There’s A Critter in My Fiction! – Alma Boykin

There’s A Critter in My Fiction! – Alma Boykin


So you want animals in your story, or animals wander into your story, and you need to decide what to do with them. Not microbes, but visible animals, pet-sized or larger. I’ll be the first to say that I am not an expert on critters in fiction, or fictional critters. However, I’ve found a few things while writing and researching both fictional and real-world animals that you might find helpful (or cautionary). You’d think something as simple as, oh, a mule, would be easy to write. That’s what I thought, too. Heh.

First you need to sort out what sort of critter you are writing, and how detailed it needs to be. Cart horses, dragons seen only at a distance, rumored sea monsters, the cat that your character shoos off the chair and is never seen again, they don’t need much in the way of precise description and natural history. Most readers can fill in the details and are familiar with what horses, cats, and other things look like. If you are writing a more exotic setting, you might need to describe the wombat, echidna, and aardwolf a little more. However, if you are going to have an animal as a character, or have a completely new beast appear, you probably need to do a little research and thinking about “how does it behave/function?”

For example, Snow the Killer Mule in the Colplatschki books required some research. I knew that mules are not horses, and they behave differently. I did not know until I started reading about mules and donkeys that they require different tack because their shoulders are proportioned differently from a horse (for example), that they mature more slowly than horses, that they don’t run when startled but they tend to freeze, then run with a purpose rather than blindly charging off like horses. You can’t get a mule to charge into danger like you can a horse. On the other hand, mules don’t drink themselves sick like horses are known to do. I read a number of books about mules, some from the 1800s, some more recent, and used what I’d learned. I did fudge Snowy’s gait, though: I have yet to read about a mule with a running walk or paso. But he turned out to be a most mulish mule, which was my intent.

Let’s say I’d been trying instead for a pack-lizard that someone used in the steppes and savannahs. I’d need to bone up on reptiles, and I’d probably go back and read Bakker and others about the supposed characteristics of warm-blooded dinosaurs, in case I decided to make the beast endothermic. An endothermic lizard won’t need special protection from cold but it might overheat, unless it sweats, pants, or uses modified fins to dissipate heat. A cold-blooded pack-lizard would need less food in warm weather, but the drover is stuck where he is on cold mornings until the air and the beast both warm up. And he might be in trouble if a cold front with icy rain arrives while he’s on the trail. I’d also need to decide how the creature moves, if it is more lizardy (like a crocodile or skink) or more horse-like (straight line movement), because that changes how the packs are arranged. It would probably have feet with hard central pads (proto-hoofs) and semi-flexible toes so it could walk in grass and hard dirt as well as softer soil. If the pack-lizard was by nature a browser, the drover would have to bring softer food if he ventures into the grasslands, in case the beast has trouble chewing and digesting a pure grass diet. And how would the pack-lizard behave? Do pack-lizards act differently from riding lizards? David Drake’s The Forge with the canine cavalry might be something to review, to see how he uses dog behavior, then look at lizard behavior. After all, the more “realistic” my pack-lizard, the more believable the reader will find my world.

Which raises another category: uplifted animals. How doggy is a sapient wolf? A comment thread here some time ago brought up what sapient house cats would be like, and most people thought we’d end up with the Kzinti. Or Shere Kahn, neither of which are exactly charming creatures. One example, although not Uplifted from outside their own world (as far as anyone knows) are the Azdhagi. The Azdhagi descended from predators that hunted in packs, led by an alpha male and sorted by size. As they achieved sapience, that behavior became a lineage-based clan system, with the Pack, composed of all members of the lineages, having supreme power should the clan lord fail to act in the best interests of the Pack. This became part of the Azdhagi Imperial political system and remains so on the throneworld of Drakon IV, less so on the colony worlds. However, caste is still size based. And as Rada Ni Drako discovered, the Pack can, and will, eliminate anyone who poses a threat to its survival. She’s watched it happen three times, and on each occasion it chilled her to the bone.

I’d venture to say that in some ways the concerns about writing uplifted beasts blur into those for were-creatures. How much of the animal side remains after uplift/shift? I think it would be safe to have uplifted golden retrievers that worked hard, played hard, didn’t think too much, and loved team sports. I’m not sure about an uplifted Jack Russell terrier, but I’m pretty certain I would NOT want to spend a long trip in a small vehicle with her. She’d be a great camp councilor, though. “Great! You want to go hiking today? Sure, we can go hiking, hiking’s fun. The long trail? No problem, remember to grab two water bottles and let’s go!” She’d also be the one most likely to know all the ways to sneak out of he cabins, because she would have tried them already at least once. And you just might uplift yourself into the Rats, Bats, and Vats world, which would at the very least make communicating with your workers a bit of a trick at times.

And weres. Traditionally, at least in the early movies and some stories, the werewolf had no idea of what he’d done in animal form, and was horrified to discover what he’d become. Are were-creatures beings of evil, or unfortunate accidents, or something desirable? Or is it just something your character has to deal with: as you know, a shifted were-dragon in a small bathroom is not a happy creature, and neither is his housemate. Does the animal aspect reflect the human personality, or is it the other way, that the human over time takes on some of the animal’s patterns? (I know of a professor who’d make a magnificent were-heron. He’s tall, with a very dignified bearing, walks steadily and with a purpose, looks around often, and dips his head as he walks. His personality is more leonine, though.) No matter how you write it, you’d better do research into the animal in question, its size, diet, habits, and how the shift might occur. Rada, for example, grows a pelt in her full-animal (call it were-jaguar) and normal forms. She also sheds in spring. All at once, “blowing” that lovely, thick double pelt in a week or so. It could be funny (for those outside the shedding perimeter) or a major problem (someone trying to track her is going to have a very easy time of it). What if your were-person sheds fur or scales every time he shifts? Messy!

There’s as many possibilities for animals in fiction as there are animals. From small pets to livestock to major characters to comic relief to dangerous antagonists, animals have played roles in many worlds of fiction. Go forth and do likewise!

Now excuse me, I have to vacuum cat hair out of my keyboard.


The Opposite of Creative

The opposite of creation is not destruction. Destruction, however much easier than creation, however much detrimental to society and to self is at least an action: you do something.

The opposite of creation is a sort of sterile, puzzled nothingness.

I’ve been observing this lately among the Social Justice Warriors (and btw, you should totally follow that link and read that article.) They acclaim a certain type of “art” (for lack of a better word) which is not even the type of creativity you see in school kids where they say take two comics, mash them together, and think they have created something new and Earthshattering.

