May 252018
 

This is a follow-up to my last post about Flee, My Pretty One. As might be apparent from some of my writings, I used to be far more leftist. As a younger man, I was ready for the revolution. In large part I think it’s just plain hormonal, I’m quite a bio-determinist when it comes to personality. But in part it was also because I just didn’t have much to lose.  When you’re already at the bottom things can’t really get worse, right? As a kid I had nothing except rage, so what did I care? Burn it all, start over, at least this way there’s a chance things will be better. Now that I have well over a decade of labor stored up in the form of property and savings and obligations from the govt, I’m much less excited about razing the world. Like, hey, some of that stuff that’s gonna be razed is my stuff! Can we implement change without incinerating all my stuff? That stuff is years of my life…

But I still understand the urgency needed, the screams that change cannot wait. How many tens of thousands of lives are we willing to sacrifice while we slowly increment our way to a new system? How many who didn’t have to die? But there’s also the realization now that unless things are carefully planned and go slowly, the result of burning it all down is often worse that the previous status quo.

Or at least, worse for those with something to lose. When you’re being killed by the system, anything is appropriate. Everyone has a right to self-defense.

But I’m not being killed by the system, and neither are most people (I think). So it feels like sacrificing the many to maybe save a few. Not a bright idea. OTOH, are you willing to live in Omelas? And all that results in a lot  of angst and self-hate, and that’s how we get art, right?

My drift greyward has been helped along by the fact that I’ve always had friends across the political spectrum. And for some time I was one of the most-left people in my circles. It did suck leaving that identity behind. I think what sucked most is that the community I have now is more like a group of friends and other real people. As opposed to what I had then, which was an ideology. A movement, full of fire and passion, which provided instant connection and relatability with everyone else within it. We hated the same things, loved the same stuff, had the same outlook. Now everyone I know is a unique and complicated person and I have to go through a lot of work to get to know them and fit them into my life. It was so much easier, and more fun, when things were straightforward and passionate. People sometimes accuse rationalists of being akin to a religion/cult, but this is a well-grounded community, and isn’t even 1/5th as religion-like as the leftist movement was when I was in it. I miss that. :/ But now that I’m no longer a child I must put away childish things, etc etc

It’s harder to be friends with leftists nowadays, because it’s tough to relate when you can see the Crazy. We’re still friends, but there’s a bit more distance, it takes more effort.

I still remember that anger though, and I still identify with it. Sometimes. When no one else is watching.

May 222018
 

Saaaaaay… I normally do an Author’s Notes post when a story of mine gets published. Did I not do that for Flee, My Pretty One? It kinda looks like I didn’t, I don’t see one on here.

Weird.

So! This was originally written quite a while ago, for an open anthology call on the theme of “Start A Revolution.” I’ve been rabidly anti-corporation for most of my life. They’re soulless, profit-maximizing monstrosities, who know nothing of human values. Optimizers unfettered by concern for us. Stross calls them invaders from Mars. Many people have pointed out that they resemble the problem of unfriendly AI in their lack of human values + ability to alter their environment to fit their utility functions (including, infamously and recently, Ted Chaing) I agree, and I would love (or rather, once would have loved) to see a revolution bringing these forces to heel.

I call them Dragons. For two reasons. The first is that dragons are already known for their rapacious love of treasure, and their willingness to do anything to horde it. They are powerful, and non-human, so they make a good metaphor.

The second is that I’m racist against dragons. If that’s a thing? I realized this back when I was playing Shadowrun. During the course of a campaign, I realized that no matter what he did, I would never trust Dunkelzahn. He could be a saint for centuries, doing only good works, and die sacrificing himself to save me personally, and I still would say “Good riddance. You can’t trust a fucking dragon. He was obviously motivated by some evil plot, he held hatred for us all in his heart, and it will come to light eventually.” I’d be horrified if my offspring dated a dragon. Etc. I don’t care what they do, I know they’re evil.

And like, if you’re going to be racist, I think it’s probably best to be racist against a fictional giant lizard species, so you aren’t hurting anyone. And as long as I’m at it, I can maybe use that racism in my stories, so anyone who’s similar to me can get that same visceral revulsion.

