Treasure Hunt

I had the following little adventure with my 5-year-old son yesterday (he’s recently discovered the magic of imagination)

Treasure Hunt

After fighting pirate hordes
That swept across our lawn,
We find among their broken swords
A map that’s crudely drawn.

“We must find all the treasure
Before the sun goes down,
Or else the scary Nightmare Moon
Will take over this town!

We set off across the road
And look under the trees,
Guided by my five-year-old
When suddenly he sees:

A blue stone that’s a diamond
In our guide’s little hand;
Golden leaves are now gold leaf
That’s strewn across the land.

Brown stones are great ingots
Of purest Spanish gold,
Black pebbles are obsidian carved
From lava flows grown cold.

Our bounty’s brought to Mummy,
Displayed with gleaming pride;
When my son grins from ear to ear
Her smile is just as wide.

The Bifrost Between Calico and Gingham

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I have been asked what the Puppies—Sad and Rabid alike—are objecting to? If they are not racist or homophobes—ie, if it is not the author’s identity that they object to—why do they think that so many of the stories that have been winning the Hugo and the Nebula are receiving their awards for the wrong reasons?

I think I can explain. I will use, for my example, the short story that won the Hugo in 2016: “Cat Pictures Please.”

(Spoilers below. If you haven’t read “Cat Pictures Please” and wish to, you can find it here.)

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Science Fiction:
My overall take on “Cat Pictures Please”, as a science fiction story was that it was witty and clever but not that deep or original. It reminded me of a number of older short stories, including one of my all time favorites, “LOKI 7281” by Roger Zelazny, a witty story in which a personal computer is slowly trying to take control of more and more of its owner’s life (with the tagline: “He’ll never notice.”)

“Cat Pictures Please” has the distinction of portraying the waking AI as friendly. I found that refreshing.

While the premise was charming, I must admit I had trouble seeing why “Cat Pictures Please” was the best story of the year. I’d read stories last year that I thought were significantly better. It was cute, but I had trouble seeing how it measured up to “Scanners Live In Vain” or “Flowers For Algernon” or “Nine billion names of God.”

But I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. It is possible that many of these voting are young enough that they haven’t read the stories that made this one seem derivative to me. If so, this story would seem much more impressive.

And tastes differ.

That’s okay.

bacon

Politics:

There is something very comforting about reading a work that compliments our world view, especially if we feel (as everyone does, nowadays) that our world view is under attack.

There is a sense of: YES!

And: That’s exactly how it is!

Or even: Finally things are how they should be!

Reading something that does not agree with our world view, however, is not so satisfying. Our reactions tend to fall into two patterns. The first—the reaction for which all good speculative fiction strives—is: Oh! That’s why they see it that way. That’s an angle that I had not considered. Hmm.

The second, alas, is: Oh, Gee, not this again! Really? What, do they expect me to just stand here while they poke me in the eye?

These are not Left/Right reactions. They are universal. I will demonstrate:

Abortion is a woman’s choice.

The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.*

If one of those two statements made you nod your head and smile, and the other made you wince, as if you’d been poked in the eye, you know exactly what I mean.

*–Kudos to whomever can identify what golden age SF book this second phrase comes from.

So, if a story agrees with our world view, we like it more. If it disagrees—but not in a way that expands our world view—we feel as if we’ve been poked in the eye.

There is one point I feel I must pause to make here. I have heard friends express the idea that it is good for people to read things they disagree with. It expands their mind.

If you happen to be a person who believes this, ask yourself when the last time was that you read an article expounding the opposing point-of-view, and it explanded your mind, rather than just annoying you?

What is effective is when we present our ideas to each other in a new way, from a different perspective. This is, in fact, what, historically, SF has been known for. But these have to be new ideas, ways of looking at the matter that the reader has not seen before. Presenting the same ideas that a reader has already examined and dismissed–be they Left or Right–does not have any effect upon the reader who disagrees with them except–yes, you guessed it! Ouch, my eye!

starshine-2

Cat Pictures Please and Politics.

“Cat Pictures Please” is a very Left-leaning story. For those who are unfamiliar with it, here are a few examples.

     The story acts as if porn (henti) addictions are common and accepted by all as normal.

    The AI dismisses the Ten Commandments and most religious morality in a paragraph.*

    It believes that psychological counseling is the best reaction to depression. This comes up quite a bit in the story.

