In Praise of Broken — A blast from the Past from June 2012

(I was about to write a post that was pretty much this.  And then I thought “I already wrote it.”  And I had, and I found it.

I’m still broken.  Sometimes scarily so — take my obsessing over my sales on Amazon when the sales dip — but I’m also still me.  Would I be me if I weren’t broken?  Doubtful.  And sometimes, my best “luck” comes from how broken I am.)

If I had a dime for every time I’ve read that “every baby should be planned” and that “every puppy should be wanted” and that “everyone should have a fulfilling occupation” I’d have too many dimes to be contained in the universe.  But the question is: would every dime be shiny?

What are you getting at Sarah?

What I am getting at is that many people seem to have completely lost track of the distinction between ideal and actual.  Let me spell it out for you: ideal exists only as a perfect thing in your mind.  Like the battle plan not surviving contact with the enemy, it will never survive contact with reality.

That perfectly planned child will suddenly become unplanned when it turns out to be a girl, rather than a boy, or a boy rather than a girl.  Or when he/she turns out to have a personality completely different from what his parents’ expected.  While IQ might be broadly inheritable, at least in components (mostly from the mother, interestingly enough) the way it’s expressed isn’t necessarily.  So you’ll have the bookish parents with the mechanically gifted child, or vice-versa.  Planned?  Who told you you could plan a chaotic system?  It’s sort of like planning your day tomorrow – you’d best have three layers of plans in case it rains, in case a wildfire comes through, in case it’s fine and beautiful.  And even then, it will find a way to surprise you.

And the puppy who was so wanted?  The family that adopted him will get sick and have to give him away.  They’ll unexpectedly lose their jobs.  The puppy will turn out to have a condition that’s not fatal but is a life-long drain and expense.  Or something else will happen you can’t predict.

But, Sarah, you say, shouldn’t we PLAN for the ideal?  Then we just adapt to less than ideal.

It depends on the plan.  There is a type of positive planning, in which you leave the route open to the wonder of the broken (yes, I’ll explain) and the negative planning, where you won’t take anything less than absolute perfection.  The negative planning is usually what you get when government bureucrats or do-gooding busybodies get involved.

It concentrates on NOT LETTING the less than ideal happen.  These are the people who think you should be licensed to have children, after you pass classes that say you’re an ideal parent in THEIR WAY.  The people who think every unplanned baby should be aborted or killed up to three months after birth (you only think I’m joking.)  These are the people who post on craigslist screaming at people giving away puppies and kittens that they are terrible people and should have had their animal spayed.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that I think overpopulation is lies, damn lies and statistics and that in fact the current worldwide crisis is caused by population ALREADY falling.  (I confess the evidence is circumstantial and thin, but there is some and – more importantly – the evidence on the other side is dubious and suffers from wrong-process.)  That’s the subject for a whole post and one I don’t have the energy to write right now.  Let’s leave aside the fact that I think our obsession with spaying and neutering in fact can act (is acting?) as a sort of reverse selective breeding, pushing cats and dogs back to non-domesticated (no?  We keep the cutest/friendliest from reproducing.)  And also that in some areas of the country – here – you either buy a breed dog, adopt a dog who turned out less than ideal for someone else, or … adopt a puppy imported from elsewhere.  In Colorado puppies seem to come from Texas.  But in some places they come from abroad.  Cats are more abundant because… they’re cats and harder to catch and confine.

Let’s instead look at the other side of the coin, and why negative planning for the ideal and temper tantrums at people who don’t follow your version of ideal, are stupid: because broken plans and broken ideals often come as a blessing.

Sorry to use the religious term, but I don’t know how else to express it.  Sometimes the crisis-unplanned turns out to be the best thing you ever got.

Right after our cat Pete died, we found ourselves adopting Euclid because otherwise he was going to be euthanized because he had an uti and our humane society euthanizes those, so it doesn’t spread throughout the pens.  We had about twenty minutes in which to decide.  We had – G-d knows – enough cats.  But he would have died otherwise.  We adopted him.

Yes, Euclid is broken in interesting ways.  My son calls him a feline Woody Allen.  Only Woody Allen isn’t into extreme body modification, while Euclid chews off his leg hair and gives himself a poodle cut.  Also, some right b*stard trained Euclid to fabric before we got him, which is why we can’t have rugs on our floors, not till Euclid departs this vale of tears. (On the good side, Euclid doesn’t show any propensity to love on adopted daughters.  Of course, he doesn’t have any.  Um…)

But in the days after 9/11, when it seemed I could not stop crying, he was the cat who came and loved on me.  He’s the one who sits on you when you’re sick or worried, and purrs and reassures you all is well in the world.  And sometimes that purr is your only connection to happiness.

Or let’s look at how many not only unplanned but disastrously unplanned children go on and make the world a better place.  Right now it’s early morning and only Leonardo DaVinci – unplanned, illegitimate, broken in interesting ways – comes to mind, but I know there are scores of others.  (Yes, there’s also people like Hitler – but there is no indication that it was the fact they were unplanned that sent them spinning towards evil.)

A friend who had a terrible childhood once told me that she supported abortion unconditionally, because it would have been much better to be aborted than to be abused.  What she was missing was that her parents would never have aborted her.  She WAS planned and needed in the family: as a scape goat.  The kids that get aborted in that type of calculus are the ones whose parents are afraid they can’t give them the very best – just like the animals who get spayed are those whose owners fear that they can’t find good enough homes for the litters – not those that are born to be mistreated.

Part of this, I think, is that our life has become so good compared to that of our ancestors that we think we can push it just a little further and make it ideal.

Every baby will be wanted!  Every pet will be loved!  And there shall be no more tears and suffering!

Never works.  Ever.  There will always be people who need a kid as a scape goat.  And even if you certified parents there will be parents who are fine young, and then get some illness or some other problem and – there you have it.  Less than ideal.  And before you say “but then the kids can be taken away” think of strangers evaluating and deciding family life from the outside.

I was a disastrously unplanned child, born premature with all the problems that implies.  I had the world’s sickliest childhood.  Mom has health problems that make her less than an ideal parent.  (She knows this.  She never wanted children.  She ended up with two of us by accident.)  Were there rough patches?  Oh, sure.  Aren’t there in everyone’s life?  But my family has a shared sense of humor, which helped.  And I got to live and write, and marry and have kids of my own.  Would it be better if I never existed because I wasn’t wanted?  Or even because I would, of necessity, always be at least partly broken?

Some of the best pets I’ve had have been mutts or even feral babies whom I tamed.  Right now we have Havey-cat whom we found on a mini-golf course, starved and covered in grease, and with a broken tail.  He now presents and behaves as a Turkish van.  Is he?  At least partially, probably.  But he’s not less loved because he came to us when we were maxed out on cats and definitely not in the market for one who is a fuzz machine (we’re all mildly allergic to cats.)  And he is, again, one of those animals who can lift your mood, because he’s a born clown and still kitten-like after three years.

Oh, yeah, and through no fault of anyone, I never fit in Portugal.  But my askew childhood and youth – difficult as they were in living them – resulted in my falling in love with a stranger from a strange land, and finding home that way.

Will some percentage of children you give up for adoption be abused?  Inevitable.  A controlling system can’t prevent that.  No system can.  What it can do is keep children trapped in foster care or convince people to abort rather than put the kids up for adoption.  Will some percentage of kittens given away end up as snake food?  Inevitable.  No system can prevent that.  I doubt it’s as many as we’ve been led to believe, though.  Most cats throughout history have been pets and not snake food.  Most humans are predisposed to at least not mistreat pets.  Call it co-evolution.

Look at your lives: really look.  Could you have planned everything that happened?  Would your ideal life have been REALLY better?

Take my career: did I intend to have my first trilogy tank, trapping me in ten years of midlist hell?  Well, no.  But let’s imagine it had succeeded.  I’d now be stuck in the “literary fantasy” niche, which btw pays lousily and where they expect only one book every two years.  Worse, I found by my third book that while I can do it and even enjoy it to an extent, if I do nothing but that I become horribly depressed.

But the trilogy failed, and I was broke, and we were paying on two houses and I was fixing the “old” house for sale, and I couldn’t find a day job.  Then Jim Baen offered me money.  Then Berkley paid me to write Plain Jane.  My heart was broken, I didn’t want to write anymore.  The dream was gone.

