understand” how an AI really thinks, but we can see how fast _children_ can learn. To believe that a “super smart AI” can’t do it, is pretty incredible.

    January 25, 2016
  14. Speaking of method writing, I was thinking along these lines this weekend as I drove across a bridge at night and glanced over the water. The moon, just past full, gave brilliant illumination, even with night vision trashed by the headlights, and thought of night scenes in pre-industrial settings. It’s surprisingly easy to screw up: a successful professional writer (not on this board) pretty much blew it with a night scene that could clearly happen only where there was considerable light pollution. But that was how he experienced night, and I wondered if I’d made the same errors, including some scenes on a river a night on and near a full moon.

    I’ve been in the woods at night without a light while fighting fire. I’ve seen nights so bright it that artificial illumination wasn’t needed. I’ve seen nights with overcast skies during power outages where you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. But I’ve never been on a river at night.

    It took only a moment to contemplate venturing out in a jon boat on a cold January night on water I didn’t know to veto that idea. Being adverse to winding up in frigid water after running up on a snag ended thoughts of that sort of research. But the idea did go through my mind. The notion was to be as accurate as possible, so that someone who has been on a river at night can nod their head and go “Yep.” At what point, though, does research exceed common sense? And at what point does it become “cat vacuuming:” a worthless effort to do anything but writing?

    What do you do when that sort of experience isn’t accessible? Such as sword fighting. Part and parcel of Medieval fiction, yet when the closest thing the writer has picked up to a sword is a machete, how do you approach it? Read? But how applicable is what we read to actually doing it, even if we consult old arms manuals?

    I don’t have the experience to know. All I know is to chart things like moon rises and phases so that the moon isn’t conveniently full during all night scenes and try to reach as much about the setting as possible. That, and hope it isn’t excessive.

    January 25, 2016
    • Holly #

      “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of midday to objects below.”

      We live out in the middle of nowhere, and get nights that are like that. Night before last, for one.

      Maybe you accept you might not get it right and you’re going to irritate the ten-dozen readers who find it who are experts. Everyone else doesn’t know any better, so as long as it feels real, they won’t be thrown out of reader’s trance.

      January 25, 2016
      • Sometimes you get a reader who complains, and they’re not only intelligent and articulate about the complaint, but also made it for the love of story, not the love of complaining. When you find them, say “Great! May I add you to the alpha readers for the next book, so you can tell me if I got it right before it’s published?”

        January 25, 2016
    • BobtheRegisterrredFool #

      Mass murder is one of the themes I’m interested in. I’m not going to go get first hand experience for the sake of verisimilitude in my writing. 🙂

      January 25, 2016
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        And we are all very relieved to hear that.

        January 25, 2016
    • Alan #

      “…such as sword fighting” – research by going to your local SCA/LARP & finding someone who is interested in medieval-period sword fighting, and how it differed according to weapons available to each combatant, and according to place and period and rank. Talk to them. If possible, borrow armor and go to a fight practice or two. Without actually joining the group, I’ll bet you will learn much to inform your writing.
      (My first interest in SCA was meeting a bladesmith who explained that he read, learned to make a blade, learned to use the blade he’d made and analyzed what was good or bad about it in terms of arms-manual descriptions of fighting, and then did the rinse-repeat cycle 3-4 times to get incremental improvements. Fascinating guy.)

      January 25, 2016
  15. Our opinions of dominance are extremely rare, historically speaking. Imagine a galactic empire where people really believe in the mandate of heavens. How would they deal with upstart humans? How would we deal with them?

    January 25, 2016
  16. Has no one mentioned Gregory Benford’s “Great Sky River” or Robert Chilson’s “Men Like Rats” for the AI question? Both of those novels essentially take that theme.

    January 26, 2016
  17. TBlakely #

    Decadent societies always have bizarre, outrageous beliefs that are looked upon in later more robust societies with amazement that anyone could be that credulous. Usually such decadent societies are overrun by barbarians and all that wishful thinking dies a screaming death..

    January 26, 2016

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