That is the creativity of the naïve and inexperienced. No, the SJWs “create” by regurgitating onto the page things they read elsewhere and have been told are examples of right think or right positioning. Which is why their works feel beyond boring, sterile, castrated somehow, as if some piece of essential humanity is missing.

I’ve met this sort of “creativity” before.

I’m not going to run down my country of origin. It did pretty well in poetry. I liked Camoes, but that was because it was a requirement and also, I think, because I didn’t know very much of Roman poetry at the time (I suspect it’s rather derivative.) And I liked Fernando Pessoa. And I liked Eurico de Sa (though I liked him as a teen and wonder how it would have ported into my adult self.)

All of those are, of course, post renaissance, and in my opinion Camoes (the Lusiades) suffers from a constriction of imagination.

Part of this is that even into the nineteenth century the country had “accepted modes of thought” (it might still for all I know, but I doubt now they’re religion based.) There were things that were simply unthinkable without offending the majority of the “right thinking” Catholic-brought-up population.

Someone or other in a book I was reading said that Portugal was more Catholic and more authoritarian about it than practically any other country (except maybe Spain) because it had a high number of Carthaginians in its ancestry and those were total fanatics.

This is possible. I don’t know. What I know is this: when people here tell me to write “authentically Portuguese” fantasy and not elves and dwarves and what not, they don’t realize the level to which a religion of exclusivity (not Catholicism, per se. It didn’t do it in Italy or in most of the rest of Europe, but Catholicism the Portuguese way) scoured the imaginative landscape clean of all other elements.

I presume at some point the North had Celtic folklore, because it was part of the Celtic commonwealth. And all of the country, most definitely, had Roman myth.

It’s just that even in the twentieth century the idea of a Portuguese Tolkien was unthinkable. And while the Lusiades had symbolical Roman myth, it was almost self-consciously symbolic and imitative.

I’ll say right now I’ve been away from the country for a long time, and it’s entirely possible that other authors from the times I’m referring to have been discovered and that they were more imaginative. What I know though is that even our equivalent of the Grim fairy tales, collected from the people, are devoid of any supernatural beings but Saints. The scouring of the intellectual/emotional/mental landscape of the country was very complete.

And from what I can gather, looking back, it wasn’t what the civil authorities forbid, (though there was that too) but that the culture had made certain things unthinkable. You couldn’t think of them and remain part of the group.

I suspect the same thing is what happened in the Soviet Union under communism, and why they are having so much trouble rebuilding a civil society without recourse to authoritarian, soviet-like structures.

I’ve talked to people even in lighter socialist countries, like Sweden, who can’t seem to conceive of a non-socialist representative society. If I tell them their system sucks (It does, no matter what progressives say. It makes individual initiative and entrepeneurship impossible, to say nothing of somehow destroying the race’s impulse to procreate. In a connected world, too, it also attracts the kind of migrants who don’t share the culture and who simply want to mooch of it) they instinctively, without thought, go back and compare what they have to what they had when monarchy was absolute in the middle ages. Despite examples in the rest of the world, the idea of representative government without socialism is literally unthinkable. Their schooling has made some thoughts things that can’t be thought.

In the old traditional publishing they could hem us in in the same way. I knew if I wrote even something so innocuous as a communist villain and a good businessman in the same story, I’d never sell it. Ever. It was unthinkable.

I think a lot of these systems become this way and make certain thoughts unthinkable because they’re so certain of themselves, and because what was there before was so much more horrible.

I’m fairly sure that Catholicism in Portugal became absolutist to scour the public mind of Muslim thought with its myriad of genii and spirits. Anyone who has seen Roman ruins in Portugal and sees that for all the centuries of occupation the locals, secretly, buried their dead in the ruins of the church (because it was the only consecrated ground left) can doubt there was Muslim oppression and that the backlash against it was horrific.

Hence the backlash against the horrible becomes the totalitarian thought of the future.

But there is also, undoubtedly, a different reason for totalitarian thought, and that is when the past was better, and when your regime/thought/ruling doesn’t work very well at all.

If we look carefully that’s what FDR did by maligning his predecessors and enshrining the New deal. It was also attempted with varying degrees of success when Clinton took over after the elder Bush. Seizing the opportunity presented by a minor dip in the market, (amplified by news reports of the misery it inflicted on the nation. Ah, if they did those reports now!) they started proclaiming that “trickle down economics” didn’t work and that the new soft socialism would.

It didn’t. Not really. It inflated stock market bubbles with government money and let Friends of Bill get away with murder, which was then used to advance the “all business is corrupt” narrative. (Also no one in the Reagan administration ever used “trickle down” they used “supply side”. Also, anyone who lived through both administrations, let along those of GWB and Obama, knows that whatever the heck Reagan did WORKED.)

However, in the news and the media, saying what Reagan had done had improved the economy was literally unthinkable. Even when some of us remembered it.

But mostly – mostly – I find these… ideologies of exclusion that make everything out of them unthinkable exist not in backlash or on purpose to erase something, but because they are fataly flawed internally and if people were aware of a different slant or looked at them with fresh eyes, they’d find the flaws.

This is the case with a certain type of religion (Islam, mostly, in most parts of the world) but also with all the pseudo-religions of the left. Yep, all of them. Environmentalist, socialism, feminism, and that bizarre blend that’s the Social Justice Warrior.

They’re besieged all about and hemmed in with “this you can’t read” and “this you can’t look at” and “this you can’t think” and they call this being enlightened and free-thinkers. And they don’t have enough critical thought faculties left to laugh when they say it.

For instance one of the SJWs in my field was congratulating herself not long ago for not having a bookstore near her that carried books that weren’t written by SJWs and therefore never having been exposed to “bad think.” Because…

I mean, if those thoughts are self-obviously bad and wrong, she could read them and find rational reasons to reject them, right?

But the truth is she couldn’t. She has no logic as a defense for adopting the positions she does, or avoiding the opposite. She just thinks what she’s told to, and avoids what she’s told to.

Because “wrong think” could destroy the entire construction of what she believes. (Shouldn’t be difficult. It’s internally contradictory. Say, for instance, how do you deal with a woman’s right to choose when a woman chooses to abort all female children. Why you scream about her false consciousness and tell her she’s a subconscious victim of the patriarchy and then you stop her choosing. But then how do you face the fact you stopped her choosing? You don’t. You made her choose right for her own good. Yes, okay, but how are you different from those who say that abortion is harmful to the mother and to society and she should choose life for her own good? You’re not, save for thinking “right thoughts” and holding on to the sanctioned opinions. Just like a medieval peasant in a theocracy, right?)

