If I could sum up the problem of modern politics in only a few words, it would be this: the asymmetry of the motivations of the participants.
If I could sum up the problem of modern politics in only a few words, it would be this: the asymmetry of the motivations of the participants, and the resulting devastation of the possibilities of a civil society.
On one side, you have people who actually care about stuff like the rule of law and the proper functioning of society. On the other, you have people who don't, but are more than happy to weaponize the asymmetry between the two sides. One side most decidedly does not want to play fair, but will be happy to exploit any appeals to fairness granted them. Some men do indeed just want to watch the world burn. And when they know they are in good company, they all start lighting matches together.
Even if you had it, then what?
The other week I saw the movie All The Money In The World, a pretty good fictionalization of the very weird story around J. Paul Getty III's kidnapping and ransom. Old Man Getty didn't want to pay the $17 million ransom for his grandson's life, because, as he rationalized, all his other kids would become fair game, too. As depicted in the film, he values things, not people, because people are fickle and not trustworthy, and his love for his children appears to have been conditional on them eventually becoming clones of him -- in other words, not people, but things as well. But at the end of the movie he's alone in a houseful of paintings that don't talk back and manservants who only speak when spoken to, and then only to give him what he wants.
Welcome to the latest release of my wiki/org tool for writers and creative folks.
Some time back -- February, which at this point feels like 1956 -- I mentioned I had created the first public release of Folio, my personal wiki / creative organization tool. I've been working on it quietly but steadily since then, and I've made a new release of it as of this weekend.
Naming things. Especially stories.
A while back I wrote about how one of the two hardest problems in computer science is probably also one of the two hardest problems in writing: naming things. Here I am, decades into the game, and I still take forever to come up with good names for stories. Half the time I feel like I've settled for less.
The more outside your bubble you have at your command, the more you have to answer any "what if?" in your work.
My most common piece of advice to other writers, so common it ought to be getting tiresome for all six of you to hear this, is "Read outside of your bubble." If you write SF, make a specific effort to read things that are not SF. Ditto fantasy, ditto crime fiction, thrillers, whatever. Likewise, whatever fiction happens to be your jam, make an effort to read nonfiction, too.
The big lesson here isn't just to broaden your horizons, although that's always a nice benefit. The other big reason you want to read widely and out of your bubble is to have a better idea of what you might find when you say "what if we do this?" with your work.
I might have been, though. And I still wish I was.
Some part of me always wanted to be a filmmaker. I ended up behind the keyboard instead -- or maybe better to say, I never got out from behind the keyboard, never traded it for a camera. Every time I sat down with a movie, I came away so intimidated by what others had done, by what was possible at levels I didn't have access to, that I could never properly begin. So I wrote instead.
It never helps to force a story to be about something.
You probably have a tube of toothpaste somewhere in your house that looks like a shed snakeskin. You've squeezed everything you can out of that damn thing, to the point where you're ready to unroll it (assuming you rolled it up in the first place, like they told you to on the label), slit it up the side, splay it open, scrape out what's left with a knife, and butter your toothbrush with the leavings.
Sometimes you've got a story where you have some specific idea of what it's "about", and you end up squeezing the story's tube to get that meaning out of it. That's bad enough; it's even worse when you tear it open and scrape its guts out.
I never wanted to be a "Zen SF&F author". If I did receive that label, I think I'd be very unhappy about it.
Regular readers of this blog (all six of you, hi there) know I've been practicing zazen and generally interested in Zen Buddhism for some time now. It's kinda inevitable that what goes on there would influence my work directly, to the point where the story embodies some principles of what those practices are about. Summerworld and the upcoming The Fall Of The Hammer are good examples. But I never wanted to consciously cultivate any kind of mission or labeling as a "Zen SF&F author" or anything like that. In fact, if that did happen, I think I'd be very unhappy about it.
If I was a filmmaker, my latest book would be at what could be the "answer print" phase. Done, but not quite *done*.
Sitting on the desktop next to the window where I type this is the first PDF distilled from the recently completed fifth draft of The Fall Of The Hammer, my new novel. If I was a filmmaker, this is what I'd call the "answer print" phase: the first version of the film delivered to the studio with sound and picture fully synced and with color correction, but still pending final changes like editing for pacing.
It's always a strange feeling to have in front of you a file that you could in theory just sign off on and deliver as-is to your readers. Very few, if any, story changes remain to be made. I've gone as far as I can go as I am right now with that part of it; the rest would be pending feedback from my hand-picked crew of test readers, or some eleventh-hour-and-fifty-ninth-minute revelation on my part. But I know there's still some work left to be done. I've waited this long to finish it, I can wait a little longer.
Why SF&F have something to teach us even when it isn't "real".
Matt Buscemi has a really good insight here, about the longstanding snobbism of straight fiction over SF&F:
When is it OK to say, "Screw the world, I'm'a do me"? And when is it just being a self-indulgent twerp?
I used to follow the blog of a self-published author, whose name I won't give here, and whose work and blogging inspired me to write about the problem of the perpetual amateur or expert beginner. I followed this person for about a year and a half, until I realized two things: they seemed to be actively hostile to learning from mistakes or transcending inexperience; and they were sliding into the gutter of reactionary grouchy-bastard politics that was at the time becoming a noisy toxic public presence (around 2012). I admit, the latter inspired me to quit faster than the former.
A major dilemma revealed itself to me through all this. When is it OK to say, "Screw the world, I'm'a do me"? And when is it just being a self-indulgent twerp? At what point does someone's quest to be their own thing lead them into a blind alley (and into one of the trash cans at the end of that alley)?
If people critique your themes or intentions, that's a sign you've leveled up.
The other night Steven and I talked about the state of our respective works-in-progress. I'm nearly done with mine; he's in the middle of a round of heavily transformative edits. We both mentioned issues we have with out work, and one thing that came out was how the issues in question aren't basic stuff like "does this plot make sense?". Instead, they're more like "are the implications of this theme really what we think they are?".
Welcome back to third grade.
For me, the most dismaying thing about the moment we've been stuck in for the last four years and counting is how it actually reminded me of something I'd known well once, but never believed I would see again: third grade.
On the idea of: "Writers are liars and fabricators, but not b.s.'ers."
A line popped out the other day in discussion of writing with others: "Writers are liars and fabricators, but not bullshitters." It was something more intuited than thought-out, and so it took a moment to word a more precise explanation.
On Sir Popper's beautiful mind as an antidote for this terrible moment.
The title of this post comes from a book I've tagged as to-read but haven't gotten around to yet, about the Vienna Circle -- the post-WWI klatsch of minds that included folks like Kurt Gödel and Rudolf Carnap. Over the past couple of months -- actually, over the past couple of years generally, but over the past couple of months specifically -- I've been reading the works of a man who was never part of the group (although he was peripherally associated with it), whose work was guided by its thoughts and, in my 'umble opinion, became as important as it gets. I speak of Sir Karl Popper, and most recently it's his Conjectures And Refutations that have caught my attention, but I gave The Open Society And Its Enemies a re-read late last year too. All his work is revealing itself to be extra-timely.
This page contains an archive of posts for the month of May 2020.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind