May 292019
 

I’ve posted a few times before that one can read my novel serially online, as I’m publishing a chapter per week at What Lies Dreaming.com. If you’d rather have it all in one place, the ebook and physical book will be available July 2nd! Which means one can read to the end about 2.5 months before the final chapter is published online. And, for those who are forgetful and would rather place their order right now, you can also preorder the ebook starting today!

Right here. :)

 

Apr 252019
 

I got a lot more comments than I expected for a mostly tongue-in-cheek 3-line post. So, to quickly clarify:

I like Andrew Yang on a personal level. With his tech background and his liberal (but not leftist) views, he feels like the candidate that most represents my values. Furthermore, his identification as a goth in his younger life makes me grin madly, as I also love the goth aesthetic. And really… can one truly be an ex-goth? Or is that just going back into the closet for a while? :)

I like Andrew Yang on a political level. I know this is outsider-bias…. but business-as-usual is coming off the rails, and the establishment seems to have no idea how to handle it. The Republican party failed so badly that it was hijacked by Trump, and the Democratic party failed so hard that they lost to Trump! Most politicians are morally nauseating. I cannot vote for most of the current front-runners, as they supported Fosta-Sesta, and anyone who supported that abomination obviously would gladly usher me into the ovens if it was a necessary price to pay to win political office. Yang comes from the world of entrepreneurship, which looks to solve problems with innovation and isn’t tainted with the stink of politics. I know that this will quickly change once he gets into office. I know the position will drag him down to its level. But I’m hoping he can break/fix a thing or two during his struggle on the way down.

I like Andrew Yang on a pragmatic level. I think he’s the only candidate who both sees the onrushing culture shock of mass technological unemployment, and has ideas and policy proposals about what to do about it. I suspect he’s the only candidate likely to take AI Alignment to be a serious problem. He is addressing the same problems that propelled Trump into office, but by looking forward for solutions, rather than trying to burrow into the past with failing defensive maneuvers. If modern society is to survive the coming upheaval without a bloody revolution, I think he is the candidate most likely to steer us through that pass.

I’m most concerned that his lack of political capital (what I called the stink of politics) will mean he won’t be able to make effective changes, given the rest of the political system. That being said, I think the other contenders are even worse because while they might (MAYBE) have the means, they have neither the vision nor the motivation to do so, so their means don’t matter anyway.

I don’t literally think people who don’t vote for Yang are Bad People. :)

Apr 192019
 

I gotta say, I love the character of Cersei. I adore characters that are completely destroyed by the world, and refuse to take it anymore.

All her life Cersei has been a thing used by other people. She never mattered. She was marriage-material to be traded for alliances. She was a mare to be bred. Her opinions and feelings about her life didn’t matter.

The most poignant example of this is during the battle for King’s Landing, when Cersei, Sansa, and the other royal ladies are sheltered in an inner room while the fighting goes on outside. Cersei lets Sansa know that the executioner isn’t there to protect them. He’s there to kill them all should the city fall, because it is more merciful for them to suffer a quick death than to be slowly raped to death in the sack of the city.

The one thing the world has said over and over to her is that unless she has absolutely power, she has none at all. Even as the wife of the King, she is a thing foremost.

And then the High Sparrow really brings this home with the torture, degradation, and ultimately the public humiliation of the Shame! scene. All the while no one came to save her, because she was being weighed for her usefulness. Her safety and dignity were being traded around like so many pounds of wheat.

She’s decided this will never happen again. She’ll take any steps to prevent it. I love that.

I’ve seen this type of anti-hero before. Most recently, Syenite of The Fifth Season. I love that character as well, for the same reason. There comes a point where you’d rather see the entire world destroyed than condemn yourself to such an existence. Where you’d rather kill your own child than let them live such a life. Where you no longer care who dies, because everyone, EVERYONE was fucking complicit.

So I understand why, for Cersei, remaining in power is more important than saving Westeros. If either the undead or the humans are destroyed at Winterfell, but the opposing side is weakened enough that Cersei’s army can destroy what’s left and secure the continent under her rule, that is ideal. Humanity gets to continue to exist, all her enemies are dead, and she will never be used like a thing again. There is the possibility that the undead will win and destroy all life on Westeros, yes. But that is preferable to returning to life as chattel. If humanity has such a problem with extinction, maybe it shouldn’t have made life a living hell for so many.

Not that I agree with this, of course. I’m very pro-humanity. It’s just that this type of character speaks to me on such a deep emotional level that I can’t help but feel every single ounce of rage and despair with them. <3

Jan 162019
 

If you’re like me, then:

1. For the past 15+ years you’ve either lived alone or with a housemate whose level of dirtiness tolerance is much higher than your own, and thus you are the primary/sole cleaner of common spaces,

and

2. You urinate via external genitalia.

Sometimes when I use a public restroom I see cute signs over the toilets or urinals that say “We aim to please! You aim too, please!” As a often-cleaning person (trait A) I absolutely sympathize with these signs. However I’m pretty sure the people who place them don’t have experience urinating with external genitalia (trait B). My penis is, perhaps sadly, not a precisely crafted piece of rigid machinery. It’s a floppy, biological pee-tube. Its physical characteristics vary widely based on temperature, excitement, and recent storage conditions. It sometimes hides subtle kinks or pinches that are not apparent from sensation or visual observation. And there’s no way to “set it to true.”

What I’m saying is, when first one lets loose to pee, ain’t no damn way to tell what’s gonna go where. You just point in a direction, hope for the best, and quickly adjust if expectations don’t match reality. If that’s possible… On occasion a weird pinch will get you a sorta split-stream effect, and adjusting for one makes the other go haywire, and oh god, why is this happening, what did I ever do to deserve this??