This type of rigid thought structure is bad, I think, for all professions and all jobs (and thus, ultimately for society.) You can be a decent cobbler, but not an incredibly innovative one, if your entire training is to be afraid to stray outside safe-thoughts.

But it is death for the arts. It just is. You can’t create if you don’t have access to the full panoply of human thoughts and imaginings, at least in the symbolic sense.

None of us – I think – believes in fairies or unicorns, but bringing a fairy or unicorn in to a story is useful to create a certain situation, and humans in that situation are also interesting.

Social justice warriors should be able to imagine a bad woman in power. If women are fully human, they can be bad, without their evil being the result of oppressive patriarchy. But they can’t. They can’t think “badthink.” That would bring into question the entire idea of female supremacy, let alone the idea that men and women are exactly alike but men are worse. In the same sense they can’t, say, write a futuristic story in which someone creates a true hermaphrodite race, because that would make them question that men and women are already alike form the neck up. (Oh, wait, they COULD write that, but it would be all about sex and “consent” and nonsense externalities, not how their thought would be different IN ITSELF from other humans and how THAT would affect the culture, which is where the real creativity lies.)

Their alternate history, likewise, tends to devolve into either revenge plots against those they view as oppressors, or puerile utopias. It is beyond them to create something like the Grimnoir Chronicles, in which the unthinkable happens and the world changes in unthinkable and yet utterly realistic ways.

And this is why when you’re reading their stuff you tend to feel you read it all before and Ursula Le Guinn at her worst did it better.

This is why they default to accusing anyone who is not bound by SJW thought of not wanting women in science fiction, as though objecting to a gynotheocracy were the same as not wanting them to participate. This is why they think allowing people who disagree with them to publish is the equivalent of shutting them up. Because they can’t – simply can’t – coexist in a world that allows other forms of thought.

Which is too bad, because with indie, it’s gone beyond Baen and they are most certainly have to face the fact that some people out there don’t read, write, or play games like they do. No one is going to force them to appreciate the other side, but no one is going to shut the other side to please them and make them feel “secure” either. (And btw, that’s where the whole not feeling safe comes from. They’re not afraid the “wrong-thinkers” will attack them. Only that these people will say things that question their belief system. A totalitarian, exclusivist belief system can’t tolerate being confronted by different thoughts. It feels like an attack and like you’re falling apart. Hence the fears aimed at nice, polite, decent men like Brad Torgersen. If you think of their claustrophobic, limited mind-space it makes PERFECT sense. This is why they need “safe” rooms, too, to get away from divergent thought and divergent people. All while proclaiming diversity, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad.)

They’re going to have to adapt or be marginalized.

Now, if we can come up with a way to make decent, professional indie movies, perhaps we can get away from the present Hollywood phase where the height of creativity is to redo superheroes (cartoonish to being with) as female, because, you know, that makes it totally better. Even when it doesn’t.

As for the SJWs, yep, they still have access to the megaphones of the culture. But those are drying up. The publishers are losing their money, and as TV and movies sign on to their properties my guess is that what will happen there is what happened to literature SF. You can’t make people consume what they don’t like. Not for entertainment. They’ll just go elsewhere.

And then the money dries up there too.

The lack of creativity that comes with their sterile, binding set of dogmatic beliefs doesn’t even allow them to destroy INTERESTINGLY.  These exclusive thought-modes can’t exist in a truly pluralistic environment and the environment that’s emerging in the arts is pluralistic to the point of chaos.

Thought will move past them and elsewhere.

Creativity will return, and with tech change, there’s a good chance it will be freed up in ways we can only imagine. (But they can’t.)

A brilliant new renaissance is over the horizon.

In the end, we win, they lose.

Be not afraid.




When I Think Back on All The Stuff I Learned in School

Sometimes I feel like Stranger in a Strange Land. I’m of this place, but not of this place. And by this place I don’t so much mean the US as the current mode of Western civilization, say, the last 300 years or so.

You see, I can’t exactly claim to have been born and raised in a village that time forgot. I mean, the village I grew up in was ten miles from the second largest city in Portugal, and could be visited in 20 minutes by train.

On the other hand, other than the five or six kids per year who went to high school and the few men who had jobs outside the village (I’m sure there were more, but I keep thinking and the only ones I can say for sure were my dad and his best friend from childhood) Porto might as well have been on the far side of the moon. My grandmother had visited it three times in her life by the time I was ten. And while people in the village prided themselves on being ever so much more sophisticated and forward thinking than the rubes from “behind the mountains” most people in the village lived in conditions virtually indistinguishable from their grandparents’ lives. They might (or might not. It was a mixed bag until I was about six) have electrical light. They almost for sure had a radio and were addicted to soap operas (I used to walk down the main street at the time of the soap opera (it’s when the bus from middle school arrived) and hear the entire thing, just walking from door to door. They probably didn’t have a tv. Or a refrigerator. Indoor plumbing was hit or miss and the arrangement we had, with the full bathroom just outside the backdoor was about average, both because thick stone walls were hard to pierce for new plumbing and because people raised on outhouses found the bathroom a “dirty” thing to have indoors.

The rhythms of life — how food was acquired; how a living was earned; how one behaved; what mattered – all of it could have been grasped by someone from the seventeenth century, with perhaps a bit of excitement at the “innovations,” light, radio and the two private cars in the village. Heck, a Roman from the Christian period (before that it was just too weird) would have taken only a few days to fully integrate.

What I’m trying to say is that modernity, as we know it, and as most people here (even those older than I) grew up with, was hit or miss in the village, as we lived in it.

There might have been some comforts and conveniences, but no one took them very seriously. The innovations existed, but they hadn’t changed life yet.

So while there were factories around, the industrial age was something we rolled our eyes at.

Factories, schools, all gave a great leeway on when you show up and if you do.

Take my first day in official school: I had my morning coffee (it was believed to help with asthma. It would have been coffee with milk but mom had got it in her pointy head that I was allergic to milk (I’m not. I have eczema which responds mostly to carbs and secondarily to stress. Might have responded only to stress back then. My son’s does) so I had my coffee black and sweetened. With day old bread dropped in.) at my leisure. And then at nine or ten mom looked up from her work and said “oh, yeah. I was forgetting. It’s the first the day of school.”

So I grabbed my bag, and the little blackboard we used to practice letters in the village, and off I went. About half the pupils were in class, as my mom delivered me in. The others straggled in through the day.

All this got more formal come fourth grade, because there was a national exam, but the first three years were… charmingly informal.

Modernity had all sorts of rules and regulations about how we had to be in school and people in the village shrugged and did whatever.