Anyway, yes, the story is about starting a revolution against corporations, except that corporations are actual non-human persons(?) in the story. This makes it more satisfying to attack them, since violence against a person is always more meaningful than violence against “the system.” And giving your villains a voice and agency is more exciting.

Except, of course, violence is bad. And the real world is messy and fuzzy, so trying to apply sufficient violence to the correct target is never as clean as Hollywood and/or activists make it seem. So it all keeps spiraling into ever more chaos until everything is shit around you. And thus was born “Flee, My Pretty One.”

Of note: This story had a lot of near-misses when it was seeking publication, with editors saying “This is good, but it’s not quite right for us.” Then Trump was elected. And the next place I submitted to said “Wow, this is great, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the society.” And I nodded and said “Oh yes, yup, that’s exactly what I was doing.”

I’ve been pissed at the system my entire life, regardless of the political party in charge. Because it’s not about the political parties, for the most part. It’s about the entrenched powers that stay entrenched from one election to the next, regardless of whether the Reds or the Blues are nominally in charge that moment. I guess most people aren’t that upset with the system itself. So, on the one hand, it’s interesting to see so much of the population suddenly as riled up as I’ve always been. It helped get this story published, at least. But I’m dismayed that what they’re angry at is still the politicians. I figure this means that once the politician in charge is swapped out, society will return to how it was, and nothing will have changed.

>:(

May 172018
 

The more I write, and talk with other writers, the more I get the impression there’s two major styles of writing. And no, this isn’t the old Pantser vs Plotter thing. Like all arguments that break a large field into two distinct sides, it lacks nuance and isn’t fully reflective of the world. But it does give us good tools for thinking about the thing.

Work-style writing. I call it this because doing this style of writing feels like work. The author is consciously and deliberately trying to sculpt something impressive. They struggle with theme and voice. They dredge up their great fears for themselves/their in-group/the future, they incorporate their philosophical outlook on life (hopefully without being preachy), and forge it all into this piece of their psyche that has every bit of emotion and skill they currently possess. They go over it again and again, looking for flaws, tightening things, worrying about every bit. And when they’re done they worry “Will people get what I was trying too say? Am I being too obscure? Too blatant?” This sort of writing is pretty darn pretentious, and every writer doing it not-so-secretly wishes their work will win ALL the awards. The point of this style of writing is in the presentation of an impressive finished product for an admiring audience. There is no point to it without an audience. It’s fulfilling when it works, but it is not inherently fun to do, and it takes immense amount of energy.

Fun-style writing. This is the writer sitting down and just having a good time while writing. This type of writing is a joy to engage in! It’s what many people say writing should be like. All the things mentioned in Work-style may still be present, writing in themes and philosophy and so forth can be really fun! But it’s not the point. If they’re in, great, if not, whatever. There isn’t a ton of worrying about it. The author is greatly amusing themselves by living out this fantastic story/scenario in their mind, and incidentally also doing the extra work necessary to share this fantasy with everyone else who wishes to read it. This is a thing that a writer would do on their own, for fun, even if no one ever saw the result, because there is joy in the process. The finished work is a byproduct, not the goal. Writing the story down still takes time, and skill! But it is more invigorating than draining, and so fun-style writers tend to be far more prolific.

Work-style generally reads slower. Fun-style goes fast, and is snappy. Work-style invites you into the author’s mind. Fun-style invites you to be the author’s friend. Work-style often makes demands of its readers, requiring work on their side as well. Fun-style primarily wants the reader to enjoy themselves.

A writer can do either style of writing, depending on what they wish to work on next. Even a single work can alternate between the two, being mainly fun-style, with patches of work-style here and there. But for the most part, one can tell when a novel is work-style, and when it’s fun-style.

I am primarily a work-style writer. I’ve done fun-style writing before, and it’s just the best damn thing ever. :) Both my Amazing Man stories were just me having a damn good time, writing whatever I thought would be fun and awesome to write next. I gave no fucks at all, aside from amusing myself. Each one took less than a single weekend to write (most of my stories are a month-ish process. Although that’s while holding down a full-time job). The first Amazing Man story was the most fun I’ve ever had while writing, until I wrote the second one and had an even better time!

