Nov 212018
 

A few years back, Rainbow Rowell wrote a post titled “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love.” Sadly, it’s been taken down, but it can still be found in pdf format around the web, because it was important to many people. Myself included.

It compared the love of reading to addiction. It pointed out that reading is an escape from reality. “Sometimes I worry that I’m not really living. That I’m spending as much time in secondhand lives than I am in the real thing.” Give it a read, it’s short.

I feel I’ve pretty much overcome this addiction. But I worry about the lasting effects.

I often feel detached from the world. I find myself unable to fully trust anyone, to get fully attached to any person or group of people. I don’t trust anything to last, and I live my life so that anything can be dropped if needed, and nothing and no one can be used against me as a weapon.

I suspect one of the reasons for this is that fictional worlds are fraught with peril. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be fun. In these worlds, people you care about die. Hundreds of people across dozens of lives. Everything is stripped from you, again and again, to put you through an arch of struggle which you can grow from as a character and leave you with a satisfying resolution. You begin to question the wisdom of growing close to anything, knowing it’ll be taken away.

And in the end, regardless of how pleasant the story and the fact that no one died and it was a wonderful fairy-tale ending… in the end, all your friends leave you anyway. Because you reached the last page, and that world ceased to exist. Every single book you pick up is another chance to grow connected, and then to have those people leave you and never return. Even a 20-novel series eventually has to end. Everyone dies.

It gets to the point where you have a hard time remembering people’s names in real life, or remember many personal details about them. Because in all the lives you’ve lived, the emotional lesson you’ve learned is that people are disposable. They will be with you for a time, and then they will leave, and you will pick up another book and replace them with someone else. If everyone is interchangeable, how do the little details matter?

Of course, this could all just be a way for me to excuse my rude treatment of others. I certainly don’t have trouble remembering the names of authors I like. It could be a way of avoiding going to therapy and dealing with a childhood of isolation. Maybe I should just consider that I might be depressed. Or maybe there are real effects to running many high-fidelity emotional-trauma simulations in your mind every year. Despite the title of this post, I think it’s not possible for human brains to not update on fictional evidence, at least to some degree. The more engaging and gripping stories are–the “better” they are–the harder it is for the emotional core of the brain not to update on them. After all, the whole point is to “be moved” emotionally in a way beyond one’s control.

That being said, the first chapters of my novel are now available, and more are coming each week. These things are self-perpetuating.

Nov 162018
 

This is the spoiler post for Circe, which talks about everything, but specifically the ending.

If you don’t want spoilers, don’t continue.

 

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As I said in my review, I viewed the gods within Circe as a metaphor for The Patriarchy. Circe explores just about every method a woman can use to deal with a Patriarchal society.

She starts out fawning and eager to please. Seeking approval from her father, as if this would provide some sort of protection and security. She sees first hand that this does nothing. A powerless person has nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. Scylla, the beloved, is mocked with delight by her family when she’s turned into a monster. Circe’s mother is cast aside without a thought when her coupling with Helios proves politically troublesome. Being someone’s pet is terribly insecure, and pretty shitty anyhow.

She tries to be the good wife for her fisherman. She makes him happy, supports him, and eventually elevates him to godhood. And the instant he doesn’t need her anymore, she’s tossed aside as well. Without even the recognition that she’s done anything.

She tries to check out of the system entirely. Exile to an isolated island, just leave her alone. Nope, no can do. The system comes for you, and it will use you how it sees fit.

Then we have a wonderful dialog with her cruel half-sister. The sister points out that she makes poisons and monsters because if she didn’t she would be kept in a cage and bred to death. The system wants to use her up and discard her, and the only way she can live a decent life is to take power. To bend the world to her will through force and cruelty. It’s a wonderful revelation, and it shows just how shitty the Patriarchy is for everyone, even those on top.

We have a similar revelation about Odysseus much later. Where we see first his charming, warm side. And later the cold, violent side, which he was shaped into via this shit-ass system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For a while she rages against men, and it’s very emotionally satisfying for the reader, but it leaves her bitter and unhappy with life. Then she finds Odysseus, one of the few good ones, and for a year she’s happy. But eventually the gods catch up with her and ruin that, too. (Also, he wasn’t that great after all… just better than most). She goes into full defensive mode, putting up a wall between herself and the rest of society. And that actually works, for quite a while! But it’s constant effort, and it drains her strength year after year, and if she ever slips for even a second it’ll all come crashing down. This is not sustainable.