We had a substitute teacher for a year because our regular teacher had some operation to her bac. The substitute teacher was in her twenties and got a thing going with the male teacher of the boys next door. We had three recesses a day, about an hour each. We liked it. (And they got married, because you couldn’t behave like that in the village and not get married, or all the matrons would have a talk with you.)

The point is, lesson plans, and everything was fairly flexible. Until we had to prepare for the national exam, no one was straining to make sure we knew what everyone knew.

Two thirds of the class was just going to work in the textile factories at 10, anyway. The rest of us had learned at home.

By the time I entered school I knew how to read, write and knew the rudiments of history. I also knew the multiplication tables, though you’d never know it from my performance because the minute I got up in front of the teach to say them, my mind would go to static.

In the same circumstances, my brother got advanced from first to fourth grade. The only reason I didn’t is that my mom thought at seven I was too young to take a bus to the next larger village for fifth and sixth grade.

But let’s just say I completely understand Mark Twain’s thing about not letting school interfere with one’s education.

My friends and I who went on to high school in the city did well enough and adapted to the model well enough, but it never “took”. Our original exposure to school was more of a rural, relaxed atmosphere than in a factory-school of the industrial-educational model, so internally I at least have never internalized the non scholastic lessons of school.

My early schooling was more as Shakespeare’s might have been where the parent pays the petit school teacher to teach you your letters (and she returned me to my grandmother saying by law she didn’t have to put up with me. This is what I call “getting kicked out of kindergarten” – mostly, I was playing barracks lawyer on behalf of low-status girls the teacher continuously picked on.) and then at some point you pursue your schooling, but age divisions aren’t strictly observed and the classes are small enough that the teacher doesn’t care what you’re doing provided you know the material and are quiet. Most of my time in elementary was spent either reading or inventing well… I didn’t know they existed, but that’s what they were rules for LARPS to play at recess.

My later schooling was more formal, but the Portuguese believe in “genius” as a magical thing and since they’d decided I was one (I wasn’t. I just had the advantage of an intellectually curious family and a lot of books) I got away with clean forgetting my homework, obsessing on one subject to the detriment of others, and spending an untold amount of time writing novels at my desk.

This might be why I’m so bad at holding down real jobs, with real routines, but why I do okay working for myself (the last two years haven’t been stellar, but then I have been ill way too much.)

And this might mean (might) if the future goes as we expect, that a looser, more ad hoc form of schooling MIGHT be better for most people.

I know that schools purport to teach you the skills to survive in the modern world. They actually teach you the schools to survive in the nineteenth century. But here what they don’t teach you that gets passed on and that I’ve run into trouble with (as have other people) in self directed professions:

  • You have more in common with people your age than with anyone else. People born within nine months of you have everything in common with you. This has got us to think in generations, which is stupid. To the extent boomers are as portrayed and to the extent that some of them discriminate against past and future generations, it’s the idea that there’s some magical bond between people within x years or each other. (This is mostly seen among leftists who view people as widgets, anyway.) Do I need to tell you there isn’t? The internet should prove that. And yet it was a shock to me to find that most of my friends are either ten years older or ten to twenty years younger than I. I find myself thinking “What is wrong with me?” Of course, nothing is. I’m just not complying with the educational-industrial complex version of it.
  • Performing to set task. I’m actually very bad at it. I think it’s a version of standing up to recite for the teacher. When I’m under contract my mind freezes. Back when there was no indie I could force myself to sort of perform, but it wasn’t my best work. Now… let’s say when these two books are delivered, I hope Toni will let me go on a loose rein. I will still deliver books to Baen, probably twice a year. But if she doesn’t want them, I can bring them out myself, and that allows me to work “loose”

However, even I have bits of this thought. I most often run into it with new authors. “I’ve written this book just as the publisher said he/she wanted it. Why didn’t they buy?” Or among college graduates “I’ve done everything I was supposed to. Why don’t I have a job?”

Of course real life doesn’t work like that. Real life is not “I performed well enough to pass.” It’s competition and, in the artistic fields, it’s something else. It’s “I performed well enough to have a divine spark.”

I feel most of the problem with the women in their forties who are stomping, throwing fits and falling on the floor pumping arms and legs about male privilege in SF/F is that they have this mentality. They have done everything they were told. How can the book business be falling apart around them instead of making them millionaires. How dare it? It must be the evil patriarchy.

Thank G-d for the village school and the village itself, where I learned real life is not a point-check system and that whether you succeed or fail is not dependent on how hard you tried and how well you performed, even, but on a multitude of factors, including personality and yes, luck. And it’s not “unfair” – it is what it is.

  • Teacher knows best.

Everything, EVERYTHING from “we belong to the government” to “violence never solved anything” is predicated on this idea that there is someone all-knowing and benevolent watching our every move and rewarding the just and punishing the unjust.

The president’s infantile “Putin is going to regret invading the Ukraine, because he’s against the times’ or whatever, relies on this ridiculous conceit that someone is watching over you and keeping count of how well you follow the curriculum.

Well, I believe there is someone watching over us, too, but I believe the accounting will come after we die. I don’t think He puts His fat finger on the scales, except at very rare, miraculous times.

But that’s not what they refer to. They talk about it as the government or “society” or, for the more new agey “the Universe” but what they REALLY mean is “Teacher knows best and you’re gonna get it.” And this is part of what they learned to school, even if it wasn’t explicitly on the curriculum.

  • The cool kids know best; I wanna be a cool kid.

Part of this is of course being a monkey. Okay, an ape. We are creatures built on the frame of apes. There is any number of things we get from that, including group mechanics. The “cool kids” being band leaders.

But the idea that these “band leaders” should have no more skill than working the crowd is part of being in a school with same age group. No one is that far ahead of the others, so what excites admiration is superficial prettiness and ways of behaving that are … petty and stupid. Self-aggrandizing cr*p.

This then bleeds into society in celebrity worship and in people trying to get attention by being know-it-all loudmouths.

All of which is hurting us, from our politics to our business.


How else is an advanced society supposed to school its young? I don’t know. Being a libertarian I am against public education as such, simply because while if we didn’t have it lots of people would go uneducated, I am at a loss to know what difference that would make from now, where after years in prison-schools, many people emerge functionally illiterate.

I’d suggest leaving it to the parents or perhaps as small a community as possible. In large cities, perhaps a “neighborhood.” They’ll know what’s going on the best. Let people choose, and those who can’t choose, help, arrange for a network to help them.

“But the children won’t all learn the same things/have the same assumptions.”