But I needed money, and so I wrote, and even through the hell of six-books-a-year the dream came back.  And now I’m facing the chance for a better career than I hoped for AND I have the skills of incredible amounts of practice under pressure.

Would I have chosen this route?  No.  Was it rough as heck at times?  Yep.  Would I wish it undone?  No.  I wouldn’t wish any of the books unwritten.  I wouldn’t wish what I learned unlearned.

There is no perfect upbringing – for man or beast.  There is no ideal situation that can’t be reversed.  There isn’t any reason to believe that wanted – animals or humans – are better.  There isn’t any reason to believe the most peaceful places or eras are better.  Yes, the fourteenth century was a terrible time, but it gave us the renaissance and, eventually, the enlightenment.

Taking the broken and doing the best we can with it is all we can do.

And sometimes it’s much better than the ideal could have been.

The Trees And The Forest

I am not going to blog about the whole Hugo nonsense. I have very fond memories of the Hugos from my youth. One of the things on which my brother and I would go halfsies every year was the collection of the Hugo nominated short stories. But since then, the awards have suffered a decline. I continued to buy the collections, mind, but about ten years ago realized I wasn’t actually reading them and that was the end of that.

Mind you, most of this is probably not so much the decay in the awards as the fact that I’ve noticed, over the years, that my reading has got way more selective. Used to be that if I started a book, I had to finish it, no matter how much it disgusted me. Then around my thirties (and small kids) things started changing, and books fell into three categories “read through”, “read beginning until disgusted, then skim the rest.” And “drop half read.”

Drop half read included the Harry Potter teenage whine installment. Probably prompted by the fact that at the time I had two teenagers. I just set it down, face down, which by itself is bad news, as I BOOKMARK books I’m enjoying. And then I forgot I was reading it. And since life entered one of its “interesting” phases and the kids cleaned that room for three months, when I cleaned it next, I found it wand went “oh, yeah, I was reading this.” Never restarted, though.

If I could track down this change in my reading methods, it was when I realized I had just read the beginning of one book and the second half of the other and NOT REALIZED IT.

This mind you was when I had a two year old and a five year old, so addled was where I lived, pretty much, year around. Also, I have beyond sucky memory for names. (One of the reasons I beg you not to have characters with the same first letter and last letter to their names. Because I will never tell them apart. Jane and Janine used to be the same to me, since – uncertain about English names – I just read the first and last letter. Now they’re not, but if I set the book down and come back a day later, I will not remember the difference.) Both books were “noir-cozy-mysteries” set in London. Well, maybe procedurals, I don’t know. But not like American procedurals, where you get the nitty gritty of the investigation. Instead the emphasis is on the main character’s (usually a policewoman) personal life, conflicts with her role, and how this notches in with solving the crime. The result is this almost-cozy feel.

Anyway, what used to happen (this was before we took vacations, even in Denver. Afterwards, this ritual became “the beginning of a long weekend in Denver) is that we’d go to the mystery book store in Denver every six months. They were new/used and the used were reasonably priced. When we started going there, two full paper grocery bags ran just over 100 dollars, which was a lot of bang for the buck. So we’d come back and those books lasted me three to six months at which time, if we had money, we went back. (I read slower with the kids attached to me.)

So I finished this – I thought – book, and the ending was satisfactory and everything. But there was some detail that bugged me. I don’t remember what, now, but let’s say in the first book, the murder happened by jumping out the window while in the solution to what I thought was the SAME book, they went on about how the rope had led them to the killer. I thought this was very weird, so I went to the beginning and read through the first murder and realized it wasn’t the book I’d read. Then I tracked the other book down where I’d left it a day before, when I had to go do something for the kids.

I think it was at this point that I gave up on “I’ll read every word.” Because if books were that generic, why would I?

And that’s my main complaint of most of the Hugo nominees/talked about books. It’s not that they’re bad… It’s more the same reason I stopped watching TV dramas/comedies. I can tell from the setup how they’re going to end.

In the same way, though some occasionally surprise me, more and more, in science fiction, when I start reading a novel or short that has earned the approval of the glitterati, I know exactly what twists it’s going to take and how it will end.

Some of this, undoubtedly, is that I can see the strings and pulleys, because I know the craft – as I’ve warned those of you I mentor, when you learn the craft it ruins some of your reading enjoyment – but the other part is that I know what the approved path of thought is. In the same way I could predict where that (discovery Channel?) future evolution program would go, because I know what they hate, and first they eliminated mankind, then anything that resembled us, including all mammals (and there was no logical reason for it, there was thin-veiled handwavium) and ended with intelligent octopi swinging from trees. (I wish I were joking.) The octopi were a little surprising because silly is surprising, but I knew it would be something like that, or an insect, or something.

In the same way, the overriding characteristic of all those “highly approved of” works is… “yawn.”

Perhaps they dramatically excite the members of the choir. What do I know? They don’t do much for me, though.

There wasn’t much choice until indie. It was Baen or conform.

Now? Shrug. I’m not even sure how much difference if any the Hugos make. It all seems like inside football, when facing a worldwide potential readership.

And eh – she says, after remarking the grapes are too sour to eat anyway – I don’t have a dog in the fight.

So I’m not going to write about the Hugos. I’m just going to say that when there is a storm all over FB about how the awards need to be awarded to more “women” and “people of color” you’ve lost the plot.

Leave alone for a moment the disgusting, viscerally repulsive racism of assuming that the inside of a person’s head always matches their skin color/gender. And let alone the fact that all this smacks of “special award, for extra-deserving minority.” (As a minority – double, if you count women as a minority – I’d like them to take their award and stick it up where the sun don’t shine. I’ll win on my own terms, in competition with everyone of whatever color or gender, or not at all. Not that anyone is offering me an award, of course, since I’m a gender and ethnicity “traitor” (How can you betray something you never swore allegiance to, anyway?))

We’ll leave that alone, mostly because I found myself typing obscenities on the subject on a friend’s FB page last night, and no one wants to see that (right?)

Let’s just consider, for a moment, that their motives are pure. That they think that not having women or people of color among the nominees is the result of racism and sexism (which would mean they don’t expect anyone to judge on the merits of the STORY, but never mind.)

That just shows how the award has fallen. Because if it were given to the most popular work among the fans, no one would care (or often know) what color/gender the writer is.

There is this Reiner Kunze poem which I haven’t run across yet, in my book-clearing, and which at any rate, I only read in German and so will quote from memory, possibly with omissions/additions.

The trees grow top on top

None is taller than the others

The branches filter the rain so the

Torture of thirst is avoided

The trees grow top on top

None sees more than the others

To the wind, they all whisper the same.

And this is the real problem with most stories (genre or not) these days, at least those that come out of the literary-industrial complex. It is not that they’re produced by white people or brown people, or purple people. It’s not that the person who wrote them has a penis or a vagina. That doesn’t matter or shouldn’t matter. I’m not saying there won’t be markers/assumptions, though a really good writer can write convincingly from another perspective, without breaking a sweat.

Those things don’t matter, because that’s not, in the end, what you write with. (I can see typing with a penis, but if you type with a vagina you should take your act on the road, or at least get a webcam.)

You write with craft, with art, and yes, with a bit of your soul, but those don’t always match the external bits. (You’d think the people going on about the tyranny of cis-thisandthat would get that, no? Even when it doesn’t refer to gender? That someone truly imaginative can imagine growing up in say Elizabethan England, and for that time BE that person?)

If you’re not subduing your inner self to what the establishment expects you to be, not trying to conform to “what all the right people think”, not trying to be accepted by the cool kids, if you truly try to think for yourself – particularly in SF – your work will surprise. It might not shock, but it will surprise enough to keep the jaded palate reading.

And you won’t be a tree in a forest of identical trees, none of them worth the pulp paper they’ll eventually become.

Because writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy is not a form of social science. It’s not your “duty” to right the wrongs of the world, or even to “change the world.” The teacher who told you that was wrong. Oh, sure, if you can make people THINK after they finish reading you, great. You might even make them see things your way. (Or not. I enjoyed many a leftist writer without doing more than roll my eyes at his assumptions.) But that’s irrelevant.