So she decides this has to end. She has the most powerful magic in the world on her side. She’s smart as fuck, and she’s had more than enough of this shit. She calls her father down and has the most epic verbal show down with him. She dares him to test her power. She states she would rather ignite a war between the gods and see the world burn than be at their mercy any longer. She renounces her heritage, thinks of gods as “them” rather than “us”, declares that “I’m finished here, one way or another.”

The novel’s inciting incident was the chaining & torture of Prometheus. His rebellion against the gods and compassion for the downtrodden have been a recurring element during the narration. Now, in the final chapters, Circe is armed with a weapon even the gods fear, and she goes on a quest to retrieve the most powerful magical components in existence. I am so fucking happy at this time, because we are about to see some amazing shit. The world will be sundered, and the gods cast down. The Patriarchy will be smashed, and it sounds like Circe may very well die in the process, but fuck them all, it’ll be worth it! The heavens themselves will shake!

To step back just a bit, I didn’t actually expect all that to happen. It was pretty clear that the system is just too big for one person to destroy, even with the world’s most powerful magic. Much like the Patriarchy can’t actually be smashed. But there were hints throughout, hints that the world could be split somehow, and Circe could leave this world behind and enter a better one.

It turns out, Circe does leave this world behind. By committing suicide.

After all that, all her rage and learning and growth and fighting, she ultimately decides to just give up and kill herself.

WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. FUCK.

After all the compassion she’s shown for humans (or “everyone else trapped in the Patriarchy” if we’re extending the metaphor), after all her admiration of Prometheus for sacrificing himself so completely to make their lives less awful, she decides everyone else can fend for their fucking selves and she’s just going to nope the fuck out. After all her words about how she won’t put up with the gods’ abuse anymore, she surrenders so utterly that she kills herself for them so they don’t even have to inconvenience themselves with the effort. When she said “I’m finished here, one way or another,” I thought she meant that either this system would end, or she would die fighting it, not that she was abandoning everything. How are we supposed to sympathize with this? How is any of this OK?

To those saying that gods are inhumane because they are inhuman, and becoming humane means one must become human – bullshit. We have proof in the forms of both Prometheus and Circe that one can be a god and be compassionate and humane. To those saying “becoming mortal isn’t suicide” – bullshit. For a god it’s as much suicide as a human deciding to drink themselves to death over the course of years. And in both cases it’s cowardly. And the flash-forward dream-sequence final chapter lingers quite a bit on her eventual death anyway, like that’s the best part of being human. It is a suicide, and it is cowardice. I would have preferred no final chapter at all, an abrupt ending would at least have let me continue believing Circe was a good, courageous person.

Bleh.

Oct 242018
 

tl;dr – I’m publishing a novel at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. It’s Lovecraftian fantasy in 2nd century Rome, updating weekly on Sundays. Chapter 1 drops on 11/11/18. There are 44 chapters in total. I based it on a story I wrote a few years ago, but I would NOT recommend reading that story now, as it contains huge spoilers.

 

I wrote the short story “Of All Possible Worlds” in early 2015. I wrote it hoping to win a spot in an anthology looking for Lovecraftian fiction in pre-gunpowder settings, called “Swords v Cthulhu.” Inspired by Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically his “Fall of the Roman Republic” arc, and Sister Y’s hypothesized Transdimensional Justice Monster, I wrote a story set in Imperial Rome.

“Swords v Cthulhu” capped all stories at 5,000 words. When I was about 3,000 words in, I realized that I was barely 1/3rd of the way into my story. I cut entire scenes, including a sub-plot and an entire character, because I really wanted into this anthology. My final draft was still nearly 1000 words over, so I cut worldbuilding and condensed detail, and finally squeaked in at just a couple words under 5000.

This was well worth the effort. Not only did I get into the anthology, but one of the editors gushed about how fantastic this story was. The book came out in August of 2016, and I was contacted a few months after that by the editor of Wilde Stories–the annual anthology of the Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. The story was reprinted in Wilde Stories 2017.

I was elated, and not only due to the great reception. I had so much more I wanted to say in that story, and so much more I could do with it. The most terrifying thing for me, as a new writer, was the idea of writing a novel that no one wanted. A novel is a huge project for a part-time writer, over a year of concentrated effort, and no way to know ahead of time if it was worth all that pain. This validation was like a giant green light. “People like this story! Write the rest of it now!”

And so I did. I labored over this manuscript for a year and a half. I submitted all of to my writing group and spent several more months revising and rewriting. Our group’s head, Nebula-award winning author Ed Bryant, at one point called it “Bravara writing!”, which helped more than words can say.