And yet, I don’t really do that sort of writing. Something about it feels… cheap. Maybe it’s the ingrained puritan work ethic of my parents, saying that doing fun things is lazy and that nothing of value can be created unless laborious suffering is involved. Maybe it really is just a taste thing—I often dislike fun-style novels/stories, and almost never fall in love with them. Whereas I really enjoy work-style works (when they resonate with me, obvs not the majority of them). Or maybe it’s just straight-up old, snobby prejudice.

I don’t begrudge authors writing for fun. Often, even very well-known authors who made their mark writing a great work-style piece will shift to fun-style, because it’s damned fun to do. I certainly don’t blame them. But I wish there was some way to know beforehand that this was a fun work, so my expectations were correctly lowered. That’s probably clarifies a bit why some of my reviews go the way they do. I’m more likely to enjoy work-style, and feel annoyed if the author is just having a good time when I was expecting something more involved.

But when some writers talk about how great it is to write, and others talk about how hard it is to do so, I think this is the primary difference.

Apr 122018
 

I recently won a Writers of the Future award for my story “Flee, My Pretty One.” The award comes with publication in their anthology, a cash prize, a nice trophy at an award ceremony, and (most importantly by far) a week-long workshop with big names in the industry.

But y’all want to hear about the Scientology thing, so let’s talk about that first. :)

1. The Contest

Everyone in the SF community knows that Writers of the Future (WotF) is funded by the Scientologists, and used by them for PR. And everyone smiles and accepts that and agrees not to talk about it in public, because the Scientologists do a good job of staying the hell out of the contest itself. All the judging and every major decision is made by respected professionals in the field, none of whom are affiliated with the church. And behind the scenes, yeah, we talk about it. When the WotF staff wasn’t around and we were all drinking, there was quite a bit of chat about it. Because it is kinda weird, and we all feel a bit weird about it. But ultimately, they just provided a huge paycheck to the SF community without asking very much in return.

One of my fellow winners even pointed out that it’s almost a scam in the other direction. The Scientologists take a lot of money from rich Hollywood celebrities, and they take that and funnel it back into funding new up-and-coming SF writers and illustrators, all of whom are mildly-to-strongly anti-Scientology. It’s a weird arts-funding program that uses Scientology money for an actual good cause (assuming one considers SF arts a good cause).

They certainly get something out of it too. The big awards ceremony, while it was certainly a lot of fun and made us all free great and important, was very obviously for them. It talked up L. Ron Hubbard quite a bit. I heard more about him in the two hours of the event than in the entire four days of workshop before then. All the content was geared at making the audience of Scientologists feel good about themselves and assure them they’re being good Hubbard disciples. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s their party. They’ve been super nice and very supportive, and they’re allowed to have a big party and feel good! So what if they’re using us as an excuse to celebrate? They’ve spent a ton of money on all of us, they’re allowed. We’re getting a lot out of it in exchange. Let’s not shit on someone else being happy.

This hangs on the side of their publishing building. I imagine most of the employees inside are pretty embarrassed by it.

2. The People

The Scientologists, at least the ones on the ground, are all super nice and polite. They never treated us with anything but respect and friendliness. And, aside from being the biggest Hubbard fanboys/fangirls I’ve ever seen, never even mentioned Scientology. There were no attempts at recruitment. We’re valuable to them as PR, not as new members.

You could always tell who was a Scientologist and who was an outside professional, though. There’s something about the Scientologists. They’re very tightly wound. They hide behind niceness and smiles, never comfortable. I didn’t like being around them, and I ended up feeling very bad for them. In my opinion, they act like people who aren’t sure how to interface with the outside world, and have been hurt by it so much that they expect only more abuse and more pain, and the only way they’ve found to deal with this is to withdraw. When forced to interact with the muggles, they smile past the fear and hope it’s over soon.

I know a lot of people like this. I used to be a person like this. This is a common experience for young nerds. Yes, it was uncomfortable being around the, because they are bad at social skills, and they’re hurt. But by god, who beats up on these sort of people? Spreading tales of how awful and creepy they are is no different from nerd-bashing. Do you talk about how gross aspies are? Then don’t do it to Scientologists.

The church of Scientology may be ridiculous and/or evil, but most of the people in it are just as innocent as most Catholics. Be kind to people. Don’t trust anyone who gives you weird vibes, of course, your instincts are a good first-defense. But man, it’s possible to treat people with decency without going into secluded places with them, ya know?