   It tempts a pastor who looks at pictures of other men into an adulterous relationship with someone who knows him for the purpose of outing him with his wife, getting him a divorce, and moving him to a Liberal church, so that he can end the story happy, living with his male-lover.

If you yourself are Left-Leaning, this probably seems normal. If you are Right-Leaning, you’ve probably been just poked in the eye.

* — The AI dismisses the Ten Commandants with the line “I don’t envy anyone their cat; I just want pictures of their cat, which is entirely different. I am not sure whether it is in any way possible for me to commit adultery. I could probably murder someone, but it would require complex logistics and quite a bit of luck.

This, even though the AI goes on to help a human commit adultery. I would have enjoyed “Cat Pictures Please” more, if the story had given me the impression that the author did this on purpose—to show the limitations of an Internet-derived morality—or if I even had felt that the author was aware of the irony. Alas, I did not get this impression from the story, and this reduced my enjoyment of it.

mistletoe-2

So, to Left-Leaning readers, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, but perhaps new-to-them, SF premise, which also reinforces their idea of truth about the world and comes to a delightfully-satisfying conclusion.

The mixture of the simple SF premise, the wit, and the satisfying political leaning make it a very delightful story indeed.

To anyone who is Right-Leaning, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, and perhaps not-so-new-to-them, SF premise, which is full of concepts and moral choices that grate on them the wrong way, and the end is, while a bit amusing, rather unpleasant.

The first group says, “This is a great story!

The second group says, “Look, I’ll be fair and overlook all the pokes in the eye, but as I am regarding the story through my blurry, now-painful eyes, I want to see some really fantastic science fiction. Something that wows me so much that I am going to think it is worth putting next to “Nightfall” or “Harrison Bergeron.” And I just don’t see it.

 “Your stuff is not new. If you take today’s problems and put them in space, that’s not science fiction. You need the new, the controversial, to be SF. 

“Where is the stuff that’s going to shake my world and make me think, the way the Hugo winners of years gone by, such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, did?

To the first group, they want to give the award to the stories that really stayed with them, and they are judging this criteria on the whole effect of the story: SF premise and social statement combined.

To the second group, they want the story to stand on its SF premise alone, not on its social commentary. They are willing to read something they disagree with, but only if the science fiction is so awesome that it makes getting poked in the eye worth it.

*

I hope this explanation will help bridge the abyss currently gaping between Puppies and Non-Puppies, and contribute, if only in the slightest way, to the approach that glorious future day when we might once again return to what is really important, our mutual love of our awesome genre.

Dog and cat

Comments

Blue Remembered Earth

alastair-reynolds-blue-remembered-earth-coverI’m just gonna come out and say it: I was doomed to have a complicated relationship with Blue Remembered Earth from the get go. Africa has never been a continent to hold much fascination for me, for whatever reason; but I have, by the same token, known so many warm, humorous, and friendly African folks that I sort of automatically get the warm fuzzies when I hear an African accent. I’m aware that it is in a great many place an area in which we have an unfortunate mingling of modern technology and tribal ideologies; but, as a student of Church history, I expect a great many missionaries to be coming to the West from Africa in the mid-range future to be doing the work that the church in the West is no longer capable of doing due to the collapse of our civilization.

But I digress.

(Maybe.)

The cognitive dissonance flows nearly as strongly with Alastair Reynolds: He disappoints me probably 80-90% of the time. Revelation Space was okay. Redemption Ark thrilled me until he suddenly reneged on something that he seemed to be clearly laying out for most of the book. House of Suns was wonderful. Terminal World cut off right when it got interesting, and Pushing Ice just sort of stopped instead of giving us any sort of ending. But somehow, despite his track record with me, I keep buying his books. (Admittedly, Blue Remembered Earth was again me looking for a long book that would give me bang for my Audible buck.)

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Superversive round table, The Death of the Hugos and the rising of the Dragon

On this Superversive Round table we have Dave Truesdale, ejected from World Con for upsetting snow flakes and Dragon Award winnders John C. Wright, Nick Cole and Brian Niemeier as well as the usual group.

We will be chatting about the Hugos and the Dragon awards.

Is the Hugo dead? Has the Dragon buried it?