It’s been well over a year since I finished this novel. I have a lot of faith in it. I wrestled for quite a while with the publishing options available. In the end, I’m going to go with the time-honored Rationalist tradition of serially publishing fiction online, a chapter at a time. My reading experience of HPMoR and Unsong was drastically improved by reading along with everyone else as chapters came out, and I really enjoy that format. I’d like to do it with something of mine a well. :)

The novel is titled “What Lies Dreaming.” Chapter 1 will drop on November 11th, at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. Every Sunday another chapter comes out, until all forty-four are up. The novel is broken up into eight sections, each corresponding to one day in-story. Around the time we reach the last “day”, I’ll release the full book for purchase, both in ebook and paper options, should one wish to purchase it.

I’ll also have a Patreon up. There’s no need to support via Patreon, but anyone who does gets chapters one week early at the $1/month tier, and access to the Discord server. At higher tiers people can get access to Author’s Notes, some non-canon deleted content (including one full chapter that was cut), getting to read an entire “day” when the first chapter of that day releases, signed physical copies of the book when it becomes available, etc. None of these are needed to enjoy the story, but I want to offer them as extra thanks to anyone willing to support the arts.

A note about the story that served as the jumping off point for What Lies Dreaming: I would recommend NOT going back to re-read or re-listen to it. While the main storyline has been somewhat altered, and expanded upon greatly, the short story does include massive spoilers for the novel. If you have read the short story, please don’t drop spoilers for those who haven’t.

 

Oct 232018
 

This is an older pic, 2013 I think

I was just at MileHiCon over the weekend (Denver’s major local SF/F Lit con. 50 years this year!). Nowadays the majority of what I do there is meet up with friends/acquaintances that I basically only see once a year at these things and catch up on stuff. We sit or stand, have some drinks (often late into the night), talk shop, talk life, joke around, etc. It’s a lot of fun! It feels like a reunion.

So I hate it when people refer to going to these sorts of events as “networking.” I dislike the whole concept of networking. It makes people feel like tools. Networking implies business. It’s about profit and career. I never approach a friend with “Hey, you wanna network on Saturday?” I never ask a partner “Hey, I miss you, haven’t networked with you in a bit, got plans this weekend?” So why the hell am I “networking” at a convention about one of my passions in life?

I blame capitalism. Apparently one can’t even have fun without feeling guilty, unless it’s about advancing oneself in life. >:( I just like meeting people and talking and making acquaintances. I don’t expect anything from any of these evenings except a fun evening. I find that makes this actually fun, instead of some weird ratrace. Even when I’m talking to super-successful people that I admire and mostly only know from a distance… I’m doing it because I admire them and I want to bask in the glow of exchanging words with someone I admire. Not because I’m hoping they’ll be useful, or do me some sort of professional solid later on. I doubt Cat Valente remembers me at all, but I had the most thrilling evening getting pho with her and Charlie Jane Anders, and I won’t forget it for decades. :)

My most uncomfortable convention was World Fantasy, because everyone knows that’s the big “networking” convention were all the industry professionals go. And whenever I tried to do that I felt cheap and dirty, and I did a pretty crappy job of it. The times I remember fondly were when I was hanging out with fellow newbie writers and we were just shooting the shit. I regret having tried to network at all. People are not tools. I wish I had just chatted friendly-like with everyone and not bothered to try to find the agents and publishers. :/ I made a few good friends that weekend, and that was by far the best part of it.

So screw networking. Screw capitalism. I’m *am* here to make friends.

Oct 032018
 

I’m going to ignore the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh actually did what he’s accused of. I’m more interested in the environment that shaped him.

Brett, to all appearances, was a Frat Bro. He drank too much, and he thought doing so was awesome. He partied, and bragged about how much he partied, and exaggerated his sexual exploits. Brett cared about his own enjoyment, and wasn’t too concerned about others.

I grew up a nerd. I was alone a lot. I didn’t drink until several years after college (to be fair, I dropped out after one year). I didn’t date or kiss anyone in high school. I was terrified of hurting others. I was neurotic as fuck about sex. Because one of the lessons I internalized about sex, in my Christian upbringing, was that sex ruins women. Before sex, they are pure beings with overwhelming inherent value. After sex, they lose all that value and are common, like the rest of us. I never got on board with “someone who’s had sex is like chewed gum,” but I was aware that stigma was out there as well.

This meant my primary role within the human experience is as a despoiler. I take what was beautiful and precious, and degrade it. I cannot help but do so, it is part of the very nature of existence, and I cannot be divorced from it. This is on top of the fact that men are the bringers of violence, the spreaders of war, and statistically dangerous to be around.

I’m not saying this is a good mindset. It’s certainly not a healthy one.

