Jan 302015
 

1996 retro hugoJust a reminder to anyone who’s into the Hugos – there’s only two days left to get your membership if you want to nominate 2014 works. And even if you just want to vote on the finalists and/or attend the con, rates go up after Jan 31. So now’s a good time to buy.

For those unfamiliar – the only requirement for voting & nominating for the Hugo Awards is participating in the convention. Everyone’s encouraged to go, but if all you want to do is nominate and vote, you can do that for significantly cheaper (Supporting Membership of $40). I would recommend going to the con for the full experience, it’s a lot of fun, but even if you just go for the Supporting Membership you get to be a part of SF history, which is awesome. Plus you usually get free e-copies of all the nominated works (but not always. I’m hoping that last year was an aberration).

Link here!

Jan 292015
 

Wind_upI want to briefly rave about my favorite character from one of my favorite books – Anderson Lake of The Windup Girl. (with the caveat that I haven’t read the book since it came out a few years ago, so the details are slightly fuzzy)

I recently compared the game Forbidden Island to modern corporate capitalism. “Drawing all the value you can from a system that’s collapsing around you before abandoning it and fleeing to the next area of opportunity.” And I mentioned how exciting that is, and that it’s the basic psychology behind a lot of action movies/books.

If you could take this economic cycle and turn it into a human being, you would have Anderson Lake. He is corporate capitalism personified. Despite commanding great resources and living in luxury, he is always right on the edge of ruin. He must always take drastic measures and make gambles to stay alive. Every single time a risk presents itself, the situation he is in plays out thusly:

“The course of action I’m being presented with is dangerous. There is a fair chance that I will fail, and if I do I will most likely die immediately. But my only other option, doing nothing, results in dying anyway. So why the fuck not? It’s not like things can get worse…”

And when things do go wrong, his next-most-viable option is generally something more risky and with even worse consequences for failure. Not only will he die, but there’ll be collateral damage, or people he loves will be hurt, or so on.

Here’s the really perverse thing though – he can never assure sustainable survival by his actions. All he can do is push off his inevitable death & follow-up crisis by a few months.

This is exactly the situation corporations find themselves in all the time. Any corporation that isn’t continually profitable is dissolved. So the monomaniacal focus, out of sheer survival drive, is to ensure the next quarter is profitable and who gives a fuck about anything else? Corporations cannot plan for the long term prosperity of the human race, they’re in a tooth-and-nail struggle just to stay un-cannibalized for a few more months, constantly.

That’s Anderson Lake. His only goal is the next quarter. Nothing else matters, because if he doesn’t survive it nothing else will.

Of course inevitably his luck runs out. It’s the stupidest little thing that gets him, but that’s the point – you make enough gambles and you’re bound to lose one. But what choice did he have?

I wrote in Sympathy for the Devil that my job isn’t clear-cut for me anymore, a lot of it is confusion, and desperate hunting for data and reasons. For at least a year now I’ve been convinced that I’m going to utterly fail at something, everyone will see how much I suck at this, and I will lose my job. It’s gotta happen eventually. It’s led to a new mentality for me. It’s turned me into Anderson Lake.

The big crush of work comes at the end of every quarter. If I can survive that, I have a job for the next three months. So every three months my only goal becomes “Survive this quarter-close process.” I’m more willing to take risks that I might not otherwise (which isn’t actually very risky in the grand scheme of things, when all I do is juggle numbers on a spreadsheet, but it’s still not things I like doing), because either I take the risk and fail and lose my job, or I don’t take the risk and lose my job anyway. Might as well have a chance of riding this for another three months.

It’s also made me slightly more aggressive in regards to salary – I’m trying to get as much socked away as I can before the roof comes crashing down, so I go for the short-term gain. I want the number that the unemployment office uses as it’s base to be as high as possible when this thing runs out, so that’s become a worrying big concern.

Corporate America – you get stuck inside it for long enough, and it’ll warp you into a sick mirror of itself.