They keep display copies of everything Hubbard has ever published. Even the Lisa Frank versions.

3. The Cult

When I first saw the crazy devotion the people here have to Hubbard’s work I was downright envious. They adore him, and as long as they’re around, his memory and his works will be kept alive. In that moment I wanted a cult of my own.

It didn’t last very long though. There isn’t any real memory of Hubbard being preserved here. It’s a weird, idolized version of him, drastically disconnected from whatever real person he might have been. There’s only a story that strangers have built a community around, and recognizing him as he was doesn’t advance that purpose. This is a poor imitation of immortality-through-remembrance. It felt lonely.

Of course, when the publicity crew was following us around all week, and constantly snapping pictures of everything we do, that felt right. It was fitting that everything I do be documented, because I’m totes a big deal in my own mind. :) I finally had that “constant watching presence” that I’d been missing since I realized there ain’t no god. Most of my co-winners didn’t like it as much, though.

I will say I was surprised by how conservative they are! With their reputation as a crazy cult in the middle of Hollywood, I expected them to basically be a bunch of liberals. They don’t drink, frown on bad language, and basically reminded me of strict Christians. They wanted everyone to dress conservatively, including strongly requesting the women wear gowns to the award ceremony. That’s a heckuva an ask for 24 artsy types, you’ll almost always get someone for whom that is not OK. I’ve heard about this being a problem in past years, and they seem to have eased up a bit, because our resident “I don’t do dresses” artist ended up going in a red suit instead, which suited her very well! And it sounded like there wasn’t too much kerfuffle about it.

So yeah, I dislike their religion, they can be off-putting, and I hear their leadership has done shitty things. But the people on the ground are nice, they mostly kept to themselves, and they won me over. Given how much I distrust the media when it comes to their portrayal of weird fringe groups, I’m gonna default to not being a dick on this one.

Seriously though, what writer doesn’t want people to love his work so much they enshrine it like this?

Over the next few days I’ll talk about the workshop itself, as well as the award ceremony. Plus more pictures!

You can buy the anthology, containing my latest short story, at Amazon and most book stores.

 

Oct 222017
 

This is both my second Humans Wanted post, AND the position the anthology has reached, so this post’s title does pleasing double-duty.

EDIT: Now #1! Sad it messes up the title symmetry, but happy that it now gets the cool “#1 Best Seller” banner on Amazon. :) See below for details.

The “Humans Wanted” anthology that my most recent short story (“Through The Never“) appeared in, has reached #2 in the Amazon Best Seller list for SF Anthologies! [Edit: #1!]

Amazon is pretty famous for awarding “Best Seller” status like candy in sub-sub-sub-niche markets where selling three copies in a day will make you a best seller. Amazon’s algorithm is still pretty wonky, and anthologies are famous for not having a lot of volume. But “SF Anthologies” isn’t that super-niche, the top 15 at the time this screenshot was taken includes “Machine Learning” by Hugh Howey, a Harlan Ellison collection, and “Stories of your Life” by Ted Chiang. So this is a fairly legit accomplishment!

My best guess for why this happened now – A. Merc Rustad’s story “Longing for Stars Once Lost” just went live on Lightspeed a few days ago, and at the bottom of the Author Spotlight section that goes along with it, they say “Oh, and if you like my Principality Suns storyverse, I have a short story in the Humans Wanted anthology (ed. Vivian Caethe), which I hope you’ll check out.” I believe the spike in sales came soon after.

Of course the anthology is the work of many talented people, including the editor Vivian Caethe! So thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, and extra thanks to Merc for helping to spread the word! I’m super stoked about this sudden good turn. :D

Oct 072017
 

I was recently selected as a winner of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest (2Q, 3rd place)! In addition to a nice cash prize and future publication, this is a fairly well-regarded award for new SF writers, because the organization hires well-known SF authors to act as the final judges. The combination of these two factors leads SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to count it as a qualifying professional market.

After Asimov’s and Analog, that makes my third sale to a pro market. Which means… I’m now a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America!! :D This has been a dream of mine for ages, I count SFWA membership as my personal mark of “being legit.” Woooo!!!