I despise Frat Bros. Because Frat Bros don’t give a fuck about others. They embrace all aspects of the despoiler archetype that I loathe. They’re obnoxiously loud, they trash the environment around them, they make people afraid and uncomfortable, they impose their careless violence on anyone around, and they’re fucking proud of it at the end. It makes them “cool.”

I despise them not just because of how they hurt others, but for how they burn the commons. They make women afraid of men. They spread the impression that men are despoilers. They destroy the ability for people to be comfortable displaying sexuality in any but the most protected settings, which just infuriates me, because I love the expression of sexuality in all its forms. These fuckers are the reason women can’t trust men. These fuckers are the reason patriarchy exists.

Brett loves beer. Brett loved to party until he vomited, then party some more. Yes, his brain hadn’t matured yet, and he was living in a toxic culture that encouraged this behavior. He no longer has that excuse. He’s in his 50s. Not only has he not made amends for his thoughtless violence, he defends it. He sees nothing wrong with today’s young men perpetuating the same Frat Bro culture. A grown man doing that should have his professional life fall to tatters in his hands. He should not be allowed within a hundred miles of a position of authority. Not until he’s shown some understanding of why what he did was wrong.

If he fails in that, I have no sympathy for him. Let him burn. Other parents should point him out to their sons and say “Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t drink too much. If you see your friend drinking way too much, watch out for him. Make sure he doesn’t assault anyone. Take him home, and if he made anyone fearful that night, tell him the next morning so he can make amends. Friends don’t let friends ruin their lives.”

I don’t know what happened at any particular party. I do know rape culture when I see it, and I cannot stomach a defense of it.

Oct 022018
 

Any synopsis would be spoilery. These are books 2 and 3 of Terra Ignota. If you liked Too Like The Lightning (book 1 of Terra Ignota), you will continue to like these. They’re really good. If you haven’t read any yet, see my post on Too Like The Lightning, or my interview with Ada Palmer.

This review kinda contains some spoilers, in a general sense, but nothing that isn’t already strongly telegraphed in the first book.

The more I read about today’s Culture Wars, the more I see Terra Ignota in everything around me. When I started Too Like The Lightning, I thought this was a wonderfully built future world. Fabulously imagined, meticulously built up in many layers across wide domains, and incredibly imaginative. Now I read it and I think “Holy fucking shit, this is the world we are living in right now, with the skin changed so that observations on the current day can be made through metaphor.” And yes, I know that all fiction is contemporary. I know that SF/F has been used since its very first works to actually be conversations about pressing current-day issues that pretends to be fanciful so it can say things one couldn’t say otherwise. But it still startled me just how insightful these works are when I woke up to what was happening around me.

The hives are our cultural tribes taken to their fullest extreme. One of our great problems today is that our geographic nations rule greatly disparate cultural tribes under a single government, binding them all with laws that are morally unacceptable to every one of them (although which laws it is are that are morally unacceptable differs from group to group, so everyone despises some thing, but never the same thing, and often what one group considers morally abominable is a moral requirement of others!). This leads to constant struggle to seize power and rewrite the laws (and norms) binding everyone, and thus The Culture Wars. This is exactly the situation in the Terra Ignota series, except they’ve found a way to prevent anyone from having to live under laws they find morally abhorrent. Problem solved!

Except not really, because all this did was paper over the problem and tell everyone it’s fixed, so we should all ignore it. The root cause, the incompatibility of the cultures, is still present. It continues to cause social strife and conflict, so that it can only be averted by a global regime of full surveillance and preventative assassination.

Let’s also take a moment to admire how Palmer included the parallel social construct of suppressing all gender expression. She says on more than one occasion, both within the books themselves, and in interviews, that she is portraying a society that went post-gender badly. Instead of resolving the sex divide, everyone simply agreed to remove any acknowledgement of gender and pretend this fixed the problem. It leads to deep pathologies within society, as well as individual defenselessness to sexual desires and sexual predators. This is the exact same tactic that was used to “resolve” the culture wars. I didn’t realize it while reading the novels, but in retrospect it’s so obvious it’s blinding. Palmer is yelling “Hey, society! Stop burying problems and pretending they don’t exist! Actually solve this shit!!”

She seems to be less than hopeful as to what will happen to us if we don’t. The society of Terra Ignota is descending into full civil war. A vicious, terrible war, because there are no borders, and thus there is no place that is safe. Every combatant lives interspersed with the enemy at all times. There’s a lot of people in the US worried that we’re heading for a Civil War II. We would find ourselves in the same situation. Sharing our grocery stores, our subways, and our neighborhoods with filthy Alt-Righters, Social Justice Activists, Rationalists, etc.