Jan 292015
 

Peter_GB1I guess this is a good time to say it. I really dislike the original Ghostbusters. The hero was clearly Egon Spengler, but the movie focused instead on Peter Venkman, who was the worlds BIGGEST asshole. In fact, I hate a lot of Bill Murray movies, because he generally plays a massive douchebag.

I hope the reboot will be better, but I doubt it will be.

Jan 272015
 

tim_powers_last_call_coverLast Call, by Tim Powers

Synopsis: A dark Gaiman-esque retelling of The Fischer King legend, mixed with Tarot mysticism and gambling, set in the early 1990s.

Book Review: An interesting tale. It kept my attention and moved quickly. It is filled with a delightful plethora of psychotics who are all demented in new and interesting ways, and you cheer when they finally meet their well-deserved doom. The creepiness of the story reminded me strongly of Stephen King, although I’ll admit I have actually read very little Stephen King, so that’s more of an impression than a statement of authority. I liked the treatment of alcoholism as well. Powers pulls in many aspects of many myths, creating a very rich mythical stew that is savory to read.

However, something about it felt lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe because I’ve always thought gambling is dumb? Or because the particular myths Powers chose for this book don’t inform my upbringing, and so didn’t mean anything to me on an emotional level. Perhaps because I couldn’t figure out why the hell anyone would want to be the King in the first place. It comes with a truckload of shit, and not a single discernable benefit. Why no, I don’t care to needlessly complicate and endanger my life for no reward. The ending also fell flat, which was a bit disappointing with such a strong foundation. It builds and builds but doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a fine book, but I didn’t get anything out of it, so… Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: A pretty good book for book clubs. It reads fast and there’s a lot to like. Due to the previously-mentioned deep mythological roots there will be a lot to discuss if one or more people in the group are well-versed in those myths, or English Lit generally. We kept talking for quite a while, and went over time. Certainly no one disliked it. If you have other options I’d suggest keeping this one at the back of the list, but you could do a lot worse. Mildly Recommended.

Jan 212015
 

fishing from moonI recently came across this post of 10 WOMEN CHRISTIAN MEN SHOULD NOT MARRY. It is, of course, hilarious.

I have a love/hate relationship with fundamentalists, because both atheists and fundamentalists do something that no one else seems to do – they take their religion seriously. Phil Goetz already covered this in his “Reason as memetic immune disorder” but for decades I was never able to figure this out. How is it that nearly everyone that’s religious doesn’t take the most important thing EVER seriously? And why was it that, when confronted by two groups that DO take the beliefs seriously, they defend/side with the group that is morally abhorrent to them but spouts the same buzzwords (fundamentalists), while rejecting the group whose values line up 95%+ with theirs but who say things that are both obvious and blasphemous (atheists)?

A digression that will become relevant.

Up until a few years ago, I knew exactly what I was doing at my job. I had certain numbers that came from location X, and other numbers that came from location Y. I combined these numbers, ran the right algorithms and analyses, and produces new numbers. The whole process was understandable.

Over the last few years my job has expanded to where now I’m confronted with mystery numbers and I have to figure out where the heck they came from, and why they are what they are, and what the heck does this mean for the company? I never have a fucking clue about how to do this – every month is a new damn struggle where I start from scratch trying to make sense of things. And I never get a full understanding of what exactly I’m doing – in the end shit often just works out and I heave a sigh of relief and go on to the next mystery numbers. Maybe people higher up in our company see more parts, and this makes sense to them. But to me, I am working with black boxes.

I’m of the opinion that this is the difference between engineering/science and “normal” people. A typical child, when given a lighter, will treat it very much like a black box. Figure out the wheel and the button, and after that explore the many ways having a fire-creation box can impact life. An engineering-minded kid, OTOH, will take that fucker apart. S/he’ll want to know how every piece interacts, why it acts the way it does, and what makes it go. S/he’ll discover the valves and the butane and probably break it, but s/he won’t feel at ease until it makes sense. I have transitioned from knowing all the guts of my work, to trying to optimize a black box from the outside. It’s stressful as hell.