Sep 182017
 

I.

I know I’m not the first person to say this, but Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series was, from the very beginning, almost a parody of the traditional High Fantasy Epic. Most of the main characters were the distilled essence of very well-worn tropes. Arya was the feisty tomboy. Sansa was the dainty princess. Ned Stark was the Honorable Paladin.

Hell, Ned was such a pure archetype of the Honorable Paladin that I laughed out loud several times while reading Game of Thrones. If this was any other book I would have put it down, because I’m not 14 anymore and I’ve read more than enough Honorable Paladin High Fantasy stories. But Martin was also tired of those stories, so he wasn’t just writing another Honorable Paladin Saves The Kingdom story. He was lampooning them, by taking the old heroic archetype and throwing him into a more realistic world. Martin was asking “What happens to the Honorable Paladin when there is no longer a Heroic Narrative protecting him? When there isn’t all the conveniences and providences of a righteous author and romantic audience that creates a plot designed to showcase how great Honor is? If there was no High Fantasy narrative protecting him, how would he fare?”

And the answer was, he’d get his head lopped off before the book was 2/3rds over.

What would happen if the White Savior narrative was dropped into the real world? They’d find that destabilizing a region to save the downtrodden requires a lot of atrocities both along the way, and to hold on to power afterwards. The trope doesn’t survive contact with the complexities of actual power structures.

Somewhere along the way, it grew into more than just parody of old tropes. When a character made a mistake, they paid a steep price. The worst offenders died, and the survivors adapted. They became more nuanced and grey. Villains were shown to have deeper lives, sometimes making the best of a shitty world. The characters were complex because the world was merciless.

II.

The TV show has lost all sight of that. They’ve degenerated into the story that Martin was lampooning when he started out.

The first time this really became clear was when Jamie charged Daenerys. This was a great scene, probably the most memorable of this season. Two characters we both care for are drawn into combat, and only one of them will survive.

Except both of them survive. Without any consequence. A fade-to-black followed by a week’s delay somehow excused Jamie resurfacing miles away, unharmed, and Daenerys losing interest in him. We, as the audience, got our surge of emotion in the charge, without anyone in the story paying any price for it. The characters are unchanged. The storyline is unchanged. The event might as well simply never have happened, for all the difference it made. It was nothing more than a cheap thrill for us. We were fed narrative candy.

Did you not feel empty, afterward? If I wanted narrative candy I’d go back to reading the High Fantasy Epics of my adolescence, full of Honorable Paladins and White Saviors, where the villain is Evil and the protagonist is Good, and in the end Good will win precisely because it IS Good. The narrative demands it.

Further examples of this:

Daenerys, our parody of the White Savior that manages to fuck up everything and become a committer of atrocities, is now just a plain old White Savior again. She left behind her smashed society so we don’t have to see it anymore, and instead she just rides in to save the people of Westeros. Without destroying their society. Without committing atrocities. Without any moral compromise at all, just good ol’ Saving The World. Narrative candy.

Jon Snow has replaced Ned Stark as the Honorable Paladin. Unlike Ned Stark, he doesn’t suffer any repercussions for this. He sticks to his code of honor, is murdered, and is resurrected. He sticks to his code of honor, and continues to draw more and more followers, of ever greater loyalty. He sticks to his code of honor, loses a major battle, but is saved in the end. He runs around north of the wall like an idiot, NOT getting on the damn dragon when they’re trying to evacuate, and is saved in the end. He sticks to his code of honor, doesn’t lie to gain political advantage, and in the end gets EVEN MORE political advantage for doing so! He is rewarded for being the biggest stereotype of Honorable Paladin ever. Narrative candy.

One of my favorite scenes this season was Sansa and Arya uniting. It’s a crowning Moment of Triumph, and it feels fantastic. I almost shouted “You tried to break them up, but you can’t split the Wolf Pack, motherfucker! Aaaaaooooooooooooooo!!!!” And then an hour later I felt empty again. It was more narrative candy. I got my emotion sugar-high. But this is the standard “Family Loyalty Overcomes All Obstacles!” trope. We’ve seen it a million times.