I also want to take a moment to highlight how damned prophetic Palmer is. She started writing this series in 2008. 2008!!! When I heard that I asked “Waitaminit… you were already writing the post-gender They/Them world in 2008? I know I haven’t been on college campuses in quite a while, but that seems really freakin’ early! I’m not totally out of touch, and this has only been a thing for a few years now. Was this already a thing where you were in 2008?” She replied, with some exasperation, “No! It came out in 2016 and people were all ‘oh, she’s jumping on this gender bandwagon’ but I totally want credit for coming up with it way before that!” And first of all – mad props to her for just that. But think about what she’s done. Combining historical insights and the subtle interactions she saw building in the world around her in 2008, she created a world that reflected the most pressing cultural issues of ten years in the future before any of us were even near that stage. Back when we were still freaking out about the worldwide financial collapse and catching Bin Laden. I know it’s partly luck, but even so, it’s damned prescient. I am honestly shocked.

And as frustrating as it must be to have your book in limbo for years before it finally makes it to print, I think it may have been a boon in this case. Five years ago, we didn’t know this was the world we were living in. It may not have made this same impact, and drawn this much attention.

Or who knows, maybe it would have. Maybe we could have more clearly seen what was coming, and been better able deal with its unpleasant surprises. I don’t think most people are quite that insightful. I certainly wouldn’t have been. Hell, I didn’t even fully realize what was happening when I read these two books a few months ago.

If you are at all interested in the world around you, or how truly exceptional SF can be more historically relevant than anything in the New York Times: Highly Recommended.

(added: a few hours after I wrote this, I discovered Ada has launched a Kickstarter to fund a lecture & discussion series on Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions, should you be interested in that as well)


Sep 132018
 

A few pics and comments and vids.

StarBuds 4Ever

Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle. :/

Outside Baba Yaga’s hut. This was the coolest thing, propped up on giant chicken legs. The inside was gorgeous! Very atmospheric, and it felt much bigger on the inside than it had any right to be. :) Sadly, I’m not a photographer, and couldn’t really capture the coolness of it.

Inside Baba Yaga’s hut (one small corner only!).

Bottom of the Car Spike. We climbed to the top, it was great! Lots of handholds and standing room, good climbing design. But they closed it to climbers on the 3rd day anyway, cuz some doof fell and broke his shoulder. Advice to all: get to cool climbable stuff early in the week, before the doofs injure themselves!

Houses, from human sized, to 6 foot, to 2 foot, to tiny. I counted six houses altogether, the last one being maybe an inch tall. I like that the birdcage enclosing the largest one is broken open at the top. Like the house finally grew big enough to escape.

I’m on a train. Take a good, hard look at the mother-f**’in train!

[Edit: replaced pic with a better-quality one from a friend.] It’s hard to get the scale of this thing. This sphere was HUGE. Could be seen from halfway across the city, and we used it as a landmark and a meeting place. Very useful, and pretty. My favorite memory was reuniting with my great friend under the sphere at midnight, in the middle of a big ol’ dust-storm, because we agreed to meet under it at midnight if we got separated. It was a reunion scene for the ages!

Robot Prophet.

The manufactured man looks to be leaving the wheat behind. I take it to symbolize how we will no longer require nature’s bounty to sustain us once we’ve surpassed our flesh bodies. A little melancholy, but as we grow up as a species we must put childish things behind us.

This was a nice place to chill out in the middle of the desert.

Atlas, defeated. Having finally broken, he slumps in his failure. And yet, the world remains aloft. What was all his straining for? Why the anguish and agony, struggling to hold up all this weight, when it turns out that he was never needed? All those millenia… for what?
Is my interpretation, anyway.

Our bikes, resting together, like friends.

Burning Man is among the greatest fireworks shows in the country.

The Temple Burn was much more solemn this year than last year, which I appreciated.

Burning Man is an amazing experience. However it wasn’t as good as my first year. I knew what to expect this time. Last year everything was mind-blowing and new and unbelievable. Knowing what was coming made this year very different. I think I spent much of this year trying to recreate my first year’s experience, and that was a mistake. Next year I will be much more intentional in my explorations.

I did bring two virgins, however. Watching them experience Burning Man for the first time was pretty damn fantastic. :)

Aug 212018
 

Who?

I was raised in a cult.

I’ve experienced the joy of knowing that I am doing the most important work one can possibly do. I’ve had the overwhelming exuberance of sharing vital information with a friend that would save his life and that of his entire family. I’ve felt the delight of unconditional love and acceptance.

