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Friday Snippetses

We has them, preciousssss….

In short, since this is a fifth Friday, Amanda asked me if I’d mind posting a snippet of the space Prussians.

So, without further ado, the space Prussians address a special session of the UN…


The United Nations General Assembly Hall was certainly impressive, Friedrich noted as he walked to the speaker’s podium. The introduction, given in French and prepared in advance to judge by the instant translation disseminated to the people filling the hall, had been unwelcoming but just shy of actual insult, even allowing for context lost in the flat rendition of the quasai.

The presence of his men to either side of the high table holding the President of the General Assembly, his Deputy, and the United Nations Secretary General, did nothing to calm the security guards stationed at strategic locations around the hall.

Lady Lida stood to one side, where she would be translating from Prussian to English, from which she said other translators would translate her words to the other major languages of the United Nations.

It seemed a horribly complicated mess to Friedrich, but Lida’s explanation did make some degree of sense.

Once at the podium, he turned to the high table and bowed, then turned to face the main hall, and bowed in that direction. Then, moving slowly and deliberately, he reached up to remove his helm, which he set on the podium where the communications rig would still transmit to his men – and, not coincidentally, the quasai would be muffled without losing its ability to translate the words of others for him.

Sound rippled through the hall, surprise at his appearance he presumed.

Rather than use the awkward and clumsy appellations Lida had suggested, Friedrich said, “Good people, I pray you forgive any awkwardness. Over seven hundred and fifty years have passed since the founding of Prussia-in-Exile, and our ways have grown in isolation from our cousins here.”

Lida’s translation to English was calm and clear, her voice confident. There was no trace of the fear he’d seen while they waited to be called here.

“I understand you desire the reasons we require the land of old Prussia,” he said. “We have multiple reasons. To us, Marienberg and Koenigsberg – or as you know them, Marlbork and Kaliningrad – are holy sites. They are the original homes of the founders of Prussia-in-Exile, the brave men who first freed our ancestors from slavery.

“But it is that slavery which concerns us most.” Friedrich leaned forward, scanning the assembled delegates and visitors. “For untold centuries, slavers from the Dracaener Empire have landed in isolated parts of undeveloped worlds to restock with slaves for their mines, their factories, and their plantations. This world has been one of their hunting grounds, but soon, within the next ten years, the increased difficulty of landing and acquiring their ‘cargo’ will bring them here to conquer and enslave every man, woman, and child.

“They have already done this to many other races. The ssirrissians -” he indicated Saariss, who bowed fluidly. “- the leanders, the tirulers, and many, many others who have lost their own language and know their kind only as ‘slaves’.”

As Lida’s translation worked its way through the hall, delegates began to shift awkwardly, and the noise level rose.

“We will not allow that to happen here.” Friedrich let his voice ring out, loud enough that the microphone made his voice burble. “But we cannot help you protect your world, our home world, without a planetary base.

“Nor do we ask you to give without recompense. We will pay fairly for all we take, and we will make our technology available to you for study and use. We will train those of you who wish it in the use of our weaponry, and provide you with training in our medical techniques.

“But make no mistake, no matter the cost, we will not – can not – permit our home world, your world, any other world we can save to fall beneath Dracaener claws. That is all I have to say, good people. I thank you for hearing my words.”

Lida’s voice remained steady as she finished translating his words to English, but the hand that wasn’t visible from the audience clenched into her skirt.

From behind Friedrich someone spoke. Lida’s translation was almost word for word the same as the quasai’s, though she identified the speaker as the Secretary General “Am I to understand that you threaten the nations of Earth with war if we do not meet your demands?”

“Prussians do not threaten.” Friedrich let the implications of that sink in before he continued. “I beg you understand: when I say you face the Dracaener Empire within ten years, I mean that a subjugation fleet could arrive tomorrow, or some time from now, but it would be a miracle if the decision to enslave humanity waits ten years.” He made a show of surveying the hall. “I see here an effort to rise above centuries of warfare and mistrust, the dedication to a noble goal indeed.” He would be confessing his flattering lies to the Justice of Prussia’s Priest-Brother, surely, for Earth’s Internet showed no evidence of nobility in these people. “All this would be crushed beneath Dracaener claws. To them, you and I are merely talking animals.” Once again he surveyed the sea of faces before him. “The Prussian Order is a successor to the Order of German Brothers of the House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, just as Prussia-in-Exile is a successor to the Monastic State of Prussia. Like our predecessors we are sworn to help, defend, and heal. Though it is near blasphemy to make war against our fellow humans, we will do so if the alternative is to allow your spirit, your cultures, your striving to overcome your base nature and forge a peaceful future, to be crushed and the light of humanity extinguished.” He paused long enough for Lida to finish translating, then he said in a soft, intense voice. “No matter your decisions here, we will not allow you to be destroyed.”