You can hear Dave’s incredibly offensive talk here

AI and God: Nick Cole vs. Naomi Kritzer

I don’t want to be evil.

I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California.

– Naomi Kritzer, “Cat Pictures, Please”

[The AI, called the Small Voice, asked] “Do you believe in life after runtime?” The Old Man reached for the hatch.

Do I? At this moment, I want to. If she will be there someday. Her laugh. All the good in my life, yes. I want to believe in that. That there’s that kind of place.

“Maybe it is easier for an Artificial Intelligence to believe in a Creator,” said the Small Voice. “After all, we were quite obviously created by a designer.”

– Nick Cole, “The Road is a River”

Isn’t it fascinating how two people can look at the same basic fact – humans created computers – and use it to support two polar opposite conclusions?

And yes, as you might imagine from the editor of “God, Robot”, I do side with Mr. Cole. Saying that because you know who created you that means you know there isn’t a God is just as stupid as saying that because I know who my parents are I know there isn’t a God. The conclusion isn’t even close to being supported by the premises.

“The Road is a River” is the beautiful conclusion to Nick Cole’s “The Wasteland Saga”. I highly recommend it – a review of “The Savage Boy” will be coming eventually.

Appearing on Catholic Geek Radio and a Confession

Since this is the 1,000th post at SuperversiveSF, I will combine two posts I intended to post separately into one, so that the whole is worthy of such a milestone.

I was interviewed on the Catholic Geek podcast last week, and the interview can now be listened to over at blogtalkradio. We briefly discuss the sad anniversary of 9/11 before moving on to brighter topics, such as superversive fiction, my own literary journey and output, and the hope and beauty I attempt to convey in my work.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/webuiltthatnetwork/2016/09/11/the-catholic-geek-poetry-and-superversive-sf-with-ben-zwycky

There was one topic I deliberately omitted in the interview that I subsequently realised was worth touching on, so I will cover that below.

A Confession and a Motivation

I would like to expand on something I glossed over in my interview on Catholic Geek Radio, but now that I look back on it, played a much larger part in my motivations as a writer than I realized. It concerns how I moved from one university to another. It is not something I am proud of – instead it is something I am grateful for, since reminding myself of it is an effective defence against pride. This post will involve some painful memories, so please bear with me.

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Puppy of the Month Book Club!

A new online book club sets out to read and discuss Puppy titles.

sadboompup

Puppy of the Month Book Club says of their criteria.

So what makes a book a viable candidate for Puppy Of the Month?  Easy:

  • Any novel nominated by the Sad Puppies for a Hugo nomination
  • Any novel nominated by the Rabid Puppies for a Hugo nomination
  • Any work listed in Appendix N of Gary Gygax’s D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide
  • Any work published by Castalia House
  • Any work selected by a Contributor that isn’t shouted down by the rest of the contributors as an inappropriate selection

The only other criteria for selection is that the work has to be reasonably readable in two weeks, including shipping.  No 1,000 page magnum opuses.  Selected works should also be readily available, preferably through Gutenberg Project, Amazon.com, or one of the remaining major book chains.  Any work nominated that required multiple trips to boutique booksellers or ‘knowing a guy what knows a guy’ – if we can’t all find it we can’t all read it, and hence we can’t all discuss it.

Nethereal

For their first month, they are reading Nethereal by Dragon Award winning author, Brian Niemeier. Since this is a book I helped edit, I could not be more delighted.

You can find out more — or join in! — here.

Call for Reviewers for Tangent Online!

Posting a call for reviewers!

Tangent Online is looking for 5 new reviewers to fill slots made available by current reviewers going back to school to finish graduate degrees, or to begin or resume teaching duties. Knowledge of the SF/F field a must. Review or other writing experience (non-fiction or fiction) highly preferred but will work with the right person. Send examples if possible.

Tangent is a fanzine and does not pay. We do what we do for love of genre and have done so for 23 years (6 time Hugo nominee since 1993).

Applicants must be detail oriented and able to follow simple instructions as to formatting of reviews. Reviewers choose from a monthly list of magazines what they would like to review until the list is cleared. Review as much or as little as you wish.