I’ve also known the confusion of seeing inexplicable hatred towards a group that loves the wrong gender. And the dread of losing everything that means anything.

I often heard sermons about lapsed church members. They are cast out, and are supposed to be shunned by all believers. The sermons speak of how disavowed young adults (and sometimes teens) are locked from homes, whose family won’t even look at them or acknowledge their presence, and those family members are lionized and held up as a shining example for us all. Occasional testimonies tell of someone weeping outside their mother’s window for hours, until weeks later they finally relent and rejoin the church. This sparks the triumph and love of re-welcoming a lost sheep, of an endangered soul once again saved by grace. I wasn’t completely terrified of coming out as atheist to my parents, because I suspected, deep inside, that they wouldn’t go that far. And they didn’t. When I came out, my mother left the dinner table and went to her room, and I didn’t see her again for three days. But in the end they didn’t abandon me. Couldn’t. I felt very lucky.

When I was at my closest friend’s house, where I spent half my free hours, and I said that I wouldn’t be studying the Watchtower with him anymore, he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t that big a deal – he wrestled me to the ground, and kept me in a submission hold until I relented. I went upstairs and studied the Watchtower with him and his parents that night, and didn’t stay over on Saturday nights any more after that. It was still more violence than I was used to in my life.

I have very strong feelings about cults. I hate religion with a passion, probably in large part due to cultism. And I partly blame my lack of ability to form trusting bonds with groups due to my cult past.

 

SWFA is considering no longer accepting winning the Writers Of The Future as a qualifying sale for purposes of qualifying for SWFA membership, due to the fact that the Scientologists administer the contest.

I was really impressed with the Scientologists at the Writers of the Future workshop. They were, for the most part, extremely respectful of the fact that none of us winners were Scientologists. You could see the passion bubbling up in them whenever they spoke about Hubbard or his works. And yet they never proselytized, never tried to sell us on their religion. I *know* how hard that is, when you have this joyous, wonderful thing inside you that can help other people so much! I hear that things used to be less muted in the past, and their reserve is a feat I appreciate.

Ironically, I think this very reserve is why people are now upset. From what I’m hearing, there’s a few people who feel like they were tricked into “supporting” Scientology, somehow. This is frustrating, because A. the connection to Scientology was made as thin and weak as possible (to the point that the term “firewall” was frequently used) not because the Scientologists are trying to trick anyone, but because all us non-Scientologists prefer it that way and they are accommodating us, and B. the contest boldly advertises itself as “L. Ron!! Hubbard!!!! Presents!!!! writersofthefuture.” This ain’t exactly a secret.

The experience of WotF from a non-Scientologist view point is overall very positive. They pay a ridiculous amount of money for a short story. I got more per-word in cash money than I’ll likely ever get for short work again, unless I become Gaiman/King/Rowling level famous. And that doesn’t even count the extra expense of flying me out to LA and putting me up in a hotel for a week, to get to meet and be tutored by famous authors. AND then a fancy award ceremony on top of it all. It was pleasant. I made some life-long connections and (I hope) friendships with fellow authors and illustrators. I learned some valuable things, and I have a great award to add to my cover letter. I feel any new author would benefit quite a lot from winning this contest and attending the workshop.

I admit this post is in large part prompted by the “scandalous” revelations posted earlier this month by a former winner. They were given a free flight to a book signing, and stayed without charge at a Scientologist-owned hotel, where copies of Dianetics were in the drawers rather than the Bible. Also basically the entire book signing was just tons of Scientologist buying the book en masse.

This is underwhelming, as a scandal. Anyone with any familiarity with the exuberance of cults can only roll their eyes in sardonic amusement.

 

This doesn’t address the issue of the Church of Scientology itself. The Church has a history of abusing the legal system to censor and punish people who speak out against it. I find this morally repugnant, and our legal system should be reformed to fix this. I’m glad that Anti-SLAPP legislation is gaining ground in the country, and I hope there is a strong federal version passed as well. For every act of legal attacks on free speech that the CoS has committed, I hope they suffer righteous punishment.

I do not, however, think that delisting WotF from the SWFA-accepted markets is a good tool for doing that. It basically does nothing to hurt the CoS or deter that sort of legal abuse. It doesn’t help authors either, because as I said above, I believe authors are indeed helped by the contest. It seems the primary purpose of such a move is to make the statement that “We don’t associate with those kinds of people.” I think this is an ugly sentiment. I think it is being applied to CoS only because they are the most visible right now, not because of anything exceptional they’ve done to deserve it. And I believe that if it’s successful, it will simply continue on to the next-most-visible target, because that sort of destructive purity-demonstration always needs another target.