Yes it does feel good, in the moment. That’s why we’ve seen it a million times. It’s the same reason people eat candy. Cheap sugar-highs sell. They’re also boring. Sugar isn’t complex. It’s simple, and tasty, and unmemorable. I still have candy from time to time too! But that’s not why I watch GoT. It’s not why GoT won all those awards. Awards are given for things that are complex, and hard, and different. Not more sugar.

III.

I imagine Martin started writing this series as a reaction against all the High Fantasy narrative candy he was presumably tired of. He’s not Fantasy Jesus or anything, there were problems with his work, and the HBO team did a lot to smooth those out and make a great product. But in the last few seasons, GoT has degenerated into the type of story that Martin had been lampooning.

It’s even happened the same way it had previously been built up. Characters that were too nuanced or complex couldn’t survive in the new, Hollywood-simple world. The ones that could be killed off, were. Bye High Sparrow, bye Queen of Thorns.

The survivors adapted by becoming simpler and reverting to stock tropes. They face no consequences for being stupid fantasy stereotypes, and are often reward for it. A fantasy narrative of honor and loyalty protects them.

The villains are just dumb evil, for the sake of evil. Cersei’s only remaining emotion is spite (and I feel bad for Lena Headey, that must get boring). The Night King has no motivation at all.

We are fed emotional highs without substance or consequence.

The central conflict is no longer jostling among complex characters for advantage and survival. The two sides are now plain old Good vs Evil. That Cersei is on the side of Evil doesn’t change that.

And that’s why Season Seven sucked. It is the culmination of taking something complex and made for adults, and returning it back to the High Fantasy that doesn’t challenge anyone. It just feeds us candy.

That’s why Season Eight will probably suck too. It took a lot of narrative work to create the world and characters we had. Now all that has been destroyed, and there isn’t enough time to rebuild it (nor do I think anyone calling the shots has the desire to). Even if Good doesn’t win at the end of the series, we still will have sat through a standard Good Knights vs Evil Demons story, and a twist like “But the good guys lose!” doesn’t change why it’s boring. It doesn’t return to us what could have been. That destiny has been amputated.

All the characters we cared about are dead already, replaced with Hollywood narrative candy pod-people. Now we just get to watch the shells fight it out. At least the CGI will be pretty.

 

Aug 232017
 

I’ve had another short story published in an anthology! It is “Through The Never” in Humans Wanted.

I liked the theme for this one. Basically that humans have a super-power. It’s something we just consider a normal part of being human, but it’s actually really rare and incredibly useful. Pick a trait, write a story about it!

I’d already been thinking about Lovecraft’s views on existential horror for a bit when I ran across this prompt. As much as I love Lovecraft, I find his opinions on what drives mankind insane kinda silly. Subsequent works and role-playing games have sometimes tried to hand-wave this by invoking a supernatural insanity-causing magic, but it’s pretty clear from his writings that Lovecraft just thought people are psychologically fragile things waiting for anything that challenges their understanding of reality to shatter their minds.

The thing is, he SHOULD be right. To realize that nothing we do matters, that time will erase everything we are and everything we care for, and the universe is so vast and uncaring that all our striving and flailing amounts to little more than a wobble in the quantum foam should be shattering. The vast apathy of the unstoppable forces that rule our lives and could snuff out our lives, or all life, in an instant, are so irredeemably unjust and overwhelming that it’s impossible to think why we should go on. Even screaming in defiance is lol-worthy, the only reasonable response is to simply give up. Or, possibly, to go absolutely insane.

That was Lovecraft’s view. That the only sane reaction to such a universe is insanity. That anyone who could put this all together in their minds would lose it. He said

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

I think I agree with him. But he’s empirically wrong. Basically all of human society, at least in the developed world, realizes the truth of our existential horror universe. And we just keep going. We ignore it, or we drink too much, or we take lots of antidepressants and go to therapy, or we create epic animated series dedicated to exploring our angst at living in this world with a lot of fart jokes thrown in. But we go on anyway. We are *far* more mentally robust than Lovecraft gave us credit for.

Looking at this from the outside, though, makes us seem insane. In an insane world, the sane die out, and only the insane can survive. How better to explain our ability to shrug at all this and just keep on popping out kids and plowing forward? We’re all nuts.