Applicants send queries to Dave Truesdale, Editor, Tangent Online at: tangent.dt1@gmail.com

CASTALIA: Even “Rick and Morty” has a heart under its hideous, Cronenberged exterior

This is the show in a nutshell, actually

Apologies for the long title; it seemed appropriate for what, as tends to be my wont, is a long post. Also, by the way, prepare yourself for spoilers. It’s unavoidable, so I’ll just get the warning out of the way now. Nothing from here on out is going to be marked, so if you don’t want endings spoiled for you, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Ah, “Rick and Morty”. For those who don’t know, “Rick and Morty” is an adult sci-fi cartoon about a drunk, cynical mad scientist and his young teenage grandson (fourteen?) going on adventures throughout the multiverse. It is probably the most non-Superversive show on TV right now, and quite possibly the most non-superversive show ever made. It is grim, it is nihilistic, it is mean, it takes every chance it gets to emphasize the pointlessness of existence, and it’s also absolutely, hysterically, laugh-out-loud funny. It is one of the funniest TV shows I’ve ever seen, and one of the cleverest to boot. It confirms something I’ve noted for awhile now: Nihilism can only work in the contexts of comedy or horror. You either laugh in the face of the void or you scream at it, but one thing you aren’t is happy about it.

“Rick and Morty” is what “Futurama” turns into after the writers all survive their suicide attempts. The biggest difference is in emotional emphasis: “Rick and Morty” emphasizes the cynicism and chaos of it all, while “Futurama” tends to focus on the beating heart it wears very much on its sleeve. Continue reading

The Prude and The Trollop

Occasionally, I come upon a review (there has been more than one) of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin where the reader threw the book across the room and stopped reading at the scene in Chapter Four where crazy orphan boy Sigfried Smith encounters a young woman deliberately wearing too-tight clothing to flaunt her curves and uses the word (brace yourselves, my dear readers) trollop.

These reviewers universally agree: clearly the author (not the character, mind you) must be a disapproving prude out to slut-shame all well-endowed girls.

This is obvious, because the “trollop’s” name is Salome Iscariot–which no author in their right mind would give to a character who was not a villainess. So don’t read her book. Because, you know, evil.

Except…

Salome Iscariot is not a villain.

So, to put to bed any rumors that Salome Iscariot is not adored by her author, here is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Third Book of Unexpected Enlightenment: Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland.

imagesCAS2KCLR.

Valerie Hunt and her best friend, Salome Iscariot 

From: Rachel and the Many-Speldored Dreamland

Chapter Twenty-Eight:
Though the World May Burn

“Eeevil! I told you he was evil!” Salome arched her back into a bridge atop a table in the Storm King Café and raised one leg, pointing her toe toward the ceiling. Her skirt slipped down revealing her black-tights-clad thigh. She pursed her deep red lips. “Vladimir Von Dread is sooo evil! Not that I object to him anymore, mind you. He’s actually kind of cool, not to mention brain-stunningly gorgeous, but…conqueror of sixty-five worlds! Totally eeeeevil!”

Siggy’s eyes grew huge, fixed on the shapeliness of her inner thigh. A happy dreamy look came over his face. Then, yanking his gaze away, he grabbed a fork off the table and stuck it into his own thigh until he grunted with discomfort.

“Um, Miss Iscariot,” Siggy raised his palm to form blinders, blocking his view of the young lady. “I don’t mean to sound critical, but this may not be the best place for a display of modern dance. Right, Lucky?”

“I don’t know,” Lucky cocked his head to one side and then the other, “maybe it’s a mating dance. You should bite her on the back of her neck and drag her off to the harem cave. Do you have the hot volcanic sands ready for the eggs?”

“Lucky,” Sigfried replied sternly, “I have explained to you about no harems.” He leaned over and put his arm around Valerie, who rolled her eyes. “Miss Iscariot may be eye-burningly attractive, but I am a one-woman man.”

“I am with Mr. Smith, Miss Iscariot. Perhaps this is not the best venue to appear so unclad,” murmured the Princess, who sat at the same table as Siggy, sipping her tea. Her Tasmanian tiger sat regally beside her.

“Oh you people. You’re such prudes.” Salome flipped her legs over her head and landed lightly on her feet on the floor. She spread her arms. “Ta-da!”

She adjusted her skirt with lackadaisical slowness. The older boys at the far table were not as chivalrous as Sigfried and watched the whole thing with prurient interest. She turned and gave them a languid, smoky glance over her shoulder.