I think SWFA is a great organization, I plan to remain a member, and I hope they refrain from joining in the pettiness.

Aug 132018
 

A less tech-savvy friend recently needed help uploading a file into a Slack channel. I posted the above pic with a line of explanation. And it occurred to me that a lot of software use, as well as website use, is searching the damned screen for icons that might, conceivably, be useful for what you want to do. Because software nowadays is designed like shit. Everyone wants to be special and look unique and slick, rather than being functional. Take the Slack “+” for example. It breaks both the “looks like a paperclip icon” rule for attachments, and the “is on the right-hand side” rule.

I swear, I thought all those “Find the hidden object in the picture” puzzles from my Highlights magazines was just a way to waste my time as a child, but it looks like they actually taught me the valuable skill of figuring out modern user-interface “design.”

The worst offender is the Ribbon, of course. The team that invented that godless abomination should all have a fingernail ripped out, or spend a full year experiencing 100% sexual rejection; their choice. (Or something just as unpleasant for any asexuals in the group). This monstrosity takes up way too much screen real estate, lacks any sort of organizing sense, has buttons of random sizes scattered everywhere in a way that doesn’t allow your eyes to simply scroll in a straight line, uses arcane short-hand icons rather than words so that as much bullshit junk can be crammed in those boxes as possible, randomly includes drop downs and expansions, doesn’t show any hotkeys by default, and freakin’ changes with forced updates! It looks like a hostile act against info-worker productivity, likely perpetrated as sabotage by Soviet agents!

WTF is this shit

(Flames! Flames, on the side of my face!)

Jul 122018
 

I’m coming out as a single-issue voter, and this is my coming-out post.

Scott Alexander recently defended the use of disproportionate action to defend settled bright-line norms. I recommend reading the whole article, it’s short and explains it very intuitively. The short version is that constant war is costly, and having a very strong taboo against certain actions means you don’t have to constantly be fighting wars and can use that energy for other things/battles. Strong taboos require disproportionate response to their violation, almost by definition.

The strongest taboos should be those defending the principles that make our society possible. There are some principles so vital to society that without them our way of life would be impossible. The Rule of Law. Prohibition of Slavery. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Association. Reproductive Self-Determination.

And by Reproductive Self-Determination, I mean unrestricted and unrestrictable access to both contraception and abortion, without caveat. Yes, our way of life depends on this.

I.

The past is another planet, and generally a horrible one. As I learn more about the environments our ancestors had to survive in, I find myself slightly less disgusted with their societies, and pity them more instead. Because most (if not all?) social adaptations are forced by the environment.

Starvation was a real fear for most people fairly frequently. The average pre-industrial laborer would spend half or more of their daily income just on food. “If I have another child, how will I be able to feed them?” was a legitimate fear for many. Simply having children could people populations locked in a cycle of poverty for generations. Patriarchy is primarily about male control of the womb, and it flourished because men who didn’t take draconian measures to make sure they only gave resources to their actual genetic offspring were out-competed by those who did. This is how you turn half your population into property. All you need is Malthus and Azathoth.

Women also had incentives to perpetuate patriarchy. Medicine was rudimentary. One in ten pregnancies were lethal to the mother. Half of children born wouldn’t survive to adulthood. While pregnant one can do far less physical labor, and this is in a world where most labor productivity is already directly correlated with physical strength. Child rearing is a huge burden, and securing the full productive output of someone who can’t get pregnant is a huge boon. With the health risks and physical handicaps that come with pregnancy, and the general lack of ways to prevent or treat STIs, sex is always a risky proposition.

So we get cultures that treat women as the property of men, either their fathers or their husbands. Young women are a hot commodity. Children can be disavowed by fathers who don’t believe they are theirs, and abandoned to die. Women can be legally put to death for suspected infidelity. Sexuality is suppressed throughout society, which is drastically bad for mental health. Sex is a need for most people, as strong as the need to eat (although not inherently lethal if denied). Poor young men have it the worst, because older/established men have enough resources to be able to find a mate. In the interest of attracting a mate, or seizing enough resources to do so, young men are willing to go to extreme lengths. It’s entirely likely much civilizational advancement is due to men being willing to toil in awful and/or dangerous conditions, and take lots of risks, for the purpose of securing a mate. But it also leads to all sorts of neurosis, and often violence. The survivors of a war come home with lots of riches. To a lesser extent, so do the survivors of a raid. Or a robbery. Incel may be a new term, but only because it is now rare enough that we see it as a horrible failure, rather than the terrifying norm that surrounds us all.

II.