What you really need to do with your science fiction and fantasy (or mystery, or horror, or romance) is ENTERTAIN your reader, so that as they close the book they think “that was money/time well spent. I’d read the next one.”

Everything else will come after that, by accretion. But that is essential. Because if you don’t do that, none of your beautifully crafted message that is going to uplift and change the world counts for anything.

And also chances are the reader can see your message coming ten miles away and is running in the other direction even if he agrees, because he’s read it SO many times before.

So, if there are going to be general genre awards (dubious in the days of distributed publishing) let’s make them about fan enthusiasm and good writing. Let the man with the most interesting story win.

Even if he is a she or a he/she or a she/he, and even if he’s white, or purple, or a chameleon who takes on local coloration.

I don’t care. So long as the story is good.

A Loss of Perspective – A Guest Post By Amanda Green

A Loss of Perspective – A Guest Post By Amanda Green

 

This weekend, the final Hugo ballot was revealed. In case you’ve been off-line, under a rock, deep in a cave or otherwise cut off from the internet, what is usually a rather ho-hum announcement from a fan perspective has taken on the characteristics of a farce. Accusations of ballot stuffing, fraud and worse have been flying, but only in one direction. The folks on the receiving end of the accusations are frankly sitting back shaking their heads and I don’t blame them. Heck, I’m doing the same thing.

You see, what happened is that conservatives made it onto the ballot. Worse, these conservatives are white and male. But the problem is that at least two of these so-called conservatives really aren’t – conservative, that is. But that doesn’t matter. Why? Because the evil overlord of the universe, Larry Correia, dared do what authors have been doing for years when it comes to the Hugos. He asked his friends and fans to vote for him. Then he suggested that they consider voting for other writers who happen to write entertaining fiction, not message fiction that hits us over the head with a hammer.

Each year at WorldCon, the Hugos are presented. It is a “big deal” for some in the field, mainly because of the cachet they seem to feel is still attached to the award. The problem, in my opinion at least, is that the award really isn’t that relevant any longer. The nomination process is flawed and is the determination of what is or is not eligible. Look at this year’s nominations for Best Novel. There are five “novels” in the field, including Larry Correia’s Warbound. But the fifth “novel” is anything but a single work, no matter what the committee decided. That “novel” is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The last time I looked, WoT was comprised of 14 novels. Yet, the committee says it is a single work under the rules of the award.

So, my first question is this: if WoT is a single work, why isn’t Larry’s nomination for The Grimnoir Chronicles instead of for the third book of the series?

My next question is why aren’t those crying foul over Larry, Vox Day, and others being on the ballot also gnashing their teeth because of the vast body of work represented in WoT as compared to the other works in the category? And, yes, I know the answer. They are happy to let anyone but Larry win in the category because he refuses to apologize for being proudly cis-male, libertarian, gun owner, father, and the author of books people want to read because they are damned fun stories.

And that latter is something those screaming about Larry, Vox, Brad, et al., being nominated seem to forget matters when it comes to the Hugos. The Hugos are a popularity contest. Nothing more and nothing less. According to the Hugo rules, “Each member of the administering Worldcon, the immediately preceding Worldcon, or the immediately following Worldcon as of January 31 of the current calendar year shall be allowed to make up to five (5) equally weighted nominations in every category. “ Nowhere does it say that only authors, editors and publishers can nominate or vote for Hugo award winners. These rules specifically leave the voting open to fans, those folks who actually buy and read the works in contention. Not the “pros” who vote for their friends and fellow SJWs in the industry.

So, what did Larry do to bring down this latest attack by the GHHers and SJWs? He conducted Sad Puppies 2. He reminded folks that Warbound was eligible for a Hugo this year and asked that they consider voting for it. Despite what at least some of his detractors have alleged – and I really do have to wonder at their sanity for taking on a man who has already proven he can shred them with logic and facts and never break a sweat – he did not stuff the ballot box nor did he buy memberships for all of his friends and families and then vote for them. Yes, I have seen at least one post where they said they’d like to see the IP addresses of the votes for Warbound to see how many came from Larry’s computer. Even if Larry had considered doing such a thing, trust me, he’d be smart enough not to vote multiple times from the same IP address.

Making matters worse, at least in Larry’s detractors’ eyes, is the fact that he also listed other authors and recommended his fans consider voting for them. This “slate” has been the cause of much gnashing of teeth which, in its own way, is funny because this is exactly what others have done for years. Just as past winners have campaigned by “reminding” their readers to vote for them (check out last year’s winner for best novel. I’ll let you exercise your google-fu to find the different posts. But, to help you, the winning novel really was nothing but fan fiction for a sf series that first started in the 1960’s.)

What the whiners aren’t pointing out as they attack Larry is that he didn’t list one title per category, at least not for the major categories. In fact, going to his Hugo slate post on his blog, he never once said that his readers have to vote his way. What he did say was that the titles were his slate. He also noted that it was important to vote if you’ve paid for your WorldCon membership. But that, according to his detractors, was stuffing the ballot box.

My biggest issue in all this is that those who are yelling the loudest aren’t talking about the quality of writing. They aren’t discussing the number of books read. They aren’t even willing to admit that maybe people like Larry and Brad and others received enough votes to be included on the final ballot because readers finally stopped sitting on their hands and voted for authors they enjoy reading. No, these detractors have resorted to calling names and miscasting people. Why? Because they don’t fall into lock step with what the current politically correct mantra happens to be.

Instead of crying because authors who write books people enjoy reading – why else would someone supposedly as vile and evil as Larry be a multiple-time NYT best seller? – have made it onto the ballot, perhaps they ought to ask why more of their cadre weren’t? Of course, that might require some introspection, true introspection, and that is something these folks don’t do. They’d much rather condemn those who don’t agree with everything they say.

They aren’t asking why WorldCon is dying. If more than 5,000 people actually attend – real figures and not the inflated figures so many cons seem to put out – I’ll be surprised. Now, look at other cons, vibrant and healthy cons. Cons that have tens of thousands of fans attending. Those are the cons the literati of SFF – the SJWs and GHHers – hate. Why? Because they aren’t the cool kids there. But at WorldCon, just as with SFWA, they are the cool kids and what they say goes.

So, be prepared for the barbs to continue to fly because of the Hugo ballot. Those protests are the screams of terror as power slips from their fingers. Poor dears.

Or, as they say down here, Bless their hearts.

As for who to vote for, that’s up to each person who is eligible to vote. Me, I say vote for the works you enjoy reading because you enjoy them. That’s what the Hugos are all about, no matter what the other side says. Otherwise, there’d be a roomful of stuffy professors judging the writing skills of the authors. In the meantime, I have my popcorn, I’m in my comfy clothes and I’m ready to watch the show because, if the GHHers and SJWs aren’t careful, Larry will decide that it is really worth his while to respond – with facts and figures – to their accusations. That is when the real show will begin.

Hippety Hoppety

UPDATE:  Have an easter egg!

Normally this is a blog where things are jumping:

But with one thing and another, this week has been holy days and today is a holiday for most of you — and me (yes, most of me.  Look, guys, I’m a writer.  I work by committee.  Like you think I’m alone in my head!)

It’s time to stuff your face

 

And spend time with friends and family, even those really odd looking relatives

I’m going to be writing too, of course, (a writer relaxes by writing) but I’m going to be more or less away from the net most of the day.

So you guys go and have fun

And don’t forget to eat the flowers!

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it, and I’m out a here!  (But we’ll be back tomorrow!)

 

Free Novel, Rogue magic, Chapter 44

roguemagicnewcover

The prequel to this — Witchfinder — is now up on Amazon.

This novel will get posted here a chapter every Friday or Saturday, or occasionally Sunday.  If you contribute $6 you shall be subscribed for the earc and first clean version in electronic format.  I think it will probably take another three months to finish.  Less, if I can have a weekend to run through and get ahead of the game.  It hasn’t happened yet.

NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me.  Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013.  Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission.  Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com

 

Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, Prince Consort of Britannia, the King’s Witchfinder:

 

It would be all too easy in my position, I suppose, for me to become convinced that I have a great deal of power. No. Correction on that. It would be all too possible for someone looking at me from the outside to become convinced that I have a great deal of power.