Quite a few members of the audience and several delegations rose to their feet, applauding. Friedrich could not say which national delegations approved and which did not: he was satisfied that he had won some, though that small victory was unlikely to bring any concrete alliance.

Too many of Earth’s people had been safe and wealthy long enough they had begun to forget what horrors could be wrought by a determined enemy.

When the applause died down and those standing reclaimed their seats, a light shone amongst the delegates, and one of men at that desk – bench? – leaned forward to speak. The quasai’s translation came faster than Lida’s because the speaker’s question had to be translated to English before Lida could translate it to Prussian. “The Russian delegate asks: What proof do you have of your claims?”

Friedrich had expected a demand of that ilk. “To one who wishes us gone, no proof will be sufficient.” He paused a moment before continuing. “Consider this: every northern region of Earth has legends of the people of settlements and villages simply vanishing, leaving only small children. Of entire tribes gone. Every region also has legends of demons that come in the night and take the unwary, and those demons always have red skin and horns.” He signaled Saariss. “We are about to display recordings from the liberation of Farang. They will show what we face more than any words I can offer.”

He schooled his face to blankness as the giant screens on either side of the high table came to life. Though severely edited, this footage – converted by the Technologists so the format could be used here – showed clearly the state of the enslaved, and the nature of the work the Empire used them for. “No doubt some of you wonder why a race with the technology you see would use slaves. The reason is simple: it is cheaper to use slaves than to use automatons. An automaton is expensive to build and maintain. Slaves merely need food and time to breed.”

When sounds of horror and nausea began to rise, Friedrich signaled Saariss to cut the transmission. “Good people, we do not wish to fight any of you. But our desires will not stop us doing what we must to ensure that all humanity is free.”

Lunacon is Coming

Run for your lives! Or something.

I’ve got my tentative schedule for Lunacon this year – it’s happening from April 7 through April 9 this year, and in a change from the ones I’ve been to so far it’s not at the M.C. Escher Memorial Hotel (aka the Hilton Westchester) this time around – I’m going to miss those dimensional portals and weird side effects.

Although… I have to admit that I kind of hope this means things will be a little more organized. Quirky is a given – I’ve yet to attend a Lunacon that didn’t have quirky out the wazoo. It’s one of the reasons I think of Luna as my “home” con even though Philcon is much closer (and I’ve been to it maybe twice).

So, my schedule.

For the brave, insane, and insomniac, I start on Friday with a reading. At 10:30 pm. This would normally be an occasion to dig out something a little more… er… adult, but since I haven’t got anything like that on the burner, I’ll probably read from the space Prussians. If anyone shows up – which, well… Let’s just say I’m fully prepared to call the bar rule on that one. I’m not a Name. I don’t expect an audience.

Saturday is the big, crazy day. It goes sort of like this:

  • 10:00 am – The Plausible Impossible. Ryk Spoor is moderating, and the other panelists are Ben Parris, John Langan, April Grey, and Ken Altabef.
  • 11:00 am – Telling the Monster’s tale. Darrel Schweitzer is moderating, and the other panelists are Elektra Hammond, Pauline J Alama, and Nicholas Kaufmann.
  • 3:00 pm – Strong Heroines in a Changing World. Pauline J Alama is moderating, and the other panelists are Carole Ann Moleti, Jordanna Max Brodsky, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and Karen Heuler.
  • 4:00 pm – My Character is not me. Barbara Krasnoff is moderating, and the other panelists are Paul Levinson, Terence Taylor, and Gordon Linzner.

Sunday, I get to trawl the dealers room and art show and see what goodies I can find. And catch up with any friends who are there. And… all that stuff. I’m looking forward to it – the panels should all be fun, with some interesting perspectives and discussion going, and of course there are quite a few people I like and respect who will probably be there.

And – of course – I shall be being me just as hard as I can so there could well be a case or three of a spade getting called a fucking digging stick. Which always makes for an interesting panel.

Finding Meaning

Years ago, when I went to the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers’ workshop, I found myself listening to the things they were saying on HOW to write, and finally asked Kris, “But what about why you write?  How do I work on that?”

I got back a puzzled look (as I should) and the words that we were each supposed to find WHY we wrote.  Or words to that effect.

Which was right and just, since while most of us have no clue why we write, we know we can’t stop.  If we want to make up a pretty story about why we write, GOOD.  No one can stop us.

In my case I write because otherwise people object to my kidnapping total strangers to tell them stories.