But there is one thing that makes it better… no one else around me really knows what the hell is going on either. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants, getting through this as best we can, and relieved to see everything’s still working at the end of each quarter. There’s a solidarity to that. We can wink and nudge each other, and we cut each other a lot of slack. Ain’t nobody got a clue as to what’s happening in this shitstorm, so it’s ok that we’re fumbling forward together.

It occurred to me that this is how the vast majority of humanity lives. With no deeper understanding of how everything clicks into place and functions, simply as black boxes within black boxes, interacting with other black boxes. Nothing is deterministic in any comprehensible way. A few years ago I couldn’t imagine life like that. How does one live in a fundamentally chaotic world?? Now I know.

Then here comes the atheist with his fancy methods of “determining true things about reality” and “empirical testing,” upsetting the whole arrangement. Look asshole, no one actually believed that stuff about talking snakes and a world-wide flood and souls. That’s all just poetic shorthand for “Nothing makes sense. Let’s take comfort in being together.”

This is also my current model for post-modernism.

The two mindsets – one of taking propositions seriously and attempting to make sense of the universe, the other of accepting that we are adrift in chaos and all we can do is survive it – are so antithetical to each other that I don’t think they can ever be reconciled. Now that I’ve been exposed to both I can, with effort, shift from one to the other. But I’ve never been able to hold both in my mind at the same time. I had to write the middle part of this post a different day than I’ve written the top and bottom parts of it. And I gotta say – the stable, lawful view of reality feels so immeasurably better that it’s hard to describe the relief of slipping back into it. (I only stay in my existentially-horrifying job because I don’t think I can get anything that pays nearly this well elsewhere)

I used to think it was possible to spread atheism simply by pointing out the truth of it. Later I figured that I could do so by spreading to people love for truth so deep that they would naturally find it on their own. Now I think that I’m just really damn lucky, one might even say privileged, to have lived most of my life in circumstances that make fucking sense. Or perhaps that I have the right combination of advantages and blindnesses that only expose me to the parts that make sense, and keep the chaotic churn hidden from me. Ignorance is bliss?

Anyway, this is my current pet theory that tries to make sense of non-fundamentalist religious people. And it serves as a counter-point to Phil’s post: maybe reason isn’t a memetic immune disorder, maybe the analytical mindframe simply can’t coexist with the wishy-washy chaos-universe mysticism that most liberal religions consist of, and thus has to snap into either atheism or fundamentalism. (And the direction of the snap is strongly influenced by social pressures).

Jan 162015
 

OK, I’m finishing up my week of talking about Red Legacy. I’m sure everyone’s bored of it by now. I considered just stopping and not posting today, but hey, this blog is as much an archive for me as anything else, and I wanted to keep this next part around.

(oh, and yes, this story is the one that led me into the weird moral intuition)

So, before I do my final blogging on this, I will acknowledge that I’ve heard it’s extremely stupid for a writer to ever comment on reviews of his/her work. And honestly, it’s best for everyone involved if the writer doesn’t even read them. But I dunno… I think you just shouldn’t be like Teddy Bear Noir guy. I mean, Larry Correia responded to my review of “Warbound” and I thoroughly enjoyed being engaged, and think everything was very civil and cool. This was the sort of discourse I enjoy! So in that vein, I’m going to try this. If nothing else, I hope I can get a pass under the “first time published” newb-excitement excuse.

That being said, here’s some reviews!

Jarred Bretts says

> the ensuing story of the infiltration of the facility is rather cartoonish and marred by lots of unnecessary violence and gore.

This is absolutely true. I am glad he pointed this out, because the sort of people who dislike this sort of thing will really dislike the story. They should be warned away from it – I don’t want to waste their time, and I don’t want to leave them with a negative association with my name. I thank Jarred for doing what a good reviewer should do.

Farther down on the same page, Nicky Magas says

> Sleep is a luxury and secrecy is everything, but there’s nothing Marya won’t do to keep her daughter alive. Nothing.