Good. In the unbelievably complex world that’s emerging, we need true diversity. Diversity of ability and mind. Not millions of robots indoctrinated into things that are no longer true, if they ever were.


Encroachments of Power -Cedar Sanderson


Encroachments of Power -Cedar Sanderson


About two hundred years ago, a British jurist named Albert Venn Dicey coined the phrase the Rule of Law. The idea behind the phrase extends back as far as written history, however, with the tablets of Hammurabi that laid out the laws of a long-vanished society, and the even older Code of Ur-Nammu (Kramer). The Rule of Law holds that not only one person ought to be obedient to the laws as recorded, but the governing body must be equally constrained. The opposite side of the Law is Man, capricious and vindictive. “The law – and its meaning – must be fixed and publically known in advance of application, so that those applying the law, as much as those to whom it is applied, can be bound by it. If courts (or the officials of any other institution) could make law in the guise of applying it, we would have the very ‘rule of men’ with which the Rule of Law is supposed to contrast.” (Fallon)

The Rule of Law means different things taken in different contexts. Applied to a single individual, it is usually taken to mean adherence to the written laws of the nation where that person is in residence. Applied to governments, it can be taken to mean the codex of laws recorded, enforced consistently and without capricious punishments handed down outside of those laws. Public officials, despite being elected or appointed, are not to be above the rule of law, even while they guide and refine it.

The Founding Fathers of the United States attempted to anticipate the need for a rule according to law in the new nation they struggled for. Alexander Hamilton wrote “how easy it is for men to change their principles with their situations; to be zealous advocates for the rights of the citizens when they are invaded by others; and, as soon as they have it in their power, to become the invaders themselves; to resist the encroachments of power, when it is in the hands of others; and, the moment they get it into their own, to make bolder strides than those they have resisted.” Our government, far from being a monolithic machine, is made up of just such people, and the rule of law is what must remain in place to prevent them from seizing power in some petty tyranny.

Governments around the globe in modern times display varying adherence to the Rule of Law. In some places, lip service is paid without reality reflecting what is said. China recently proclaimed “fairness is the lifeline of the rule of law.” However, external observers and activists reject that statement, “like a rooster dreaming that he can lay eggs, the basic political system is incompatible with rule of law, they mainly want to use the law to control society and control the public,” Teng Biao, a prominent rights lawyer, wrote this week. Currently in Hong Kong, a pro-democracy movement called the Umbrella Movement is testing the limits of that rule of law in China, and finding that it is fading in the once independent city.

Zimbabwe and its fall from the Rule of Law to the Rule of Man is a perfect example of why the ideal of the Rule of Law is a worthy one to strive for. In 1999 it was reported “Mugabe has arrested, jailed and tortured journalists, imposed bans on the media, outlawed strikes and “stay-aways” and allowed the military and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to arrest and detain civilians. He has openly flouted court orders and challenged judges to resign.” In the fifteen years since then, an estimated 30,000 deaths have occurred under his genocidal regime.

On an organizational level, the Rule of Law means not only obedience of the laws in place, but protection from infringement of the individual’s rights by the organizations that impose and enforce those laws. Police, for instance, are intended to be a force for good, “Cops and liberties are not zero-sum rivals; a strong and effective police force is not a corrupt or abusive police force; good street policing does not oppress and brutalize.” Here in the United States, the core principles of the Bill of Rights are intended to give every person an equal chance before the law, something that has been refined, battled, and re-discovered many times since the ink was wet on that document.

Policing seems to be a central point of a growing concern here in the United States. Laws, loosely adapted to suit the purposes of those organizations which once proclaimed an intent to protect and serve are now turned against that very citizenry, often if no intent or crime exists. Seizure of assets, originally intended to work under the Rule of Law to threaten drug dealers, is now seen as a ‘revenue stream’ for A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.”

The police are not alone in this tactic of seizing money for no good reason. The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.” The NY Times goes on in this article to enumerate other instances, and the frightening fact is that there is no Rule of Law that can stop the IRS, it seems. Rule of Man holds sway in what is possibly the most draconian of government bureaucracies. Not a tyranny of a single dictator, but that of thousands of petty tyrants, pecking the nation to death in their pursuit of power.

For each individual, living under the Rule of Law ought to mean trust and security, and when the authorities fail as sometimes happens, recourse to not only make it right for that single person, but to safeguard others, and to mend the broken trust before it threatens to decay into the Rule of Man. The United States government was designed with checks and balances between the three branches for good reason, to prevent the tyranny of a single man at the apex of the pyramid proclaiming that he holds the pen that dictates the Rule of Law.

Taking the Centipede for a Walk in the Dreamtime

Yes, I’m still stuck with Through Fire. These things are sent to try us. Actually the book is turning unholy complex and no, don’t worry about it, it’s not complex on the surface.

Lately I’ve been writing these short stories – and I think the same is happening to this book – where there is layer upon layer of build, done so subtly that until the end upends everything you thought you knew about the world and the people, you don’t realize it’s all there.

This is not on purpose. In fact, most of it seems to be coming from the deep subconscious and surprise me. Maybe it’s the direction in which my writing is going, in which case it’s worrisome, because I could starve this way. My normal rate for a short story is two hours but the last one took me three days of work.

Or perhaps it’s just because this – I don’t know what to call it. It’s not a technique because I’m not consciously building it. So what is it? A…frame of mind, would be the easiest way to put it.

Even those of you who are not writers might have gone through this in real life. In real life it’s usually traumatic and severing of all you were to the point people wonder if you had a change of personality.

I’ve observed it in people following the death of the person they live with: parent, child or spouse, all alike; after the birth of a child; after the loss of a child; after falling in love; after moving to another country or even another city; after accomplishing something or failing to accomplish something that they’ve been working for a long time.

If Tedd Roberts comes by, he might be able to explain this better but the way I always understood it is this “In reply to unbearable emotional and cognitive disjointing, the brain rewires itself.” Piaget used a form of this to explain how children become adollescents and adollescents adults. (There’s more than that, in his case, since he’s talking about a brain that’s changing anyway, but the rewiring occurs in response to extreme and unbearable pressures, I remember that.)

Some of these re-wirings take years and you don’t see it on the surface, not unless these are people you are in the habit of having long philosophical discussions with and sometimes not even then. But when they emerge, it’s like you’re talking to a whole new person. (Sometimes worse.)

This is because you’re talking to a whole new person. Their brain is not wired the way it was supposed to be, the way you knew.