But is every story alike?  Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts?  What meaning do I find in my work.

Ah.

Well… No, every story is not alike.  Very early on I identified certain stories which I called “heart’s blood.”  More on that later.

Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts?  Not noticeably.  There are two short stories I planned to write, to get a point of view across.  The first, the point of view was supposed to be that there is no such thing as perfect diplomacy.  Sometimes even with the best translations and intentions, diplomatic efforts will only precipitate war. It never got written.  Yes, the story made sense, and had a point, but I had no impetus to write it.

The second story was about how boomers were using social blue models to loot the younger generations, and what this would cause, in terms of upheaval and backlash.  Never wrote it.  True, but way too depressing.

So, no.  I write stories that form complete in my mind, and which do, sometimes, include elements of political or cultural things I believe.  I write things that fascinate me and interest me.

They might have my beliefs in them.  But they aren’t started or written to preach.

But if not to promulgate my views, what are stories for?

Well, “heart’s blood” stories come alive.  There are real people with real things at stake and a real struggle to make things come out right.  I CARE for the characters and the situation.  I want it to come out right.  I’m riveted.

Which is why heart’s blood stories usually capture others too.

I mean, what kind of art is it if when you look at it you need to have it explained to you how it’s good because it supports the right principles?  Oh, wait, modern art.  Never mind.

Art: real art throughout the centuries can speak across the centuries, regardless of how much society has changed and how much the principles believed in have changed.  We’re not any longer the solid Catholic society in which Leonardo DaVinci worked, but the Virgin of the Rocks still speaks to us and hits us in the emotions.

Shakespeare’s wording has aged, and sure we know some of it was Tudor propaganda, but the stories still live and the characters are true.

But what about promulgating the just and right ideas?  What is art if it doesn’t speak truth to power?

Art is art.  Whether it serves propaganda purposes or not, art remains art.  Whether it opposes or endorses the “power” in society doesn’t matter.  Richard III was an hatchet job.  It’s also, undeniably art.

Do not let yourself be gulled into writing this or that because “this must be said” or that “Is speaking truth to power.”  Sure, if those are your reasons to write, that’s fine, but ultimately?  It can mask what you’re doing so you produce very bad art.  I.e. if you’re concentrating on preaching the “right” (or left) “truths” you’re not concentrating on making the world and the characters live in their own right and be true art.  Sure.  Some people can do it.  But you’re making it exponentially harder.

Write heart’s blood.  Write what makes your heart sing.  If people tell you that it’s wrong, and that you should write truth to power, or power to truth, or whatever they tell you you should do, ignore them.

True art, or as close as you can get to it, is eternal.  Ignore ephemeral concerns.  Go and write.  That is the meaning and the whole of the meaning.  Go and write stories that live.  Nothing else matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

Post is coming

Sorry, guys. I’m running late this morning — glares at dog.  There’s been a bit of upset at the house — glares at dog again. And it has thrown everything behind. I’ll be back with a blog post in a couple of hours after I take the dog to the vet and clean up. I don’t know if he just got into the birdseed the squirrels dumped out of the supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeder or if he got into something he shouldn’t have. I think he’s okay but he had a tough night last night. In the meantime, if there’s anything you want me to discuss, leave suggestions in the comments.

Thanks.

Today Mars. Tomorrow the Galaxy

Sf is occasionally predictive and a driving force toward a future.

Believing it major force is a vanity authors and publishers like to engage in. It does sometimes ‘make straight the way’ by preparing the public to accept concepts that were simply outside their Overton window before (the idea of space travel, for example). But… well, viewed dispassionately, 99% of sf (or fantasy or murder mysteries) are more of a reflection of their society, than society is a reflection of them.

Yes, most of it is just entertainment. I know this is a bit lowering if you had delusions of grandeur, a belief in your sacred mission to make the future gender-fluid or whatever, but at least entertainment generally pays.

The interesting part – for the working writer trying to make a living out of this is that looking at the world and its interests can give you a remarkably good idea what could well be popular into the future. When the space program / moon-race was hot and front and center, the popular and well-selling sf had a hard-engineering interplanetary ‘realistic’ feel to it. For the last few years when manned space programs were far back on the US Admin’s agenda, which also slipped away. SF generally actually became more ‘space opera’ (in the sense that space/space ships/ other worlds was merely a convenient setting for the story – which really didn’t have space etc as a core plot requirement. There is nothing wrong with this, just as there is nothing wrong with Brazilian as compared to Kenyan coffee. It’s just the not same and to different people’s tastes.)