After all, they would say, the king has only one daughter, and I’m married to her. And I’m accounted one of the richest men in Britannia in large part because my half brother, the king of fairyland has gifted me with long buried and forgotten treasure.

And besides, I’m the king’s Witchfinder, whose command over a force of volunteers who travel to other worlds to rescue those in need gives him a small private army at his command.

Ah, if only I could live in the reality of these people’s fantasies about me.

On the other hand, maybe not. After all, they view me as married to a sort of well dressed puppet, the Princess Royale who, to judge from our newspapers and ladies journals, is mostly concerned with beatifically waiting the arrival of her first child, picking out suitable lace for the nursery and dreaming of sunshine and butterflies.

I’m not going to say my wife, the Princess Helena, who would much rather be called Nell, isn’t concerned with laces, patterns and nursery furniture. Sometimes I think I’ll suffocate in lace, and it wouldn’t be the first time, after dinner, in the royal palace, in the family suite, that my father in law the king and I trade a long-suffering look over two women who are comparing lace patterns different only to their eyes, and asking our opinion when we have no idea what we’re supposed to say.

No, what I’m saying is that my wife, Nell, is as different from that puppet in royal robes as it is possible to be, a difficult, stubborn, complex, wholly fascinating creature, raised in a world full of egalitarian notions and strange ideas about the condition of men, a world in many ways richer than our own even when you’re a princess. She disapproves of servants, for instance, and has had a small cottage built on the grounds of the royal palace – and still within its magical shields, since it’s not advisable for her to go outside them while bearing the next heir of Britannia – where she cooks and cleans and gets to be alone with me.

I’ve read a little about the history of the world in which she grew up, and know of a queen Antoinette who played at being a farmer in a similar mannter.

Nell is so happy with her pretend life, being a housewife as she would be in her world, that no one has the courage to tell her that she can only manage it because servants turn out the house, black the range, and clean the rugs while she’s out at her official duties. Or even that they split the wood for cooking and warming fires because I lack the time.

If she thinks about it, she will know, but then her beautiful illusion will be shattered. Sooner or later, she will come to realize it, and to realize that dispensing with servants in Avalon is only possible if you either live in someone else’s house, as a servant yourself, or if you live in a hovel, where there is nothing to clean and nothing to cook. Some day she’ll realize the reason for the beautiful privacy and near-equality-of-circumstances on Earth, where servants are rare at least where she was brought up are the ubiquitous machines that do the boring, tiresome work that is done by servants and serfs on Avalon.

Which is why my brother Michael, who is a genius, and who does understand this, works day and night to replicate the same machines on Avalon, in our land moving on magic, so we don’t have to recreate the infrastructure of Earth, which might or might not work here, and besides would interfere with magic in many ways.

He has a workshop in the back of Ainsling house in town, and of our estates in the country, and though there have been notable failures, such as when the magical barber chased him out of the workshop, pursued him through the garden, and was only stopped by our butler with a magical gun, there have been notable successes too, like his solo flying ship, ever so much more practical than flying carpet ships and twice as fast – even if his first experiment with them almost got him married to a spirit of the air, and might eventually get him married to an evil magician’s daughter.

The point is that I was born to the peculiar position of being the least important of my brothers, even if the heir. And I’d married into a position that looked full of peculiar power but was indeed a prison, hemmed in on all sides.

I’m not complaining. I love my wife, real and complex as she is. And I love my in laws, gentle people with a sense of humor. I don’t love being prince consort and the endless interviews about what kind of blacking I prefer for my boots or what I think should be done about the welsh dragons. (Apparently the answer isn’t kill them all, even though welsh dragons are not human shifters and are quite devoid of self-awareness. It took the king’s spokesman weeks to undo that damage, after which I was politely requested not to pronounce on matters I know nothing about, such as magical balance.)

And I love my brother. Both of them. Even though Gabriel, in his persona as king of fairyland is more force of nature than human being. But even at his grandest, coldest, most magical there is still in there, somewhere, the friend hwo helped me raid the forcing houses when we were both boys.

None of which explained why he’d planted a magical bomb on Jonathan Blythe which would have killed me and those close to me when it went off, including Jonathan himself.

And I loved Michael, too, but there were times when I’d gladly have traded him for a litter of puppies and a gallon of milk. This was one of those times.

He was deep in mathematical conversation, discussing magical vectors with the– Oh, there is no delicate way to say this, so if any ladies from Avalon read this account I apologize for offended sensibilities, with the Earl of Sydell, the lover of my half-brother, Gabriel, King of Fairyland.

The Earl of Sydell, who much preferred to be called Marlon, and who had at one time gone by the name Elfborne, was probably the only person in the world who could understand the magical theory that was meat and drink to Michael. That was well enough.

What wasn’t well enough was my realization they were planning to go into fairyland to rescue Gabriel from some terrible doom that might mean his death.

“Here,” I said. “What are you about? Sydell is three quarters elf, and might not be allowed out again. And Michael was a changeling and will be in like danger.”

Which is when Sydell told me all he wanted was for me to assume custody of his presumptive son should he disappear. I thought there was demmed “should” about it, but I also saw I wouldn’t persuade him. So I sent for the clerks to draw up the papers, and make the arrangements he wished.

I intended of course not to let Michael go with him, and I believe I’d have succeeded, too.

Only as the papers were signed, I looked up and realized Caroline and Akakios were gone. Since the damnfools were quite likely to go to fairyland too, I walked to the door, hoping to see them.

But not only were they nowhere in sight, but no one in the plaza remembered seeing them, which considering Akakios was in centaur form was peculiar enough.

I wanted to scream, but instead politely thanked the men who were cleaning up what remained of the Lionheart Fountain, the loss of which would be mourned by tourists forever.

Then I turned back to my office. Which was … quite empty, and had that peculiar smell of a place where transport magic has recently been done.

The clerk was looking, bewildered and big eyed. “His Grace, they—”

I groaned. For a moment, for a wild moment, I had the idea of doing the transport spell myself and going into fairyland and shaking them all, including however many pieces Gabriel had split into, until all their teeth fell out.

But part of being the Witchfinder, part of my promise, was to coordinate but not travel to those lands. Nell had made me promise, because she couldn’t bear for me to disappear and for her to never know what had become of me, she said.

Other people would say she had no right to lay such an injunction on me, but considering she’d given up everything, including every hope of seeing the world she’d grown up in in order to fulfill her duty, she knew something of sacrifice.

I stared in despair at the empty office, and thought of those I loved heading into mortal danger. And nothing I could do to save them. Nothing I could do to influence the fight.

Except perhaps—

Little by little an idea formed. It could cost me the world – quite literally – if it failed. But if it succeeded, it might be the answer to the whole thing.

Nell would kill me for running the risk. On the other hand, if I failed there was a good chance my world and my wife were lost already.

And sometimes a man has to fight for what he loves.

The Subtle Self Promoting Writer Self Promotes — Sort Of.

ANNOUNCEMENT: At the main Baen Home Page, page down for a free Michael Z. Williamson short story “Soft Casualty.” Remember to say “thank you” to Baen books — even if mentally.

From the Oyster: We’ve got a nice bunch of books this week from some of our most prestigious members of the commentariat. I’m too braindead this week for witty banter, so I’m just going to drop this here for you all and go get some sleep before I face another greuling day of taking money hand over fist in exchange ofr other people’s books at the local Comic Con. My apologies. Spirit, flesh, some settling may occur. As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!
Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster
Schlock Hawker, Mercenary Wordsmith, and Menacer of Recalictrant Computers

Sabrina Chase

The Last Mage Guardian

The Last Mage Guardian
Miss Ardhuin Andrews has a secret.

Several secrets, in fact. She is not, as her traveling family believes, safely ensconced in the Metan Seminary for Young Ladies. She is also not properly chaperoned in her late great-uncle Oron’s chateau in the Bretagne countryside, but alone – and having a lovely time unencumbered by strict propriety and the dreaded dancing lessons.

Oh yes, and Miss Andrews is a magician, the most dangerous secret of all. In the world of Aerope women are believed to be incapable of magic, and all magicians must be certified and licensed by law.

Then her quiet idyll is shattered by a sudden massive magical attack – and a mysterious stranger arrives who is impervious to all her spells of illusion and misdirection. Is this the danger Oron warned her of, in his cryptic final words? Is this Dominic Kermarec a mere penniless, out-of-work tutor as he claims, or a spy?

