Skip to content

Posts from the ‘POLIT(ICK!)S’ Category

Done Returning

So I’m finally through the Extreme Pantser’s Guide reposts, which means I have to find something to write about on my own again. That or just ramble at the screen until I’ve filled in enough space. Or swear at the cat who decided to leap on me and drape himself over my shoulder – and who hangs on.

Yeah. Swearing at the cat is good. Read more

Writing: an intellectual diversion, or a vocation?

I’ve been trying to understand the very negative attitudes towards self-publishing and self-starting a writing career among many so-called “professionals” in the field.  (Sarah commented on the views of one such individual earlier this week.)  I note, too, that very few of those “professionals” appear to have enjoyed any meaningful success, if one defines “success” as actually making a living out of their writing (as opposed to talking about writing).  They may be highly acclaimed in academic circles, or even lauded for preserving the “purity” of their “literary talent”, but they’re sure as hell not earning enough from it to call themselves successful writers. Read more

‘Hold-my-beer’ Precedent

He was preceded by the president, setting a precedent which endures to this day.

Now there is a new superhero that could inspire and maybe even bring world peace… 🙂

Precedents are something few of us realize the value of until we’ve set them. They shape nearly everything we do: from what time your kids go to bed, to how the law is interpreted. Naturally they’re a huge part of writing too. Read more

Stir the Pot

I don’t like to stir the pot. Primarily because I’ve discovered that the best slow cooker involves a pressure cooker and only 20 minutes!

But today I’m definitely stirring the pot with a big ol’ wooden spoon (we ran out of wooden assterisks, sorry) because Worldcon just went and jumped the shark.

Read more

The Quiet Diversity of Robert Anson Heinlein -by Christopher Nuttall


The Quiet Diversity of Robert Anson Heinlein – -by Christopher Nuttall


To cut a long story short, I wrote three reviews of Heinlein’s most popular and influential books for Amazing Stories.  (You can find the first here.)  In doing so, I realised that Heinlein had practiced a form of ‘quiet diversity.’  It seemed a good topic for an essay.

‘Diversity’ is a word that brings out some pretty mixed feelings in me.

On one hand, I appreciate being able to eat food from many different cultures and explore the history of many different societies.  On the other hand, I frown at the idea that all cultures must be treated as equal when it is self-evidently true that they are not.  And, on the gripping hand, I feel very strongly that characters must not serve as politically-correct mouthpieces for a writer (or a company’s) views on society.  That does not lead to well-rounded characters, but to flat entities that are either instantly forgettable or laughable.

Diversity does not exist when a character is feted as the first [insert minority group character] to exist.  Diversity exists when the presence of such characters is seen as unquestionable.  Read more

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.

Five thoughts, loosely connected

First thought: the candle flame of the Enlightenment continues to flicker, as the West is being squeezed between the radicalized forces of the Honor Culture (Islamist jihadists) on one side, and the radicalized forces of the Victim Culture (Mizzou’s and Yale’s crybullies) on the other side. Guess who is stuck in the middle? Us. The Dignity Culture. The people who were raised right. The ones who do all the heavy lifting. We who don’t seek to be mortally offended at the drop of every hat, nor do we solve our grievances with suicide bombers. Because we have manners. Because we believe in restraint. Because it’s taken hundreds of years of hard work to get us to our present state of civilization. Because we know that the vast bulk of human history was spent trapped in a paradigm where rules, laws, and order, were whatever the local thug(s) wanted them to be. The Honor Culture desires very badly for us to go back to that paradigm. So does the Victim Culture, though they themselves would hotly deny it. I wonder how much longer the Honor Culture and the Victim culture have to punch us in our noses, and kick us in our shins, before we shove our hats forward and roll up our sleeves. Said the Dignity Culture to its unruly brethren, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Second thought: I really hope we don’t go there. We went there from about 1938 to 1945, and those years remain a startling testament to the deadly efficiency of liberal democratic forces, once they’ve been sufficiently roused from their slumber. The Honor Culture thinks the West is weak, because the West has (so far) fought limited wars, with both hands tied behind its back — where being “nice” is more important than being respected. There may come a moment when the West decides that “nice” is a phantasm, and that respect is best achieved through fear. When that happens, the result will be awful violence the likes of which nobody has seen in generations. And the great majority of the dead will come from the rank and file at the Honor Culture’s base — not jihadis, but run-of-the-mill Muslims, who didn’t really care about the fight, one way or another. The jihadis will learn: the West doesn’t hold back out of weakness. The West holds back because the West knows it’s so bloody good at killing. Once that horrendous spigot gets turned on — a people, versus a people — it won’t turn itself off again until many, many millions of human beings lay dead. Some of us, yes. But mostly them. By a huge, smoldering margin.