Emphasis in original. This makes me extremely happy! This is exactly what I was going for and I’m so glad I managed to touch the right nerve! :) She continues:

> The combination of gene manipulation, social evolution and a mother’s obsessive love makes for an interesting, if at times disturbing story.

The warmth and happiness that I’m feeling at reading that cannot be overstated. I’m very happy when I’m disturbing people. :)

 

Lois Tilton also reviewed Red Legacy, but didn’t have much to say one way or the other, basically just a summary. I assume that means it didn’t touch anything and the story was forgettable. Really the opposite of what a writer hopes for. Ah well, not everything is for everyone.

 

Sam Tomaino says

>A very good debut. I will think about Eneasz Brodski for a future Campbell Award nomination.

Aaaaah, omg omg! Am I jinxing it? Should I not say anything? I mean, holy crap! I’ve heard you shouldn’t fantasize about things you really want, because that feels sorta like getting it, and you’re less motivated to pursue it when you’re getting that happiness-hit via fantasy. But damn, that is *so* everyone’s fantasy! I’m just going to leave this here and walk away, and have silly, silly dreams tonight.

Jan 152015
 

twitterSo I’ve finally created a Twitter account – @EneaszWrites. Don’t worry though, I have no plans to engage the wider twitosphere. This is purely a tool for those who want to follow my writings without having to check this lame blog all the time. Whenever sometime of mine is published, I will tweet the news there. Based on my current track record, this means one tweet every 34 years. :) Hopefully I’ll be able to improve on that with time.

Jan 132015
 

When I first wrote Red Legacy it was a villain origin story. An origin story cuz I felt like writing an origin story, and that of a villain rather than a hero because hero origin stories are played to death and boring, and villains are awesome and interesting. Back then it was called “Red Menace: Origins.” Marya’s super-villain name was going to be “Red Menace” (cuz she’s Russian. Comic books were always subtle like that :) ), and she was going to glow red (that subtlety thing again). That’s actually the primary reason that the radiophage is bioluminecent and glows red – it’s the thing that was going to give her her super-powers and her red glow.

Warning: the rest of the post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the story! Turn back now if you plan to read it later and dislike spoilers!

Like, seriously major spoilers.

OK.

When Sheila Williams wrote me about the story she said (strongly paraphrased) “I like the story, but the ending is no good. How’s about Marya dies instead?” I was reluctant. I enjoyed the whole pulpy comic-book feel of the story. But it was an origin story for it’s own sake, I was not planning to ever write in this universe again, so I decided to go along with it. Plus – it’s mother-fucking Asimov’s, I’m not going to blow my chance to be published there!

And I discovered something crazy – the ending I had written was complete crap. It added absolutely nothing to the story, and it inserted a HUGE distance between the climax and the denouement. I had gotten married to my premise of an origin story and it had led me into ruin. I hacked it out with abandon. I cut 1000 words and replaced them with a single paragraph. And the story was SO MUCH BETTER I can’t even describe it.

That is what a good editor can do. She sees this big ugly mess, spots this tweak that can fix it, and suddenly – bam! With a simple change that no one had been able to see before it’s transformed into something… well, decent, at least! I am immensely grateful for her help. I couldn’t put a price tag on that sort of thing if I tried. So many thanks to Ms Williams, and to all the amazing editors out there.

Jan 122015
 

Testing_bulletproof_vest_1923Things I Learned While Writing – Red Legacy edition.

These are things I didn’t know before, and found out while fact-checking for Red Legacy.

People have been trying to stop bullets for as long as there’ve been bullets. Early black-powder guns were relatively weak, and the lead balls could sometimes be stopped by a good silk shirt. In the 20s gangsters made vests out of multiple layers of very thick cotton, which were effective enough against pistols that the FBI (and presumably rival gangsters) switched to more powerful guns. Flak jackets from WWII were decent at stopping relatively-slow-speed flying shrapnel, but not much use against rifle rounds. After WWII the height of bullet-stopping tech was nylon webbing that held plates of steel or aluminum or ceramic (thus Marya’s upgraded lab coat). Kevlar wasn’t invented and made into armor until the mid-70s.