Then she learns Oron bequeathed her more than his chateau–and she must travel to the ends of Aerope to stop a magical plot amid political intrigue, betrayal, and echoes of an old war that has not truly ended…

The Last Mage Guardian is set in a world where magic and science coexist, with a steampunk flavor.

Cedar Sanderson

Voyageur’s Cap

Voyageur's Cap
Duty brought Lia to the backwater planet. Honor bound her to fulfill the promise she made to Daz before his death to see his daughter, Serene, safely away and enrolled at the Academy. Neither expected their trip to be interrupted by distress signals, abandoned ships and space pirates.

Cyn Bagley

In the Shadow of Death: Reflections on a Chronic Illness

In the Shadow of Death
In January 2003 I spent two weeks in a German hospital before I was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis. This collection contains my journey through a chronic illness. This ebook was written as remembrance for Vasculitis month (May) and to all of those people who have lived with and died from a chronic illness.

Alma Boykin

Revolution from Above: A Cat Among Dragons Novella

Revolution from Above
It takes a mammal to save a planet.

Caught away from her soldiers when mercenaries invade Drakon IV, Rada Ni Drako must find a way to reconquer the planet. Help comes from a strange quarter, but even that might not be enough when treason slithers into view. Lord Ni Drako needs all her wiles, luck, and dirty tricks just to survive.

When a mammal fights a mammal, even dragons duck for cover.

Sam Schall

Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty)


First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Also available from Barnes and Noble.

Juliet Chase

Amy’s Amazing Adventures (Across Time and Space)

Amy's Amazing Adventures (Across Time and Space)
For millennia the rabbits reigned supreme… but no more. Now the forces of darkness threaten the very existence of time and space.

Meanwhile, Amy is a young Regency miss in need of some excitement and an escape from a forced marriage to a pig farmer. She finds both when she discovers a hidden portal to another dimension while fleeing from a highwayman. Traveling the space-time continuum and fending off attackers and assassins, she gathers the motley crew required of any proper fantasy quest. Only hers consists of the aforementioned highwayman, the Sheik of Araby, a stoic ex-Navy SEAL, and a feng shui wizard. Join Amy on her hilarious and irreverent journey to restore balance to the cosmos and claim her birthright, or find her way back home, whichever comes first.

From Sarah:

D’Artagnan is called home on his father’s death, and, of course, Athos, Porthos and Aramis go with him.  The attacks along the way make them doubt that the elder Monsieur D’Artagnan’s death was really the result of a duel.  Once they’re in Gascony, it becomes plain that D’Artagnan’s father was murdered by someone who intends to do the same to the son, should he get a chance.

 

And in case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know I have an indie novel out, here it is.  No, I have no intention of stopping working for Baen, but this was my free novel on Fridays for a year and a half, and it seemed odd to offer my publisher something that had been posted here for free.  Also, it’s a Regency Fantasy with dragons and unlikely lover pairings (though I’m told it has lots of action.  Not that type of action.  Bad Huns.  Go to your corner.  No biscuit.) and it didn’t seem to me to be Baen’s style, even if it DOES have an explosion.

There will be a chapter in its sequel here in a few hours after I have breakfast and a shower.  And then I’ll work on Through Fire.  (No, there’s nothing wrong with what’s going on with writing the book — but real life has thrown us half a dozen wobblers which means I’ve had only hours with the computer this week.  So I must work through the weekend.  Well, okay, not tomorrow.  I’m told it’s a holiday or something.)

Progressing To The Past

So, yesterday there was a comment I didn’t approve. I didn’t approve it because it was posted on my er… competition with Larry Correia for worst person in the world. Or something. And since most of ya’ll had moved on, I figured you didn’t need a chew toy.

It started by telling me – because, you know, I’m stupid, and I hadn’t covered it in the blog post or anything – that “that gender is a social construct has been established since like the eighties.” To begin with, yeah, “gender as a social construct” as people here pointed out is a sociological “percept” but gender in sociology doesn’t refer to your biological sex or to whom you happen to be attracted to, or to any, you know, immutable characteristics of men and women.

In fact, it refers to how gender is expressed in a PARTICULAR SOCIETY. Being a woman in Saudi-Arabia, say, and being a woman in the USA are two completely different sociological personas, and the layered bits about “who you are” clearly are part of that society.

Now, this doesn’t alter certain characteristics of those born with a vagina, because, well… uh… uh… uh… when you’re in the womb, you develop differently if you don’t have a Y chromosome. You just do.

This is not, as I pointed out in the earlier post, to say there isn’t a WIDE variation among individuals of the same gender on how those characteristics display or the level to which they display. Or to put it simply, some women are more feminine than others. That’s because of being individuals, see?

However, on a statistical sample basis, if you take a random woman and a random man, he’s going to be stronger (even if less muscular) and capable of overpowering her by brute force. He’s also going to be more interested in risky and/or dirty jobs. She’s going to be (on average) more interested in things relating to language, and – sigh, I hate to admit this, because I hate it when people ask me “so you write children’s books?” based on nothing but my sex – more interested in jobs involving children.

Now, if you take Minnie, the Olympic weight lifter and Mickey the slacker kid down the block who only gets off his sofa to get a soda, yeah, she can do push ups with him. But that doesn’t invalidate the argument. If you take a random 100 men and a random 100 women, the men in aggregate will wipe the floor with women on strength and interest in doing unpleasant physical jobs.

That means that “gender” in anything outside the social sciences – biology, real life behavior, etc – is not a construct. The way it’s expressed is – at least to an extent. For instance, one of the expressions of gender, in Portugal, for women, was being really good at handywork. All my classmates had trousseaus full of embroidered sheets. Because of hand-eye issues, I wasn’t able to do anything but cross stitch till my middle twenties (and astigmatism correction!) The fact that I couldn’t do it didn’t invalidate the fact I was female. It just made people entertain doubts about me, because in that society it was so strongly associated that even my colleagues who were in medical school spent all their free time madly embroidering and crocheting. In the states saying “I don’t embroider” didn’t make people doubt my femininity but in Portugal it did, because the EXPRESSION of gender is a social construct. In the States what makes people doubt my femininity (or at least my orientation) is my habit of shopping by the male method: “Run into store. Grab first thing that looks vaguely like what I need. Pay. Run out again, because stores are boring and annoying.” (Exceptions made for good bookstores, back when they existed.)

However, in both countries, I’m weaker than the average male, and have to be aware of this when I go out at night unaccompanied because, well, mugging being an outdoor and risky occupation, most muggers are male and therefore stronger than I. And Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other 90 lbs females who can beat big hulking guys are fantasies. Fun, sure, but fantasies.

Forgetting which part of gender is a construction and which reality can end up with very dead (but empowered!) young women.

We’ll leave for later this “has been established” thing – since that I know in the social sciences things can be accepted or believed but not “established.” I.e., the science is never settled. (Or if it is, we wouldn’t have a regime that has killed 100 million in the ascendant, while we’re told this time they’ll do it right.)

This person – and I’d guess age at high school senior if that old – then went on to tell me the only people who denied that were conservatives, because they wanted to keep things “as they’ve always been.” And also that from my using “vileprog” I must be one of those conservatives, and perhaps I should broaden my mind and consider new ideas.

You know, someone like that has only met conservatives inside their own head. And that’s accepting that everything not a vileprog, and everyone who knows progs are vile is a “conservative.”

First, let me count the fails. This person clearly believes “progressive” is a new idea. Oh, honey, Marx wrote his load of crap WELL OVER 100 years ago. The Soviet Union tried to implement it for 70 years and has now been in failure mode for twenty some years. Beyond all that, his great idea that the world would be perfect if we took from those who had and gave it to those who didn’t have it, was old when he came along. Hell, Cataline had tried something very like in the Roman Republic. (There were differences because the Roman Republic was not, in any sense, a capitalist society.) This neat idea of hurting people whom you envy and taking their stuff is not futuristic or new. It’s old as sin.

Which is why I don’t call progressives progressives. I call them vileprogs, because captures the depths of the depravity they have perpetrated on the human race.