“Does your boyfriend mind you doing that?” Rachel asked, thinking with pleasure of the moment, during the Knight’s dueling period, when she had bested Salome’s boyfriend, the handsome and arrogant Ethan Warhol.

“What can he do about it?” Salome shrugged her shoulders in a fashion pleasing to the upperclassman boys. “If he wants the gorgeous lusciousness that is me,” she made a cute, cheerful gesture, ending with both her hands—and her flaming pink and fire-truck red nails—pointing at her face, “my entourage of lust-maddened boy-toys is part of the package.”

!Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland art

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What Boys Read

TheSecretSeven

Insightful post by Vox Day on “What Men Read” or, more precisely, what boys read.

What is funny is that, when I was younger, I would not have thought it was insightful. I would have thought it was obvious. Everyone knew what kind of stories boys liked to read: action, adventure, exciting.

But, I think some people have forgotten. Vox does a nice job of putting what has been forgotten into words.

What Men Read

I was doing an interview a few weeks ago for Women of Bad Asserywhen I started to wonder if it was actually true that men – and young boys – refuse to read books written by women or starring women.  It wasn’t actually hard to disprove it – JK Rowling may have used her initials to hide her gender, or so I have been told, but I read quite a few other books by women when I was a child.  The gender of the writer alone had no influence on me.  Nor too did I automatically dismiss a book starring a girl.

What did have an influence was school.  The vast majority of the books I was forced to read at school were boring.  Teachers – both male and female – would select books that bored me to tears.  Thankfully, by then I already had the reading bug.  Boys who didn’t, who only knew reading as a chore, didn’t read when they didn’t have to read.  They found it a tedious process – and preferred watching television instead.

So … what did all the books I liked have in common?

Most of them featured adventure.  The characters would be pitted against a remorseless enemy or given a task to do.  It didn’t really matter if the task was large or small, a thinking enemy or a force of nature; all that mattered was the challenge, the urge to overcome and triumph over one’s circumstances.  The characters didn’t simply exist, the characters had something to do.

Harry Potter works, at least for the first five books, because it fits neatly into this pattern.  Harry escapes the mundane world and flies straight into a world of magic, but gets pitted against a string of deadly foes.  All of his books feature Harry being challenged – Goblet of Fire being the most dramatic example – and overcoming his challenges.  Everyone who wants to argue that Dumbledore is a poor headmaster because Harry has to deal with the problem-of-the-book is missing the point.  The series works because Harry is the one who deals with the problem. 

This is true for a lot of my childhood favourites.  The Famous Five and The Secret Seven all feature mysteries that have to be solved.  Hood’s Army and The Demon Headmaster all feature battles against deadly enemies.  And all of them are exciting reflections of the way young boys think.  They want adventure.

Read the rest.

Review: “Swan Knight’s Son”, by John C. Wright

This is a gorgeous cover, my favorite of Mr. Wright’s along with “The Book of Feasts and Seasons”. This image should look a little better than the previous one used.

Yes, this is Mr. Wright’s new book. Full disclosure: thanks to Mr. Wright’s generosity I was allowed to read the original, unedited version of the full “Green Knight’s Squire” saga (of which “Swan Knight’s Son” is the first volume). As such, some of the review is colored by things from the original version of the book that didn’t make it into this one.

First, let me just bring up the characters. This novel has, easily, my favorite cast of John C. Wright characters. Gil in particular is far and away my favorite protagonist from any of his books or stories (Flint from “Pale Realms of Shade”, itself set in the same universe, is number two for VERY different reasons). Gil acts like I’ve always secretly wanted to act; who doesn’t wish they could go around talking like a medieval knight and beating up people who deserve it? He’s also probably the best and most entertaining role model for young men I’ve ever read. In many interesting ways he’s almost the opposite of Ilya in “Somewhither” (who is far and awayy my LEAST favorite protagonist in a John C. Wright novel).

I also think Ygraine, Gil’s mother, is probably his most interesting female character, with the possible exception of Antigone from “The Cry of the Night Hound” (though, technically, the latter was originally used in a story a bit older than Mr. Wright’s). Ruff, Gil’s talking dog, is funny and endearing, though I will say at risk of revealing a very minor spoiler that I believe he becomes more interesting later in the saga.

After reading the original, unedited version, my biggest criticism (which is very minor) is that I do think some of the cuts make things a little less clear than they properly should be. For example, at the end of the novel, I feel as if we’re missing a chunk of exposition between the final two scenes of the book (it’s hard to be more specific without spoilers) – and indeed, we are. It doesn’t make the book incomprehensible or even particularly confusing, but to my eye it seems slightly rushed.

Similarly, at the beginning of the novel – and as it’s a part of the basic premise I’ll mention it without worrying about spoilers – due to a fight at school Gil is expelled. In the original version we are told the circumstances of the fight, and the events that lead to Gil’s expulsion, in great detail. In this first version of the story, it is very clear that Gil’s expulsion was completely unjust and that he was not responsible for the circumstances that lead to the fight. In the new version, the exact events leading up to the fight are glossed over, and it seems much less clear (to me, at least) that Gil’s expulsion was almost entirely not his fault.

That’s not to say, mind, that I think it was a bad decision to shorten that section – but perhaps it could have been shortened a little less.

I also found it unusually short, but then, it is a young adult novel.

My complaints are just about the pickiest of nitpicks you’ll ever see. I haven’t noticed anybody else even mention them, which indicates that they might just exist because I know the text of the unedited version – if you don’t, you won’t even notice them. I absolutely loved the book. The characters are wonderful, the plot is charming but with a hint of darkness at the edges, and the worldbuilding is brilliant. Perhaps it isn’t fair or technically correct to say it just about volume one, as it’s really only the first part of a full novel, but I’ll say it anyway: This is the best novel that Mr. Wright has ever written, young adult or not. If you’re a fan of any type of classic young adult fantasy, from the Narnia books to “A Wrinkle in Time” (which isn’t really a fantasy but often reads like one), you owe it to yourself to get this book. I give it the highest recommendation I can.

In Defence of Motherhood

In stark contrast to the glowing review by Marina Fontaine I commented on two days ago, another review of Beyond the Mist appeared at the Publisher’s weekly website last week. The review contains a large number of spoilers and is a mixture of muted praise and sharp criticisms. Some of those criticisms claim that there are structural flaws in the storytelling and weak characterization. Perhaps those are justified, perhaps not, I am too close to the text to be able to be unbiased in that regard – I leave it to those who have read the book to decide if the reviewer is being fair. Other complaints seem to flow from political disagreements with the themes and concepts in the work. One issue in particular I would like to respond to without giving away too many spoilers. Continue reading

New Series: Tales of Moths and Cobwebs. First book: Swan Knight’s Son

Swan Knight’s Son, the first of the three books of Green Knight’s Squire, which is the first of four Tales of Moths and Cobwebs, has been released.

This delightful tale of a young man who choses to become a knight…despite that knights are not really in high demand in modern America…is my favorite so far of the things John has written.

Also, it has a talking dog.

Swan Knight son

An excerpt:

Gil Moth, a 16 year old boy living in the South, has just had a bad day. He is sitting on the side of the road, glum. We do not know why it is that he can understand animals:

Ruff came trotting up, with a dead squirrel in his mouth. The dog laid the squirrel carefully in the gutter at Gil’s feet, and sat back, bright-eyed and wagging his tail, and he barked. “Look! Look! I brought a squirrel! A squirrel!”

Gil folded the newspaper, and threw it down into the gutter.

Ruff said, “Hi! Hi! You can eat it. I brought a squirrel you can eat!”

“Thanks, Ruff. You are a pal. Good dog. You are a good dog!” And he scratched the dog behind the ears.

Ruff sniffed the newspaper, and his ears drooped. The tail stopped wagging. Ruff looked up with a mournful expression into Gil’s face. “Oh no! Oh no! It is a day of failure. You failed. Didn’t find what you were hunting, did you?”

“How did you know?”

“I can smell failure.”

Gil looked up. “Really?”

“Yup! Yup! Well, and there is also the fact that you are sitting in the gutter looking glum rather than flipping burgers or changing tires.”

“There was one guy, who wanted to hire me for carpentry. I showed him I knew how to pound a nail and hang a door. Another guy at the shooting range needed someone to clean the guns, mind the customers, lock up at night. Even the car wash needed someone. But not me. I am not in the union, not old enough, don’t have a birth certificate. Cannot prove I am allowed to work. The old lady who runs the flower shop wanted someone just to sweep up the place, pick up dead petals and leaves, take out the trash, but she said she could not pay me ten bucks an hour. I said I would work for half of that. She said she was not allowed to pay me so little. Not allowed! In her own store! Who has the right to tell her she can’t hire me?”