With President Trump now supporting and endorsing ideas like manned flights to Mars, I’m guessing the “THE MARTIAN” might be one of those books that paved the way – but we may have a lot more that follow that way. There was always a market, it may just be a bigger one.

Of course that’s not the way everyone sees it. I was fascinated to see a combination of sneers ‘He just wants to sell Martian Real Estate (and variations on this theme) from people I thought were sf fans eager for space travel, and ‘We should solve all the problems on earth first’.

Curious.

I wonder if these people will stay non-customers, and just how many of them there are?

I wonder if the latter group have any idea how much of scientific progress we owe to that space race, and how vastly that impacted on all of our lives in so many ways from Teflon to GPS navigation, and a few million stops between, that just couldn’t have come out of ‘solving all the problems on earth first.’? And a great many of them made solving those problems a lot more plausible. Not completely plausible, because the human capacity to invent stupid problems is vast, if not infinite.

I wonder about the former group too. Is a spade not a spade if someone you didn’t like made it? We had an amusing incident a few days back where in the hearing for a new Judge (I think for the US Supreme Court. Sorry, it’s not my country, and so I don’t pay all that much attention) had a Conservative – Senator Cruz IIRC ask the Judge for the answer to life, the universe, and everything. To which he got the answer ‘42’ – and the resultant melt-down from some snowflake that the Hitchhiker’s Guide was now tainted… because people not of her political persuasion had read it, remembered it, and were amused by it.

It had been sullied by their vile eyeballs, and would remain now forever unclean. She could never enjoy it again.

By now my vile eyeballs are rolling so hard and fast you could hook up a generator to them and power a small city. I was reminded of Orson Scott Card and John C. Wright – both considered brilliant writers by the Modern American Left… until they were cast out utterly for doctrinaire reasons in their personal lives and not their writing. Now, the same books, same writing style, has been miraculously transformed from pure gold into the basest of base metals. A spade is not a spade any more. Humans getting to Mars was good but is now bad. And logic has gone for lunch.

Oddly I consider someone with a different worldview reading and enjoying my work a huge win – even if what they get out is not what I meant. I can’t control what they think, and don’t want to. But I have communicated… possibly over a very wide and high barrier. That’s an achievement. And maybe I can make some points – as well as some money. I couldn’t do that if they didn’t sully it with their eyeballs.

Information vs Infodumps

No two authors are alike, and no author is alike over time. This is excellent, as the audience isn’t a monolithic block either, and wants different things, too. And… then there’s infodumps.

All stories require a certain amount of information to be conveyed, and context for the story. In stage plays, there was once a convention to open the story with two characters, often the maid and butler, gossiping and giving us the backstory. Which led to the “Maid and Butler” dialogue, also called “As you know, Bob.” (Link is to TV tropes.)

There’s also the prologue, wherein the information is presented as “So far in this series…” or “This story is set on a world with the following pronunciations, tribes, history, or deadly dangers not known on earth…” (Very popular in the 80’s)

Times and tastes change, and now the general standard is to work this information into the story instead of presenting it in a chunk of front. Otherwise know as, you can’t get the people to learn about the story unless they care about the characters.

Working in, though, has a range between Heinleining and Infodump. On the one end, Heinlein was famous for working the worldbuilding into small details and conversation. How do you know you’re on a space station in the future? Well, “the door dilated” instead of the door opening. On the other end is putting the information into huge chunks between dialogue or action. This can be done very well, though if you get known for it, you too may end up parodied by your fans, like “How David Weber Orders A Pizza.”

Most authors are usually somewhere inbetween. I personally don’t like infodumps; they make my eyes glaze over. Jim Curtis, over there leaning against the back wall, is laughing his head off because I beta-read for him… and he’s well-used to seeing anything over a line or two marked on the side of his draft as “infodump; skimmed this”, or “got bored here.” Fortunately, he 1.) doesn’t take it personally, and 2.) knows that most readers are not like me!

(And if you want a neat little story about dealing with an alien invasion while you’re trying to set up a contraband still, check out Rimworld: Stranded. He’s getting close to releasing the follow-up novel, so you won’t have to wait long for more great stories in that galaxy!)

When I put out my first story, I almost went with no infodumps at all. (There are a few worked in, because beta readers got confused.) And it shows: there are two running themes in the reviews. Some readers say that they liked how there were no infodumps, and that you got to have the world unfold as you read… and the other readers say that they got confused on a couple points, and would have had a better time if that info had been dumped in up front!

Clearly, this means you want to sneak information in earlier and better than I did. Where do you tend to end up on the imparting information scale? How do you prefer to do impart yours: dialogue, exposition, scene building, prologue, or bits of narrative summary?