As for my being a conservative who wants to keep things as “they’ve always been” – uh uh. First, when you’re talking of genders… HOW have they always been? No, seriously. Other than those basic immutable things you can’t change: men have penises (unless there’s deformity) and women have vaginas (unless there’s deformity) and on average men are stronger, take more risks and are more likely to engage in outdoor, dirty occupations… WHAT has been immutable throughout history?

Certainly gender role expression hasn’t been, except in general. Most men nowadays aren’t hunters, for instance – certainly not with lance or bow and arrow. (Okay, my husband would be, given time, but…) And most women certainly don’t spin thread, even though it was so prevalent a female activity as to originate the word “Spinster.”

As for my wishing to keep things as they’ve always been, or even as they are – ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah – that alone was reason enough for me not to approve that post, since the poster didn’t even try to read about the person they were trying to put in her place. If they had they’d known that, though most of you disagree with me – I am in fact a supporter of such shocking things as equality under the law (which means an end to progressive taxation, among other things,) a supporter of small government (which means I stand in opposition to the ever increasing power of the state, in place since Henry VIII, and then consolidated into its present bureaucratic boondogle by Richelieu and Louis XIV.)

I believe in mind-bogglingly things that existed far too briefly upon this earth, uncurtailed: freedom of speech, association, right to bear arms, freedom to pick and practice your religion and other concepts that never existed in the ancient world and rarely exist now.

As for gender and its expression, people such as I believe people should be who they want to be and if they’re not hurting anyone, other people should leave them alone.

There’s a book called “Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.”  And that is a revolutionary philosophy indeed.

I was born in a country that had strongly differentiated, rigid gender behaviors as part of its codes. Being allergic to metal (and having parents who disliked the idea of piercing a baby’s ears) meant that I violated those before I was two. And being sickly and wearing my brother’s cast offs meant that I violated the other major one. I.e. the “all little girls wear earrings” and “All little girls wear skirts.” This caused me to be like the boy named Sue and learn to fight before I learned to walk. (Not hard, as I learned to walk exceptionally late.)

This pretty much predisposed me to not give much of a hang about what is the accepted CONVENTION for your gender wherever I live. I do carpentry – and write novels, but that’s an acceptable profession for a woman almost anywhere – and I do crochet.

However, my gender is not socially determined – alas – and I still can’t arm wrestle even my out-of-shape 19 year old, who laughs at me when I can’t lift 100 pounds in a dead lift.

Does the fact I know the difference between those two applications of the word “gender” makes me a conservative? I don’t know. I thought it made me sane, but then again, perhaps Heinlein was right and in the Crazy Years a man (or woman) with all his gaskets tight is the true madman.

Or perhaps my poor would-be troll is just really confused and has a case of believing the label and drinking his own ink.

You see, in modern day, we vile “conservatives” are people who want to upend the social theories that have been in place (and largely driving people nuts) for at least fifty years: such as the idea that nothing is any individual’s fault or credit; the idea that laws SHOULDN’T be equally applied but equal OUTCOMES to any endeavor should be enforced; the idea that your taking my stuff is theft, but the government taking my stuff and giving it to you isn’t theft; the idea that if you just have enough self confidence you will never commit a crime; the idea– I could go on, but this is already too long. Suffice it to say that of the various isms of the twenty century, the only one that was proven real was Zionism, which was based on the idea that people would like to kill Jews, and so Jews needed a place where they could be safe. All others have proven poisonous fruit in various degrees.

And they’re not new. Or scientific. Or even “progressive.”

I was going to make a joke about how if the poster objected to vile progs we should call them “preservatives” instead. But those preservatives, judged by their results, have been pin-holed, and the offspring is monstrous.

Meanwhile, I recommend anyone who thinks those of us who oppose communitarian ideas are “for things as they’ve always been” should be aware that we claim intellectual descent from the Founding Fathers. Keeping things the way “they’d always been” was the least of their interests. Which is why they created the most revolutionary society in the world.

One we’re not going to allow you to destroy just to take us back to ideas that were old and disproven a 100 years ago.

You have been warned.

You can call us names, and you can do your best to lecture us.  But I suggest you start to read what we say and to actually pay attention.  These straw men of yours are very pretty, but they bear no resemblance to us.

And we are infinitely more dangerous.

 

 

There Is No Glass Slipper – A Blast From The Past post from February 2012

*You are not to get alarmed.  I’m not actually sick as such, just very tired and with a heck of a headache.  I thing it was the sudden weather shift (it’s snowing again.)  Anyway, I don’t want to face the blank blog in the morning, so I’m leaving you with a post from February two years ago.  Most of it still applies.  I think.*

Your life is not a story.

I mean, oh, of course, in a sense it is a story – of course it is – in the sense that things happen in chronological order, it has a beginning and one day it will have an ending.  You could also say it is divided in chapters.  In fact we often talk about “entering a new chapter” of life.

But there are differences.

I’ve told you – haven’t I? – that my final exam in Theory Of Literature, consisted of two questions.  The first was specific and required analysis of the use of commas by a Portuguese poet who wrote in blank verse.  The second was “Explain the difference between literature and life.  Give examples.”

Since I have a fraught relationship with punctuation I knew I’d get at best half the points on the technical question, so I had to get full points for the second.  So I spun from memory of my Philosophy classes a deal about Plato and the cave and how only through literature could we see life outside the cave.  I knew that would appeal to literature professors and, as most of you know, my morals are weak.  (If they weren’t would I lie for a living?  No?  What do you think fiction is?)  So… I passed.

However, my rather mendacious answer notwithstanding, or my wished-for answer which was “if I kill you in a book you’ll continue breathing.  If I kill you in real life not so much” the true answer is more complex than that, and more simple.

Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.  (We’re reminded of this daily as we see what some of my colleagues post on facebook.)  More rarely we’re reminded of this as an impossible coincidence surfaces that makes us go “What?  That wasn’t laid out in the plot.”

But we forget that too.  We forget it very often, particularly those of us who are dedicated writers – or readers.  We forget it as we think as though life WERE a plot, as though it HAD to make sense.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago while talking to a friend who is a beginning writer.  We were trying, somewhat ineffectively, to convince this person it’s best to go indie now, while this writer has no track record.  This writer was yelling back about wanting what I had.  (Apparently people HANKER after ten years of kicks in the teeth.) About how I was famous (Am too.  Right now I’m the most famous person at this desk.  Well, the cats have left in search of food.)  About how I was a real writer, and therefore I could now go indie with a clear conscience (I’m trying, okay?  I’m trying.  I need time, since I’m also still writing for traditional publishers.)

And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.

Useless to tell this person that there was that year I had FIVE books come out with traditional publishers and you couldn’t find a single one on a single shelf in the whole state of Colorado.  In this person’s mind, that story from childhood, HAD to have a happy ending.

It’s conditioning.  As writers and readers, we are trained to pick up “promises” in the plot early on.  Some of you who have been following Witchfnder are unreally good at picking up on those promises.  I’ve had emails guessing at Nell’s origins, at the ultimate end of the book, etc, which are, at this point, GUESSES.  Have to be, since my cluing has been as hidden as possible.  And in one case the clue is not yet connected to anything.  And yet, people GOT it.

Unfortunately, we tend to reason about life that way, too.

This might be a case of chicken and egg.  I know that stories are what happens when we turn our mind lose on life and allow it to impose order on reality, whether that order is real or imaginary.  We tell ourselves stories.  And we tend to make stories out of our lives.  Perhaps that’s how we make sense of life.  Perhaps that’s how we remain what passes for sane.  Or perhaps not.

Perhaps life used to be more predictable, too.  I’m not betting on it.  I grew up in a small village, where people by and large, with minor innovations like electrical light and running water, lived the way they had for centuries, observed the same feast days, cultivated the same plot of land, kept the same farm animals as their ancestors world without end – in a place where Romeo and Juliet might have happened in the next village.  (I thought it had, the first time I heard someone talk about it.)  Looking back, life looked a lot more… well… ordered.  You knew the pool from which you’d choose your mate, more or less, you knew the places you’d see in your life, you knew where you’d be buried when you died.  You knew the kids who worked hard in childhood would probably make good, and you knew the class clown would probably have a checkered career, and the kid caught breaking into a neighbor’s house at ten would probably eventually come to a bad end.