This is one of the reasons, btw, that I am against psychological mollycoddling of young people. Yeah, okay, some people had genuinely horrible experiences that happened to THEM personally, not to someone else and they have PTSD (you don’t have PTSD on another’s behalf) and that means that you shouldn’t be cruel to them by bringing up things that will hurt them to no purpose. BUT what we’re seeing is people demanding accommodation for what I’d call “preemptive trauma.” People who demand someone be removed from a con because he MIGHT say something. Or people who demand you give them notice before mentioning small holes or spiders. People who call you a hater because you disagree on them in some fine point, like the person who branded me homophobic and transphobic when I said humans come in two differently wired brain forms (with a lot of variation and cross over, but basically two distinct forms) created by hormone baths in-utero and beyond our volition or our will.

We’ll take that last person as to why people shouldn’t be mollycoddled. Of course I was not implying the non-existence of homosexuals or trans people. In fact, when I was growing up the theory was that they’d got the “wrong” baths in utero. Now it is that certain trigger genes got flipped or not according to factors we don’t quite get, because it seems to be a complex of genes rather than a single one. Epigenetics. Don’t get my older son talking about it, he will talk for hours.

Anyway, what I mean by this, to bring it back to point, is that I think that last person has cognitive dissonance between her chosen narrative “Men and women’s brains are exactly alike” AND her acceptance of gay and transsexual people because after all if the difference is all in the plumbing, what’s the big fuss about? And it could be trained out of it, right? So, my post send her over the edge, and maybe at some point she’ll have an epistemological breakthrough and be a “whole other person” and maybe a better one (though there’s no guarantee of this.)

This is the only way I know of that people grow – unbearable pressure, forcing them to reexamine the way they’ve been doing things.

This ties into writing because writing is supposed to engineer a lot of these cathartic breaks.

I’ve said before it is stupid for a writer to think he or she works in language. The medium we actually work in is emotion.

And it seems to be the way writers grow, too. The inherent pressures between our subconscious trying to express itself through our sane and rational (shuddup you) brain, eventually causes a break: a break with old style, a break with who you were.

You can see this in almost every notable writer.

Early Terry Pratchett is not the same as medium Terry Pratchett and certainly not late Terry Pratchett. It’s all incremental and slow, but there is a break there. With Heinlein it’s more notable. Reading his work in order once I could (once I came to the US) I noticed the glimmers of “real Heinlein” around Double Star. That again evolved into Late Heinlein (and yes, I know ya’ll’s opinions. Don’t want them. Other than some odd linguistic sources I like Late Heinlein. Note I’m not saying I agree with a lot of it – don’t agree with a bunch of details in early, or middle, either – but that’s not required to admire someone or enjoy his/her writing.

There are mini ones of these, what I call the “learning to walk again” or “another step on the ladder” that are attributable to learning craft. You look back, everything you ever wrote seems like crap and you want to write it better now you know better.

The thing is that this feels more like a huge, seismic one. It’s not craft. In fact, it’s like I’m relearning the craft to express the new mind set. It’s more like I’m… in a different frame of mind.

My opinions didn’t change, or my sense of self, just the feeling of what I am and how to express it in writing.

I’ve already been told by Kate that Through Fire is full of deep-laid high-depth bombs. Of course, being Kate, she expressed this as “I hope you can tie it all at the end.”. That doesn’t worry me. I know I can. Or rather, if the short stories are any indication, it will tie itself.

It’s more the feeling that I’m learning the craft to express something that is coming from the deep subconscious and that won’t let me know what it is till I write it.

The d*mn centipede is learning to walk. Again.

Have You Seen the Well To Do?

A friend sent me the following, yesterday and I liked it so much I stuck it at the end of the Friday Bookplug, which, btw, is here.  It sort of fits if you squint.

What it does fit is the modus operandi of the SJWs with their continuous whine and claims of being discriminated against and suffering micro-agressions.

Robbing the Midlist
Have you seen the well to do?
Walking down Marx avenue
Crying that everything’s unfair
While their butlers do their hair
High-toned, caterwaulers
Condoned with lots of dollars
Spending every dime
Made on other guy’s lines!

If you’re blue, and you want dough
Why not lean on someone you know
In the pubbing biz?
Robbing the midlist

Different types will write a dystop-
ian cliché or bash on the pope
It all fits
When you’re robbing the midlist

Cashing in their six-figure advances
Even if their book has got no chances
Of a profit

Come let’s mix where pampered authors
Politic to get job offers
Hope they’re picked
For robbing the midlist

Tips the scales to favor their own voices
Tries to “Push” to cover their bad choices
Disappoint us

NYT Bestsellers topping the list
Make readers stop or numb their wits
Robbing the midlist
Robbing the midlist
Robbing the midlist!

I’ll point out that Baen’s NYT bestsellers are genuine.  The others… (waggles hand.) And my friend is exactly right that it’s all in displaying the right (left) colors.  As for robing the midlist — well, some day over some wine I can show you statements where the print run changed over time…  Yeah. (And btw Baen beating them by playing fair at their rigged game is a “yay” — no wonder they hate Baen.)

As for why these people who are on top, who are “power” think they’re speaking “truth to power” and keep trying to push the envelope with little orphan Annie short stories on how the minority they belong to is soooo discriminated against, I direct you to this article at Powerline:

Rob Stein is the founder of the Democracy Alliance, an umbrella a group that organizes the funding of left-wing causes by rich liberals and interest groups. In The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, at page 7, Stein explains candidly what politics is all about for the Left:

“The reason it is so important to control government is because government is the source of enormous power,” Stein continued. “One president in this country, when he or she takes office, appoints…5,000 people to run a bureaucracy, nonmilitary nonpostal service of 2 million people, who hire 10 million outside outsource contractors–a workforce of 12 million people–that spends $3 trillion a year. That number is larger than the gross domestic product of all but four countries on the face of the earth.”

“So the reason we’re doing what we’re doing…and the way we get progressive change, is to control government,” Stein said. “That’s what this is about.”

This will to power explains why the Left, a clear minority among Americans, consistently punches above its weight, politically.

Read the whole thing.  A stunning admission.

And it is the same in publishing.  Not, mind you, that publishing has the kind of power or money that government does.  But it has enough.  And the multinationals run by Europeans like the idea that they’re helping enlighten those backward Americans (who man on man and woman on woman are far less racist, sexist or culture-supremacist than ANY European you’d care to name.)  For that they pick editors indoctrinated educated at our “best” (europhile) colleges.

The hierarchy of publishing is so steeped in Marx that parroting Marx is the way to gain access to money and power.  Whining about Marxist class/race oppression is the way to be fawned upon.

And while publishing doesn’t have the money government does, it has enough.