Every female name in the Russian language ends with the letter “A”. Or at least the ones that don’t are so rare that searching the standard “Russian Names” lists doesn’t produce any.

Chernobyl wasn’t actually a nuclear explosion. I know that this is probably common knowledge to most people, but all I’d really known about it before was that it was a nuclear reactor and a huge tragedy and there was an explosion and the area is still glowing (note: it’s not actually glowing), so of course I assumed it was a nuclear explosion. In fact, the explosion that tore the facility apart was an enormous steam explosion, and the nuclear disaster was when the fuel rods ignited and sent highly radioactive material pluming into the atmosphere for hours. The deaths via radiation sickness of those in the facility directly exposed were gruesome, but there weren’t many of them. The biggest effect was the large area of the nearby country that had to be abandoned for decades, and the still-high prevalence of cancer and genetic disorders among those who were the surrounding populace.

Chernobyl was also a complete cluster-fuck. It was due to a bungled test of a safety feature which didn’t have enough approval, was delayed to a shift that wasn’t prepared for it and then switched to third shift of workers mid-test, and had several mistakes and equipment failures exasperate it. Quite a few things had to all go wrong at once for this to happen, enough so that if it was in a fictional account the readers would groan and say “Are you kidding me? There’s no way that level of incompetence and misfortune would coincide in real life! It would make more sense as the result of enemy action or internal sabotage.” (note that I only very loosely based the Arkhipov incident on Chernobyl. I did the reading more to make sure that what I wrote wasn’t completely preposterous.)

100,000 volts is indeed enough to jump a 1-inch thick rubber sole.

Jan 092015
 

Lucille_clerc_jesuischarlie_tribute_instagramI received some disagreement with my previous post. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner, I’m busy all the time nowadays. One commenter posted:

> I recall agreeing with most of this article by Scott … You shouldn’t draw pictures of Muhammad just to anger Muslims … I think if you have some reason a picture would help, it’s probably OK to draw such a picture (standard disclaimers apply), but not just for the sake of angering people.

(Note that it’s a great post, and I also basically agree with it. It’s hard to disagree with Scott on things)

I think when satirists are killed for drawing cartoons, that’s a good enough reason to post such pictures.

I don’t normally draw or post pics of Muhammad. I don’t have any reason to, and I prefer not to offend people. OTOH, when a bunch of people are slaughtered for what the society I live in has deemed a protected right, in order to undermine that right, I get grumpy. There isn’t much I can do about something like that. But if the perpetrators of that attack had as their goal the ceasing of pictures of Muhammad being posted, I want do something to make sure that goal is thwarted. To demonstrate that killing of satirists will NOT ever result in less Muhammad cartoons, and may in fact result in more Muhammad cartoons.

I am sorry that innocent Muslims are hurt. It isn’t my wish to cause them discomfort or anxiety. But I don’t know if there’s a way to thwart the attacker’s goals without posting the Muhammad pictures. So I do it, because it is more important to me to thwart those goals than to not cause that collateral harm.

A different commenter said:

> The response to “we need to ban Nazis from exercising their free speech” is not to start spewing antisemetism in support of them.

I would consider the harm inherent in the message. If the message itself was denigrating a group of people, calling for their destruction or exile, or in some way terrorizing or hurting people, I would very strongly consider not repeating the message. In such a case I would restrict my reaction to the standard “very strong condemnation” + saying even distasteful speech should be protected + capturing the attackers and bringing them to justice.

If, instead, the message was mocking a person or thing that is held in high esteem, I would probably spread it. I don’t care if it was 12 neonazis that were killed for publishing an inflammatory picture of some famous rabbi – I’d post a picture of that rabbi as well. If the harm of the original message was no more than standard bad-joke offensiveness, that makes the benefit of spreading it to thwart the terrorist’s goals outweigh the hurt that it brings. It is the terrorists’ actions that swung that trade-off into the “spread this” zone.