But that’s from a distance.  If you increase the granularity and go life by life, person by person, you find it’s not like that.  That kid who worked hard in childhood, walking out his parents’ door one evening, gets run over by a car and spends the rest of his life as a paraplegic, having to be looked after.  The kid who was a bad lot?  Well, he gets drafted, goes overseas, becomes a hero, comes back and picks up a steady job, never has a hobble again… until he’s fifty when he embezzles his boss’s money, runs away and dies a millionaire in Brazil.

Even in the village, with its ordered cycle of life, people could surprise you, events could surprise you, things you counted on – like inheriting the family business – would turn out quite differently – when you found out the company was bankrupt, for instance.

After all, that small village produced me and – good or bad (and often bad) – you can’t say my trajectory was predictable.  When I was born to a rather traditional family in a traditional village and as a female (which in that culture means far less mobile) I can safely say that if some time traveler had told family, friends or extended acquaintances that not only would I survive (an iffy thing, since I was extremely premature, born at home, and not allowed access to an incubator) but I’d leave home and go live in the states on my own (no relatives, other than my husband) AND become a novelist in a language no one in the family spoke at the time (correction, my grandfather spoke it.  He didn’t write it.  But he had no one to speak it to) NO ONE would have believed it.

But even those of you who aren’t little vortexes of unstable fate can probably point out to events in your lives that were in no way “foreshadowed.”

However, it goes further than that.  MUCH further.  Right now, we are in a time of catastrophic change.  By that I don’t mean the intentional, phony and often strange change brought on by political moves.  I mean bone-deep technological change of the kind that leaves a mark.

Part of the reason that change is so difficult is that we are essentially two cultures.  One of them is  “the people who talk.”  (I’d call it “the people who think” but that is unwarranted flattery for most of them – for most humans, actually.)  These are the media, the academia, the people who tell stories whether fictional or fictionalized.  These people in general know nothing – or very little – about what the other culture is up to.  The other culture is “the people who fix”.  These are the people who know how things work, the people who can build and create.

For years now the people who talk have been ascendant.  We’ve been building a little reality of words, telling ourselves stories.  “This is the way things work” and “This is the way things will go.”  Actually, we haven’t been ascendant so much as we were the only ones saying these things, and the other people didn’t or couldn’t contradict us, so we thought we had it all.  Our story was undisputed.  Like the garrulous wife of a silent husband, we sat there for years making plans.  “And when we retire, we’re going to live in Miami.”  And because the poor sob across the table said nothing, we thought we could do as we pleased.

The silent people who fix and create things were, all along, quietly, often in an inarticulate way, pulling the rug out from under our feet.  While we were talking about our condo in Miami they were building an entire retirement community from discarded beer bottles, in the backyard of our house in Michigan.

So while we were creating our just so plots, the people who fix and create things changed the world on us (the bastages.)  While we were climbing the ordered ladder of publishing (such as it was) they were building ebooks, and even – gasp – places like Amazon to sell them.  They were creating the computer revolution which allows us to attend lectures from home (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, education is next in line for that change.)

So, now there’s a choice of courses for us.  The world is changing.  It’s called catastrophic because it resembles Atlantis subsiding beneath the waves.  We can’t change it back.  We can make phony political changes that will make things go a different route, and possibly a worse route, or we can shout into the wind, but it’s not going to stop the change.

The metaphoric oceans are coming in.  You can choose to stand there going “I’m despondent.  My life is over.  I want my beach back.  When I was little I dreamed of a condo in Miami.”  Heaven knows I’ve done a bit of that myself and still have instances of it.  HOWEVER that is not a survival-enhancing behavior.  Those who will survive – and many who will thrive – are already running for the hills, scouting out the now-barren peaks that will be fertile islands when the change is done.

I know it hurts.  It hurts like heck.  We want our stories to make sense, and we want our life to be a story.

But you have to be aware that at some level it was always a lie.

To the extent that you need stories to survive, make this one be about the plucky author/educator/artist who survived catastrophic change – who got out ahead of the mess and the turmoil and came out much more successful than traditional routes allowed.  Make your prototype that of the mythological (but then so was Atlantis) sage who got in a boat ahead of the continent sinking and went to other lands to teach what he knew.  And who was treated as a god in the new land.

You’re not Cinderella.  There is no glass slipper.  BUT if you’re good and pro-active and if you stop lamenting and start looking to the future, there MIGHT be a fortune in canned pumpkin or trained mice.

First let go of the glass slipper dreams.  It was never very comfortable and it came off when you ran downstairs.  Then shake yourself, look around, and find new dreams.  You can do it.  Remember, the best stories change direction halfway through.  Why should your life be any different?

Check Your Victimhood

One of my friends posted a result of a Facebook quiz about “your privilege.” He did it with acerbic comments – even though he’s a much nicer person than I – because he’s not stupid or a pudding head and the quiz made him almost as foamy at the mouth as I got. BUT—

I couldn’t resist taking it. First of all, it will surprise you that I got a 24 which makes me extremely under privileged and definitely in victimhood territory. I answered the questions honestly, btw. I just don’t think I answered them as the writer of the quiz intended.

For instance, I’m fairly sure when she (okay, might be an he, but if I had to bet. And I hate “they” as a singular pronoun. Yes, I know Elizabethans used it, but NOT for politically correct reasons) wrote the test and asked “Have you ever been derided and called names for your religion” what she was thinking of was some poor huddled Muslim female being called names by stereotypical white menTM, not an European high school student in the magnet school and the selective “advanced” form being called things because she refused to say she didn’t believe in G-d. Or, when she said “Did you ever have to hide your orientation” she probably didn’t mean at the Broad Universe tea at a convention. Or when she said “did you ever get called names because of your sexual orientation” she probably wasn’t thinking of “Breeder!” hurled from passing car as I pushed a baby carriage down the road. Nor… and this I’m absolutely sure of, did this precious flower ever think that “Did you ever have to hide who you are” could refer to my ten years of hiding my political beliefs, so I could earn a living in a liberal-dominated field.

In fact, what this very bizarre “quiz” revealed more than anything else was the quiz writers assumptions. I have no idea how someone could come by such an odd set of them, except that I think it’s a group thing – I think where she lives everyone repeats this, so, “if everyone believes it must be right.” And also, I think this person has never looked outside her position of extreme privilege, and therefore thinks that everyone’s lives must be BETTER than hers, because, surely, she can’t be privileged. I mean, she’s female. (And possibly gay or of color.)

I wanted to give her the wisdom I acquired circa ten “other people look carefree because they’re not me. Everyone has burdens.” I acquired this wisdom by finding that someone I thought was a precious snow flake was actually deathly ill – she just didn’t show it.

How do I intuit this from the quiz? Well, it’s the questions she didn’t know she was asking. Like… I don’t know ANYONE – not even atheists – who have never been derided for their religious opinions. The only way not to get that, is never to leave the echo chamber. BUT she thought that she was aiming it at a specific religious group, and that no one else EVER gets bullied for their fate or lack thereof. Thereby revealing that she DOES live in an echo chamber, and a protected one at that.

What makes me think she was aiming it at a religious group in particularly? Well, two lines down was “Have you ever been called a terrorist because of your beliefs?” This of course made me hit my head on the desk since the DHS thinks constitutionalists ARE terrorists. But this poor woman never heard of it.

And the line about “are you something other than white and male” was again jaw-droppingly solipsistic. At a guess, from terms used like cismale, the creature who wrote this was very well educated, and from some of the assumptions, well off. BUT she (if she’s a she) thinks someone growing up hungry somewhere in the Midwest, with parents barely scraping by has “privilege” because he tans with more difficulty and has a penis. Oh, please. This is like the old P.J. O’Rourke joke “will trade Moscow State Apartment for sleeping bag on the streets of NYC” – I bet most of us would rather be a person of vaginitude born with a silver spoon in her mouth and the connections to get decent jobs, than the son of a drug-addled couple somewhere in a remote area of West Virginia. No? I would. You know, in terms of going through life on an easy setting. Never mind that even the kid in the middle of West Virginia, with the meth cooking parents has a better shot at the big time than if he were born anywhere else in the world. AND that shot is much, much – infinitely – better if the child is black. Yes, we’re a better place to be black than most places in Africa.