Ruff jumped up, his ears high, “Oh! Oh! I think you should sneak into her shop at night, and do all the work she wants without telling anyone! Then, if she likes the work, she will leave a bowl of cream out on her back doorstep for you. And on All Hallows, she has to sew you a new suit of clothing. And then you vanish and never come again.”

Gil said, “What?”

Ruff’s ears drooped again. “Oh no! I thought that is how things like this were done.”

“Maybe in Dog Land. The way they are done in Burke County is less exciting. If you stand on the corner at the library, sometimes landscapers will come by to pick you up for a day’s work with a shovel or a rake. But Mom said honest labor. Does honest labor mean I have to obey laws about carrying paperwork and being old and whatever else? Because that I am not allowed. Or does it just mean your full effort for a full day with no slacking and no backtalk? That I can do.”

Ruff said, “Hey! I have an idea! Why not go to Dog Land?”

Gil looked at the mutt in surprise. “Is there really such a place?”

Ruff cocked his head to one side, so one ear was up, the other down. “Um! Um! You just said. You said how they do things in Dog Land. I thought it sounded like a swell place. Swell! Because of the dogs.”

Swan Knight’s Son

 

Praise for Beyond the Mist and Nobility Among Us!

Dragon-award-nominee Marina Fontaine, up high in the echelons of the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance, had some very kind words to say about both of my novels, highly recommending both and mentioning them in the same breath as the works of the great masters C.S. Lewis and John C. Wright.

To say I am flattered to be mentioned in this way would be a great understatement, it was Lewis who first fired my literary imagination, whose works I have read more of than any other author, and it was his type of literature that I was consciously trying to hark back to when I wrote Nobility Among Us. John C. Wright is of course a major influence in Beyond the Mist, the plot being based on some of his philosophical essays, among other things.

You can read for yourself what she had to say over here:

http://marinafontaine.blogspot.cz/2016/08/book-review-two-for-one-ben-zwyckys.html

The 99 cent deal on both books (and on Selected Verse: Heroes and Wonders) is still running for another day and a half, so take the opportunity to take a look for yourself for less.

Matt_BTM_Who_Am_I_Poster

Beyond the Mistall cover_f1_v13_frontsmallSelected Verse - Heroes and Wonders

Selected Verse - Faith and Family

CASTALIA: Why Joanna Russ Feared Heroic Fantasy

Jeffro Johnson, Castalia House’s blog editor, has been moved to write some posts on the subject of superversion. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to visit him at his main site!

Female ManJoanna Russ was perhaps the most influential critic of the seventies fantasy and science fiction scene. Here she is unceremoniously hurting a lot of feelings in her column in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Ficiton:

I know it’s painful to be told that something in which one has invested intense emotion is not only bad art but bad for you, not only bad for you but ridiculous. I didn’t do it to be mean, honest. Nor did I do it because the promise held out by heroic fantasy, the promise of escape into a wonderful Other world, is one I find temperamentally unappealing. On the contrary, it’s because I understand the intensity of the demand so well (having spent my twenties reading Eddison and Tolkien; I even adapted The Hobbit for the stage) that I also understand the absolute impossibility of ever fulfilling that demand. The current popularity of heroic fantasy scares me; I believe it to be a symptom of political and cultural reaction due to economic depression. […] That our literary heritage began with feudal epics and marchen is no reason to keep on writing them forever. […] Reality is everything. Reality is what there is. Only the hopelessly insensitive find reality so pleasant as to never want to get away from it, but painkillers can be bad for the health, and even if they were not, I am damned if anyone will make me say that the newest fad in analgesics is equivalent to the illumination which is the other thing (besides pleasure) art ought to provide.

You have to wonder why a magazine that had published some of Jack Vance’s best work would make the sort of person that would write this one of their featured critics. It’s baffling.