Industrial advancements have reduced many of these pressures. The most productive labor is now completely decoupled from physical strength. Our society is so rich that no one fears death by starvation (even if people do sometimes go hungry). Medicine has reduced child mortality to below 1%. People expect to live through pregnancy. All of these have paved the way to loosening the stranglehold that society had on sexuality.

But none of these alone is enough. Child care is now an even greater burden. In the past, children could care for themselves after the age of nine or ten, and could even contribute productively to the family by that age. Now they are massive investments of time, energy, and money, until the age of 22 (or longer). Forcing a child upon someone is akin to a light form of slavery.

Pregnancy still isn’t easy. I’m seeing the pregnancy process first-hand for the first time, and it’s fucking terrifying. Tendons and ligaments are loosened and elongated. Organs are compressed and pushed out of place. The placenta fights for control of the woman’s body like a hostile invader. Hormones are dumped into the blood which make it harder to concentrate and think, literally impairing the mother’s mental functioning! Many of the changes to the body are permanent, and all this is before we even get to delivery.

Complete control over one’s own fertility is what gives us the society we have today. It allows women to pursue whatever life they wish. It makes the investment in education worthwhile for all. It allows the entire populace to engage fully in the workforce, if they choose too. Which means that every person can now be an independent, self-sufficient, autonomous person. Not beholden to another or dependent on their good graces. Everyone has the ability to exit a relationship and know they can survive and even prosper, and no one has to stay with a rapist or child molester ever again. Men have to be actual good people worth having a relationship with, rather than simply controlling enough resources to ensure the compliance of a mate.

Furthermore, women are more free to have sex with whomever they wish (or not to!). Much of the pent-up frustration over repressed sexuality is defused. The warlords and bishops have one less thing to use to control those under them. People are happier. Society is less violent.

All of this is because the biology of reproduction is brutal, and forces society into brutal, desperate measures to fight it. A society without contraception is a slave society.

III.

Our contraception, as good as it is, is not flawless. Sometimes it fails. When it does, safe and effective abortion is the back-up that keeps us free. Only with unrestricted, on-demand abortion is there true Reproductive Self-Determination. Without that, all sex is still taking a risk. It may be far less of a risk. But those underlying forces, which pushed us into those hellish societies of the past, are still there, subtly pulling like a slow tide. There is a risk your body can be distorted without your permission, and the next two decades of your life redirected to labor you do not wish to undertake. That twists everything. It alters all of society for everyone.

I think that the anti-abortion forces know this. They want to revert us to an older, sicker society. They know that an environment of reproductive fear is one that favors their society, and erodes ours.

There are likely many people who think it’s dumb to focus so much on Reproductive Self-Determination. It’s certainly not the only principle that our society depends on. Freedom of Speech is even more important, because without it the only way to change things is with violence. Rule of Law is paramount, without it we don’t have any society at all. But neither of those is under the same level of threat that Reproductive Self-Determination is. Neither of those has several of the world’s most populace and wealthy religions working to destroy it. Neither of those has been declared an enemy by half the US government!

All the other principles I listed in the preamble are protected in the US Constitution, our most important political document. I firmly believe that if the Founding Fathers had access to the same level of safe and effective contraception and abortion that we have, they would have protected access to it in the US Constitution as well. To attack that fundamental right is to attack the very thing that makes us Americans. The love of liberty. The hatred of tyranny. The desire for a better, more peaceful, and more prosperous tomorrow.

Stripping the populace of reproductive self-determination is the first step towards totalitarianism. It’s far more important to a modern potential dictator than stripping people of their guns ever could be. Forcing us back into the environments that made such violent, patriarchal states the best answer our species had to that situation is the only thing they need to do. The rest is the inevitable grinding process of survival in a hostile world. As has been said (also by Scott Alexander I believe, but couldn’t find the direct quote) — if you take ten thousand modern, enlightened, educated Americans and drop them into the Nile delta with Bronze Age technology, they will have reverted to worshiping a god-emperor within one generation. Given those conditions, that is the social system shown to work.

So this is my bright line in the sand. I will judge every political decision I make based on how strongly it supports the rights to reproductive self-determination of the American people. Up until the point that something else becomes a bigger threat to our way of life. I get the feeling it’ll be a long time before that happens, though.

To head off any questions of why I’m focusing on my own society when there’s so many in the world that live in much worse conditions — our society is in a position to help those others as long as we are healthy and strong. We should do so as we can. But we must stay vigilant, or the forces that wish a return to the horrors of the past will sicken and destroy us, and we can’t help anyone when we’re crumbling into totalitarianism.

NARAL

Center for Reproductive Rights