In fact, what that entire quiz told me, from the beginning, was that this person lives in a rarified world, where she’s never met with the slightest set back, and yet she imagines other people must have it easier. She imagines this because by reasons of gender, orientation or race, she has been told her whole life that other people have privilege. And considering how good she has it, then those bastages out there must be living gold plated lives. How dare they?

And this is how we end up with people who have never had to sleep rough, have never had to patch their clothes so as not to go to school half naked, have never had to eat whatever there was, because it was all there was and the meat was starting to turn green, lecturing others about “checking their privilege” and imagining that they are downtrodden.

This is how we get the nonsense about “micro-aggressions” because someone looked at them – or they imagined they looked at them. Let’s not forget how the statue of the sleep walker threatened them – cross eyed.

They have been told all their lives they’re victims. Therefore they must be victims. And if nothing ever happens that can make them justifiably “bullied” or “victimized” they just turn up the gain on the receptor, so they can imagine themselves as heroic victims of terrible oppression.

And if they can’t even find that, then they lecture us on behalf of all of the oppressed.

Sometimes I think that everyone whining about “privilege” is in fact declaring their privilege. And the answer to it should be my mom’s answer when I cried for no reason “I’ll give you something to cry for.” Not that I’m threatening to hit them, of course, but I think they’d all be better for some real problems and, particularly, some real empathy, some understanding that in the world, in living, there are very few easy settings. Theirs is probably the easiest, and look what they do to it, creating all sorts of interesting guilt, neurosis and projection. (Can I revise my choice and be the boy with no opportunities somewhere in West Virginia? He has a better chance of being sane.)

Look, half the times when I was answering it was in circumstances this person couldn’t imagine.

And how does it feel to be “underpriviledged”? Darned if I know. Yes, I’ve been mocked for my accent. Yes, I’ve been denied a job for my gender (long ago; far away. Translator job. They were convinced I’d quit when I got pregnant. Weirdly, unknown to me, they were right. Eh.) I’ve been afraid of being out at night alone because of my gender But to be fair, I’d have been afraid because of my size if I were a small male. Look, it’s not prejudice that makes women more defenseless. It’s body mass and strength. Someone who doesn’t know that, has watched too many “kick ass girls” and is not aware it’s a fantasy. BTW the cure for that is concealed carry. (And sheesh, yes, will work towards a permit as soon as immediate situation lets up a little.) The point is that even assuming what makes a woman afraid to be out at night alone is PREJUDICE opens a whole can of crazy. I mean, does she think muggers only attack women? Does she think this is the organized “keeping women in their place” shock troop of the male conspiracy TM? There is no telling.

Again, it’s like the person who wrote this is Bubble Girl (or boy) and has never lived anywhere in the real world.

Which is probably true. This person has probably grown up in a world built by our media, our entertainment and our politicians’ cynical assumption of divide-and-conquer tactics.

Pray really hard that she/he/it/precious unicorn never has to face reality and find out how he/she/it has been privileged all along.

Meanwhile, when told to “check your privilege” tell them to “check your victimhood.” Contrary to advertisement, the only superpower it confers is the super-whine. And they don’t even give you crackers with that.

UPDATE:  New cover and free on Amazon.  Note, it’s a Kit Marlowe mystery, not musketeers.  You’ve been warned.

John Lennon’s Tooth and The Machineries of Fate.

It is a given fact that you guys like to disturb me. I don’t know why that is. I’d take it for granted that, in fact, life disturbs me enough. Take taxes, for instance — oh, wait. Los Federales already did. They have great need of money to eat it or something. Never mind.

Perhaps in an effort to distract me from running around the house repeating RAH’s dictum that you should be wary of strong drink: it might make you shoot at tax collectors and MISS, one of you told me about this dentist in … Alberta? Who bought one of John Lennon’s teeth (who even sells that?) and who plans to “clone John Lennon.”

Okay, as publicity it might be okay, though – I don’t know about you – I’d be hesitant to go to a dentist – any doctor really – who is into macabre souvenirs.

But the idea…

My answer to the reprobate who told me about it was to point out that we already have plenty of broken misfits around. I think he was a little taken aback, so I had to explain.

This is not the case with every one, of course, but speaking for me and a lot of other writers I know – and Lord help us, plastic artists are WORSE – art is what happens when you break somebody, then put them under unbearable pressure. Imagine if you will living, animated, sentient coal, and you’re trying to make diamonds. You apply enormous pressure…

And sometimes you’re going to get the diamond. The misfit will reorganize, re-integrate, find an outlet, and the result is something rarer and far better than mere human coal. But this being humans, most of the time you’re just going to get coal dust or perhaps diamond chips.

The resemblance between artists and madmen has been noted through history, but it’s slightly sideways from the truth. The truth is not that artists are mad, but rather like they achieved a state supra-madness where they function fine because they have that artistic outlet.

Now, I’m not quite that way, but then as you know I’m more craftswoman than artist.

Anyway, what shocked me about that story is that artist or not, Lennon’s success; his fame; his contribution to the world of music and the performing arts, is even more dependent on chance, on just how high that pressure was turned, when.

Regardless of what you think of his solo career it came after the Beatles, and might never have been what it was without the Beatles, and besides the Beatles is arguably his greatest contribution. What I mean is, absent the Beatles, he’d never have been the John Lennon he was, for good or ill. (This is something I tried to capture in Superlamb Banana. And yes, oh my, that does need another cover. Sigh.)

And that surely isn’t expressed in his genes. Unless you think of genes as sort of a magic destiny, the sort that the fairygodmothers used to give people over their cradle.

You might, of course. It’s a new and popular theory. Everything we are and everything we achieve is supposed to be there, in our genes, ready to happen. This Calvinistic (but not religious) view of humanity of course presupposes that the future is pre-written. We are, if you will, lines of code in a program we can’t help follow.

This is very similar to the Portuguese idea of fate which, Portugal being heavily influenced by Islam, is still central to the culture. You hear even educated people say things like “We all follow our fate.”

And it annoys me. It is, if you will, part of the Widgetization of humanity.

The left is going for this in a big way, without ever admitting it’s what their doing, just their their assumption of culture being genetic is never admitted to be full on racism. (It is. What else would it be? White people are endlessly protean, but if you are an interesting sub-race/culture, then you have to follow a script and know your place? Straight up racism!)

They’re going for this fate and pre-ordained thing in a big way because it’s a logical follow on their idea that nothing is your fault. If everything is scripted, its’ wrong to hold crimes against criminals. It also fits right in with the number of extreme left people who are radical losers. You might have an IQ of 180 and be living in a trashy apartment and raiding trash cans for garbage, but it was all planned, and it’s not your fault. Oh, yeah, and you can’t escape, so making the effort to actually integrate into society? Not possible. It will only fail.

Of course this destroys human freedom.

I’ve said of this before, that even if it were true (and if it were, we couldn’t prove it, barring proving the entire universe is a computer program) it would be evil to believe it. It would rob all existence of meaning and all humans of individuality. However, what we know seems to show it’s not true. I mean, maybe someone scripted me to have my particular life so far, in which case you have to wonder if they were sane (sorry) but I, like all of us, can see the errors, the failures, the slips – and what might have been. And it was not forbidden to me.

Of course, the jokers who believe this bilge then say that you don’t really think: you just follow a script, and then rationalize your actions.

While a lot of people do this, and a lot of us do it at times in minor stuff — like we forget we were going to make a cake and when we’re halfway through making a soufflé, we do the cat thing “I meant to do that” — I beg to differ. Major decisions are usually weighed by everyone but the very infantile, and the ones who believe that they can’t help themselves.

Again this is the widgetization of people. It’s making people things who would all act the same way given certain genes. Yeah, some twin studies purport to show that, to an extent, but I always wonder about the ones that don’t make cute lifeline stories. Oh, sure, the tendencies are in your genes. But what you make of them is your choice.

You’re not the sum of your ancestry. You’re not a widget. You’re not the slave to the culture you were born in. The future is yours to mold.

And as for John Lennon, poor man, who the heck needs another kid with funny glasses, a lot of uncontrolled aggression and some musical talent? He left children, in the normal way of mankind. Let that be enough for his contribution, and let him rest in peace.