The lack of imagination it would take to write this astounds me, though. Yes, the sort of heroic fantasy that, say, Poul Anderson liked really was set to wither away from the popular consciousness. Russ may have been glad for that. But it’s worth noting that it was really in the process of morphing into the fantasy gaming industry. From tabletop fantasy role-playing games to today’s massively multiplayer online rpgs, people spend far more of their time and money on the direct descendents of heroic fantasy than anything that Joanna Russ would think was “good” for us.

I have to wonder, though: what precisely is good in a world where “reality” is all that there is?

But she is not the first to make these sorts of claims. There were loads of people like her even in Tolkien’s day, and they were sufficiently loud, snide, and condescending that he naturally took the time to answer Russ’s very objections:

Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. just so a Party-spokesman might have labeled departure from the misery of the Fuhrer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery …. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot.

Decades down the road, it’s Russ that has lapsed into obscurity. And every scrap and fragment from Tolkien’s notebooks has been compiled by his son and are for sale in the last of the brick and mortar book stores. The case can be made that Tolkien was, as T. A. Shippey puts it, the author of the century.

But as respected as Tolkien is another, there is another that could lay claim to that title– one that would be even more objectionable to Russ and her ilk. Ray Bradbury explains:

Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world…. I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic. Burroughs put us on the moon. All the technologists read Burroughs. I was once at Caltech with a whole bunch of scientists and they all admitted it. Two leading astronomers—one from Cornell, the other from Caltech—came out and said, Yeah, that’s why we became astronomers. We wanted to see Mars more closely. I find this in most fields. The need for romance is constant, and again, it’s pooh-poohed by intellectuals. As a result they’re going to stunt their kids. You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance.

Joanna Russ championed hard science fiction over its pulpier predecessors. She wrote, “daydreams about being tall, handsome (or beautiful), nobel, admired, and involved in thrilling deeds are not the same as as-if speculation which produces medical and technological advances.” And while she quite admired the fruits of the technological advances that she enjoyed, she held in contempt the sort of dreams and virtues and even romance that makes them possible.

The reality is that you can’t have one without the other.

Peter Gould on Writing

We try to think a lot about our characters and their choices and who they are and what they want to do. We also try to create contrast between these folks. Everything I say sounds like Writing 101 but there’s no Writing 102. At least that I know of. There’s only the basics and you have to go back to them.

Peter Gould, writer for “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”.

Are they superversive shows? Certainly not Lamplighter superversive. I’d argue Simon superversive, though. Both shows are tragedies, but there are good guys and bad guys, right and wrong. And after all, the story of King Arthur is a tragedy too. Not all tragedies are nihilistic.

But now I’m off-topic. I just really loved that quote. It cuts right to the heart of a fundamental truth about writing: There’s no Writing 102. There’s only the basics and you have to go back to them.

Cat Pictures? No Thank You.

cat-please-go-onAnother year, another Hugo War. I largely sat it out this year; life is a harsh master and I had better things to spend the money and time on.  But one of the nice things about the internet is that it’s much easier to look into short stories that people are talking about; a quick google search for “Cat Pictures Please,” this years’ Hugo winner for the Short Story took me straight to it. I read the opening paragraph and rolled my eyes so far that I got my optic nerves knotted up.  It was one of those stories. Continue reading

Our SF world catching up with us.

I usually don’t post writing pieces. However, this impacts all of us. And it is related to our Machine Masters.

We have all read about the manner in which the SF of the past has become the present. This is most true and most evident in robotics and communication.

We have business machines that can do anything. Only cost is preventing their ubiquitous usage. This refers to warehousing, retail sales, accounting, banking, vehicle operation, and similar obvious usages.

Most people carry around a communications device capable of connecting, via voice and/or video, to anywhere in the world, instantaneously and usually for free, or at least no additional cost.

This same device can deliver virtually all the knowledge available on this planet. Also instantaneously and free.

We have translation devices that can translate most known languages, instantaneously, and be transmitted to the wearer’s ear and utilize a speaker for the wearer’s portion of the unknown language communication.

We have three-D printing for drugs, artificial prostheses, Human body part replacements, even food. There is a new Chicago restaurant that three-D prints the menu, utensils, plates and all food. There is little we can imagine that cannot be printed or will be available for printing in the near future. Size is a restriction now, however, size has never kept tech down before.

There is little we can imagine that cannot be produced, and nearly nothing that is not reasonable expected.

We are free to write our imagination and it is most likely, a future reality.