So–take as our superpower our pre-existing insanity that lets us shrug at daily existential horror. Throw in some Tegmark Level infinite universes and contagious memetic hazard, and you have “Through The Never”. :)

Jul 112017
 

Guys, guess what?? I have made a thing (again)! A small collection of my published stories is available for purchase!

You can get Red Legacy and Other Stories as a printed book at Amazon, or as an ebook at all the major ebook sellers (including Amazon and B&N, of course). You can read most of the stories in it free here, so you can decide up front if my fiction is the kind that you enjoy. If you do, and you think the enjoyment was worth a few dollars, buying a copy would help me. And buying it comes with a bonus — the collection includes “Host,” my latest story which is otherwise only available in the March/April issue of Analog magazine.

If you can’t buy a copy, but you’ve read or listened to most/all of the stories before, leaving a review also helps a ton. :)

Jun 232017
 

I hear tell of bygone days of yore, where a writer could actually make a living and support a family by writing short stories. Apparently short-story markets paid well enough (relative to cost of living) for this to be a viable career up until the 50s or 60s. I was surprised when I first learned this, because it’s never been the case in my life.

No one writes short stories for money. You do it to learn, or to make a name for yourself, or for the love of the form. The pay for short stories is beer money, or maybe fancy new shoes. It’s not “I can pay rent and eat!” money. One must keep a day job.

So many authors, once they get a book deal and start writing professionally, basically stop writing short stories. This is saddening, because I really like short stories by my favorite authors. But I understand the need to pay rent and buy clothes.

There’s been a trend over the last decade of moving to series. More than a trend, really – nowadays every publisher wants to know if your novel could be a series, and a majority of authors (at least in genre) all aim to write a multi-book series from the start. If it’s not the default yet, it will be before the decade’s out. And the reason is the same. Series pay better. Most authors can no longer support a family writing individual novels.

I really hate this trend, because it leads to the Marvelization of everything. The Marvel Universe is one of the most annoying things to have happened to cinema. Within that “universe” of tied-together movies, there are no movies that are worth seeing for their own sake. Every movie has to string the audience along, acting as an advertisement for the next movie in the series. This degrades the quality of the story in the current movie, often by a great amount. Nothing truly interesting can happen, because it would disrupt the universe, and the production schedules of coming movies. Characters can’t grow or change very much, due to the fact that they must be re-used continuously. How many life-changing character-arcs can a human have in one lifetime? Three, maybe four, if they have a very rich life and live for quite a long time? Certainly not 1-2 every year. And yet that’s how often we’ll be seeing them on screen. So most of the time they’ll simply be going through the paces without changing.

Marvel audiences no longer go see a movie because the movie itself tells an interesting story, but rather because they fear falling behind on events, or missing an important development (ha!). They’ve become hostages to the universe, continuing to sacrifice attention and money on the alter of an emotional obligation.

This emotional obligation was probably very useful back when everyone you knew actually existed, and learning about what had happened to them recently was valuable on it’s own, and strengthened your bonds. Emotional obligations to the intellectual property of Disney simply gives them a way to get your money without having to put in the effort of telling a good story. They can reneg on their creative responsibilities and still profit.

When it was movies, I just stopped going to extended-universe-style movies. But the fact that it’s taking over genre writing as well is depressing. Yes, some stories need to be told over multiple books. And the art of “series writing” is an actual thing, which is different from novel writing. But mostly what I see is writers abandoning the art of writing a good, strong novel, in favor of stretching a story out over 3+ books in order to make it a series.

This invariably degrades the quality of the novel. And it wastes the readers time (I’m very jealous of my time nowadays). And it exploits the same emotional obligations of readers, holding them hostage to characters that have stopped developing.

On the other hand, it’s very hard to say to someone “you should write in a way that removes this as a career option for you.” Writing is time consuming, and it’s hard to write while holding a full time job. Writing a series can make the act of writing a viable career for many. If someone is willing to dilute their art in order to be able to do it for a living, I feel like an elitist asshole to speak against that. Who am I to say “You should either be independently wealthy, or condemn your children to living in squalor?”

But dammit, who are they to say “Because this is the work I would rather be doing, I will use psychological tricks to get you to support my career, instead of actually producing an amazing product?” I hate this trend. I want to shake people and say “Stop devaluing your product! You’re just writing soap operas at this point!” :(