This isn’t normally the case, of course. 97% of the time you point, the urine goes basically were you expect, and everyone’s happy. But those other 3% can be a killer.

But even that’s not entirely true. Because even in those 97% of the times that go according to plan, there’s splash. Have you ever let a garden hose trickle from waist-height into a shallow pool of water on the ground? Or held a straw-full of soda a foot over your almost-full glass and then let the liquid drop into the glass? Imagine that effect for 21 seconds. A toilet bowl is deep enough to catch almost all the tiny flying droplets that splatter everywhere… but not quite all. There’ll always be a few little buggers with Olympic aspirations making a leap for freedom that get up onto the seat or rim, or sometimes even further. (This is why carpet in a bathroom is the most disgusting idea known to man. Yes, even worse than pineapple on pizza).

I’m sure that for marking one’s territory far and wide, external genitalia was a godsend. But in the modern era, it is the undisputed inferior way to pee.

And yes, while in theory one could sit to pee like our internal-genitalia’ed brethren, very few people do so.

First, it’s weird. Sitting is what I do to poop. When I sit down on a toilet but I don’t have to crap, my butt gets confused. “What am I doing here?” it asks. “Should I go now? Is it my time? I’m not ready, but ok, here I go…” and the rest of me is all “Wait, no, goddammit! It is not your turn!” And then there’s just chaos.

Second, it’s slow. I gotta take down my pants and undergarments, and turn around, and lower myself, before I can even start. And then I have to do the whole thing again in reverse. Ugh, such a pain. Ain’t no one got time for that.

Third (this is gonna sound kinda sexist, but dammit, I’m stuck in this same patriarchal bullshit as all the rest of you so don’t judge my socially-instilled bad instincts) it feels girly. I know girly isn’t bad. I know this is a stupid emotional reason to not do something that makes sense. But I still live in a time/place where I’ll be looked down on and thought less of for sitting down to pee, but not for spraying urine all over the bathroom stall. Or at least, looked down on less.

But there is one action that solves all of these problems. One blessed act of physical strength and dexterity that turns one from a hated pest to a noble defender of virtue. I speak, of course, of Taking A Knee.

First, Taking A Knee is not weird. There is no confusion with any other common actions, unless one is in the enviable position of being knighted frequently, or in the unenviable position of owning a pair of shoelaces that will not stay tied. Either way, not your butt’s problem.

Second, it’s basically just as fast as standing and peeing. Ok, there’s a split second of extra action required, but it’s barely noticeable. Kneeling has been the preferred way of getting closer to ground for Men of Action since time immemorial, due to how quickly and efficiently one can go from standing to kneeling and back again. It’s literally closer to the starting-spring position of a sprinter than standing is. Should an enemy kick down your door while you are kneel-peeing, you are in a perfect position to launch right into an up-the-wall-flip emergency parkour move to turn the tables on them.

Third, it’s manly as hell.

And it solves all the problems of peeing with a squishy meat hose! No matter how that urine stream bursts forth, when you’re starting out at the same level as the toilet’s rim it’s nearly impossible for the pee to travel up and over it. And being mere inches away from the porcelain means it never gains enough velocity to splash more than a smidgen.

Obviously you don’t want to do this in public bathrooms, where everyone else has been peeing on the floor and your knees will be soiled. But in your private dwelling, doing this will save you a ton of cleaning and unpleasantness. My life has been much improved by this simple fix. And if you are at the private residence of someone who you like, and who’s bathroom looks well-kept, consider kneeling at their place too. They’ll thank you for it later. Except, only in their head. Not literally, out-loud, to you. That’d be weird.

You’re welcome.

Dec 172018
 

The problem with blind judging for an award is that sometimes awards are given to people we don’t like.

The Parsec Awards announced their 2018 winners yesterday (edit: link removed, as the page has been taken down). I have been a two-time finalist myself, in 2015 and 2016. One of the things I really appreciate about the award is that it is judged blind. This means that someone like me, who has a relatively small audience, can still potentially win if I put together something really good. I love that it’s based on artistic merit rather than popularity/fame.

I understand why publishers generally don’t read submissions blind. They are in the business of selling novels and/or stories. The name of a well-liked author on the cover of a magazine or book will sell more copies. This is an important consideration, because paying rent is important. Likewise, the name of a hated person who is being shunned or boycotted may sell fewer copies, and may even hurt the publisher’s brand.

But on the rare occasions where money isn’t important (like an award) and it’s feasible to pull off (unlike something that involves the artist directly, like acting), I really like it when things can be blinded. I would prefer for all art to be judged just on it’s artistic merits.

One of the winners of this year’s Parsec Awards is apparently a horrible person. I don’t know who, I don’t keep up with these sorts of things. But their awards committee is being flooded with emails about this person’s reprehensible behavior, and based on the tone of the email I received, they are very worried. They’re asking for time to figure out how to handle the situation.

I think they should let the award stand as it is. I don’t know what the circumstances or allegations are. I understand that it’s possible the award went to an actual violent rapist. Maybe a murderer. But the award was not presented based on the person, it was presented based on the artwork itself. It is unfortunate, but sometimes really awful people make really great art. People who you wouldn’t want breathing the same air as you, predators who should be kept under watch at all times.

That doesn’t change that the art is great. People who are unaware of the monstrosity of the creator may still enjoy it. Ideally, that would be how this art is always enjoyed — without recognition of the artist.

I am glad that blind awards exist. To withdraw an award after the blinding is removed insults the entire process. It says that there is no such thing as artistic merit for its own sake, that in the end everything must be subject to the courts of popularity and politics. Don’t remove one of the few blinded areas that are left. Let the award stand. Sometimes bad people will get an award. This is a price that is worth paying for this thing to remain in existence.

UPDATE: They aren’t withdrawing the award. Hooray!

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.