Of course all this produces very bland and same-old, same-old literature.  Perhaps I tired of it earlier because I had already had my full dose of Marx.  But even in SF/F Social Justice Warriors are best known for making people stop reading the stuff.

The precipitous decline in print runs from the seventies till now tells its own tale.

When they whine about Amazon, they have only themselves to blame.  They left a vacuum of unmet demand and indie publishing found it.

Now, I’m not a gamer.  I am strictly a reader and a writer.  I don’t even watch much TV.  BUT years ago, I can’t remember why — it must have involved being confined in one of their rooms while something was done to the rest of the house — I watched my boys play a game and I thought “That’s where fun, adventure science fiction, space opera, military SF, the stuff people read to enjoy and not to be lectured has gone.”

Which explains everything about what is going on in games, now.  They want to close off that avenue of escape and stop people having fun their way.

It’s not event hat your having fun annoys them — though since they’re sourpusses that tends to be part of it — but that the big money, now that printruns have crashed, has moved to gaming.

They want to be able to command the kind of money from gaming, for their regurgitated Marx, that they once commanded from publishing.

The social justice warriors are about two things, none of which are social nor justice: money and power.

They will follow the money and they’ll do anything to get some of that sweet power and money without having to have a single original thought or do a serious day work.

I’m glad to see that in gaming they might have met their match.

Have you seen the well to do?
Walking down Marx avenue
Crying that everything’s unfair
While their butlers do their hair
High-toned, caterwaulers
Condoned with lots of dollars
Spending every dime……..



They’re Baaaaaack

Green Rudyard Kipling WITH AN AX, biatch!  Your argument is invalid!

The Gods of the Copybook Headings – Rudyard Kipling


AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,

I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.

Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.


We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn

That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:

But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,

So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.


We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,

Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,

But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.


With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,

They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.


When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.

They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.

But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.


On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life

(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.


In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”


Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.


As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;


And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Will You (Also) Tolerate This?

As some of you know, I’m not only American, I’m Coloradan.

Mind you, the South will always be a part of me. It was where I first lived in the US and the place I was naturalized.  The voice in my head has a Southern accent, and I love going back to the South East for cons. But Colorado is where I was meant to be.  We came into Colorado the weekend before Thanksgiving 1993 (it’s been pointed out to me I had 2003 which is both a bit of wild flattery on my age, and my lacking coffee.  I’ve only had one cup),   and just ahead of the Thanksgiving Snow Storm TM which dogged our steps all the way, with the gates clanging shut just after we passed.  And then we crested a ridge above Colorado, and I saw it for the first time, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

Which makes sense since, at the age of eight, I knew I wanted to be a writer and live in Denver.  (Of course I thought Denver was by the sea, but we’ll avert our eyes there, right?)

This feeling of belonging has never changed, even though Colorado has changed.  But the most marked change was in 2008 when the legislature flipped dem, and they took the bit between the teeth.

I’ve said before and I’ll stand by it, that there was massive fraud in 12. Unless you REALLY believe 1/3 the people had already voted by mail and forgotten.  People of all ages.  And then there’s this.  I don’t think people willfully forgot voting for Obama.  I think only 45% of them did.  It matches what I saw on the ground.  And heck, that might be inflated.

But apparently it came close enough that it scared them.  The fraud wasn’t easy enough.  They couldn’t manufacture hundreds of thousands of votes as they could in Detroit and Chicago, in California and in Oregon, in Washington, and in the other lovely bastions of Democrat rule.

And so they changed two things.  Now all elections are by mail. And there’s same day registration.

Of course, elections by mail, we’re told, have nothing to do with fraud. The whole purpose of it is not to commit fraud.  Why, voting by mail is good for all sorts of things, like… like… like.  It saves money.  Yes, that’s the ticket. And gives work to printers.

But even with the voting by mail, they’re desperate. You know they’re desperate because every other commercial on the radio is about how Cory Gardner denies Global Warming AND eats Puppy Shakes.

And they need cover, for their massive fraud.  They need to say “A bazillion more people registered on election day!” So…

So yesterday they left this on my front porch.001

Will you look at that? Register the same day! In case, you know, you never wanted to vote, and were seized with a powerful urge on the first day.

What on Earth is this for except as a mask for fraud?  WHO ignores the elections till the day, and then has a desperate need to vote? And is informed?

And, oh, yeah, if your driver’s license doesn’t have the address you have to pinky swear you live there.

This is not a banana republic.  Banana republics have more voting security.  Portugal, a land that is a stranger to organization, a land where anyone queuing for everything instead of jumping into it in a bunch, will be laughed out of the country (yeah, that’s what happened to me) has better voting security than that. You have to register ahead of time.  You have to show your birth certificate or passport.

Oh, yeah, note above, none of this verifies citizenship. Not only that, but it doesn’t say ANYWHERE that you have to be a citizen.  Honest but dumb people might register to vote not knowing that it’s for citizens only.  My son registered to vote with only his driver’s license.

All of these laws, starting with motor voter were to “make it easier” to fulfill your “obligation” to vote.  And no one is supposed to ask if you’re a citizen, because that will hurt the feels of dark people or people with an accent.

First of all, I couldn’t care less about feels.  I care about law.  I’m a dark person with an accent.  I EXPECT them to ask me to prove I’m a citizen.

Believe it or not the right not to have your feelings hurt has never been enshrined in the constitution.

Second, there seems to be this cringing, implicit thought that not letting foreigners vote in our elections is discrimination.

Say what?

A vote is something that pertains to a citizen, who is expected to live the rest of his life in the country, and for whom that vote matters.  Why should people wholly unconcerned with us, working in the country for a few years have the right to tell us how we should be governed?  Why should people who know nothing of our history, our civics, our traditions, have a say?  Do you want to vote/would you vote in another country’s elections?  France? Somalia? Brazil?  WHY?

And then there is this belief that a vote, no matter how uninformed, how misguided is an “obligation” and you should treat them all as precious.  And more votes are always good.

This is what leads to all these “opening” of the vote measures.  The idea that voting should be easier than… buying a bus ticket.  Paying for shipping something at the post office. (Both of whom ask to see ID, at least a long-distance bus.)

Americans have been raised on the idea that a poll tax or a voter test are wrong.  (Are they?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I’ve been told the same.  And of course you can see how it could be manipulated.) And so we are to let anyone vote, with no verification, no security, no proof of citizenship.  Because that’s somehow better.  Even though it’s just as open to manipulation.

(I will note the people who manipulated poll taxes and voter tests to exclude their “enemies” were the democrats, too…  It’s almost like they can’t win without fraud.)