Third thought: ironically, it’s the Victim Culture which is enabling so much of the Honor Culture’s narrative at this point. When all ills in the known universe can be laid at the feet of Western bogeymen, what other excuse does the Honor Culture need? The Dignity Culture’s very own cognoscenti report hourly on the heinous crimes of the West: runaway capitalism, rampant sexism, murderous racism, terrible transphobia, horrendous homophobia, you name it; a veritable salad bar of civilizational sins. Never mind that the Honor Culture has member states practicing some of the most egregious forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia imaginable. How many gay men did DAESH throw off the tops of buildings this week? How many girls in Taliban or Boko Haram territory, will be raped and beaten? Nevermind. The true enemy are Mormons! They hate children and families! 100,000 tweets say so! And as you know, Bob, Twitter is never wrong. It’s time to classify Mormons as members of a hate group! But don’t blame Islam for the attacks in Paris. Never, ever blame any Muslims for anything any Muslim does in the name of Islam. But God damn those evil, backward, hayseed, yokel Mormons — something really must be done about them. It’s overdue.

Fourth thought: the Victim Culture is not something that can be corrected from the top down. Even if the universities were to magically grow spines (and balls) tomorrow, the problem would persist, because children are being delivered to the academic door in a state of emotional chaos. They have not learned — as generations past learned — that knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom happens in that instant when the fine crystal of theory, shatters against the hard granite of reality. Indeed, this is the root of the Enlightenment itself. When Copernicus correctly pointed out that the Earth orbits the Sun, not vice-versa. When Kepler abandoned his cherished vision of a perfectly geometric system of planetary motion, for an accurate model that was consistent with observable data. That facts and evidence are not relative, nor set apart. The universe is both accessible, and knowable — regardless of your gender, your ethnicity, your sexual preference, or your economic station. There is no such thing as a “privileged” viewpoint. Doubtless Kepler and Copernicus would be brought up for hate crimes, in today’s rarefied campus climate. But the institutionalized insanity would melt away within a single generation, if Western parents would simply return to using phrases like, “No,” and “Too bad,” and, “Get over it.” Punctuated by a stiff swat to the butt of the child, when necessary.

Fifth thought: or perhaps, it’s not nearly as bad as all that. The so-called Information Age, exemplified by the World Wide Web, is prone to making mountains out of molehills. Regional happenings which actually affect very few people in any demonstrable way, are blown entirely out of proportion. Crises are manufactured on an almost weekly basis, by “news” outlets eager for clicks and eyeballs, or activists hungry for coverage and influence, or politicians eager to exploit the latest inflaming of public rage, sympathy, or fear. Sometimes, the newsmen and the activists and the politicans are one and the same — it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between their rhetoric. There is no “clean” outlet. Merely a vast array of outlets and voices, all with a specific slant, angle, or agenda. We conclude that those outlets which agree with our own internal beliefs, are the most accurate; while dismissing the others. Fact-checking can be nightmarish, because the Internet allows anyone to post anything, for any reason, and pass it off as “truth” even if it’s a ball of lies. So, is the Enlightenment really on its way out? Or are we merely seeing a squall on the sea’s surface, while the slow waters underneath tell a very different story?

My personal instinct, is to try to have faith — that everything is working itself out, as it should. But I worry about the world my daughter will inherit. If both the Victim Culture and the Honor Culture co-conspire to snuff out the Enlightenment entirely, humanity may have to endure yet another Dark Age: intellectually clouded, and brutally arbitrary.