So we’ve run the other way, and now everyone can vote.  They want to teach the world to vote in our elections.

And we have been disenfranchised.  We the real citizens of the state, the ones with skin in the game, who are neither cartoon characters nor bused-in-people.

There are two ways to steal your vote.  One is to deny you access.  The other is to dilute your vote with fake votes till it counts for nothing.

Will we tolerate this?  For how long?  Why doesn’t anyone else realize that under the cover of seeming openness they’re making our votes mean nothing?

And why don’t the clever fools in the Democratic party realize that when you block the ballot box, people will come at you another way?

I’m not calling for revolution.  I’m hoping very much we can avoid it.  I’m exhorting those of you in CO and similarly blinkered states to vote and to vote Republican.  Yes, even if you are a Libertarian.  Vote Republican because the press hates them and will magnify everything wrong they do, if for no other reason.

And vote republican this year, while we can still turn these election rules around.  And do it before they become cemented in place. Even if we have to hold the squishy Republicans’ feet to the fire.

I don’t want to leave Colorado.  Like Thorby in the Sissu, a bit of me has gone into Colorado a bit of Colorado into me.  I am Colorado.  And we can’t keep letting them take states because first time they get a solid foothold they corrupt the voting and it’s game-over.

This is our country.  No one should dilute our vote who isn’t with us for the long haul.  No one should vote who isn’t a citizen.  I’d go further and say no one should vote who doesn’t believe in the constitution and the bill of rights, but I know right now that’s a pipe dream.

The hour is late, the need urgent.  If we don’t fight at the ballot box now, we’ll be taking another step on the road to Boston Commons.

And at some point there will be no return.

UPDATE: Welcome instapundit readers.  (I thought I’d done this already, which tells you how my mind is working. )  Thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

While you’re here look around, but most of all buy my books! (Hey, writer got to eat.)


Rachel Griffin

A few months ago, Jagi Lamplighter Wright contacted me and asked me if I wanted to read her newest book for a blurb.

Since I’d known Jagi’s work and loved it since the Prospero’s Daughter books, I said “of course” but since I hadn’t read the first book, the Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, I put off reading it for a while, then started the first one late one night and lost two nights and a day to reading the books.

So, how are they?

Mostly they are unusual.  Jagi writes a compelling, fully realized not-our-reality.

Yes, some of you will detect shades of Harry Potter but that will be mostly because it’s set in a boarding school.  The Roanoke Academy (don’t kill me) makes a lot more sense than Hogwarts even if both remind me of how happy I was reading Enid Blyton under the covers with a flashlight at eleven.

I liked all of it: the mystery, the fully realized and sometimes bewildering characters, the technology and the subtle hints that this world is in fact not our world.

Most of all I liked Rachael, a self-possessed and competent young woman who is none the less very believably an early teen, in her doubts and her second thoughts.

The second book has just been released, and I understand the International Evil Lord Of Evil himself will be giving it a little push today.

So, I thought I’d join the party.  See, these books made me feel thirteen again, that indefinable joy and enchantment that comes only when you’re very young — or when you’re reading these books.

You can see why I’d like Jagi to write more of them.  Well, that and young me in my head has a crush on Gaius.

They’re an extremely good price, too, so hie thee over to Amazon and give the sample a try.

Cleaning Up Pollution

(Sorry to be so unholy late with this.  I woke up knowing exactly what I wanted to write, but not sure how to phrase it.  Took me forever.  Now I’ll have tea, and write the book, instead.)


Lately I’ve become aware of a tendency in myself and I wonder if other people have the same problem.

I’ll be writing a book, and going along, and suddenly the idea comes for a plot twist that will make it… Well, the way it feels is relevant and meaningful, but if you turn it around what it really is is… meaningless and grey.

You’re running along writing your hero, and suddenly you get this strong need to give him not just flaws (every proper hero has flaws) but fatal flaws.

Look, we’ll call this the Lord Bane issue, shall we, after the leper who is taken to a fantasy world, miraculously cured and his first act is to rape his guide. And there are no consequences of this act in the book. (One of the reasons the book took a flying lesson out of the train window somewhere between France and Germany.)

Or you have a character who is a mentor and a great guy, and suddenly you feel the need to reveal something awful about him.

Look, we’ll start by admitting that my characters tend to have very dark backgrounds. By nature, I’m not a sunny happy-go-lucky person, and I write characters I can relate to. BUT all the same, my characters might have their down moments, but mostly they fight and are active and don’t give up (until you kill them. Sometimes not even then.)


Whence comes the sudden need to “make it all go dark, make it al meaningless.”

Training and immaturity. There is an immature desire to make things “serious” by making them dark. Most people grow out of it at the end of adolescence. Except of course those trained to educate our young.

It starts early. Look at what stories get the most praise in classrooms? The ones where the characters solve the problem and move on, or the dark ones with no solution? And what books do you tend to study in school?

Everything in our culture praises the darker stories, the ones where humans either don’t win or where humans shouldn’t even win, because they’re bad and evil and deserve to be exterminated.

It wasn’t always like this. Mark Twain, while skewering a lot of garbage about his time, writes engaging interesting characters who are not meaningless nor live in meaningless worlds.

In fact, before our current era, the worst offenders in the dark and dreary sweepstakes were the romantic poets and seriously, those people had, as they say, the issues. But even they usually held out a good form of conduct and a bad one, even if in the end the “reward” for the good guy was to die a tragic death and be mourned.

I’d say that the fact that our darkest stories are favored is a sign of a culture in decline, only I don’t really believe that. It’s not the culture but the elites. The people are not despairing nor do they hate humanity, it’s just that the “intelligentsia” wishes we would.

The problem though is that THEIR problems get in your head. Get praised for dark, meaningless stuff, read dark meaningless stuff, get told that only dark, meaningless stuff is good, and you start to fall into it.

How many book series have you read where the author slowly makes the main character unlikeable? (This is particularly awful with funny series, because some people don’t seem to understand that certain things stop being funny and become horrifying.)

I realized, as I was writing a story and this “great twist” occurred to me (short story for the Baen Valentine’s collection) that it not only wasn’t a great twist, it robbed the story of meaning and made it a dime a dozen, but if I went THE OTHER WAY then it actually was a great twist, because given the dark and dreary stories out there (even though this one has… maybe a happy ending, eventually, the characters are both decent people) anything that breaks that mold is innovative and “oh wow.”

And there you have it. The attraction to dark and hatred of humanity of our (coff) “betters” has made their favored grey goo endings the yawn inducing ones.

Reject their pollution trickling into your thoughts. Write good and startling stories.

Dare to be meaningful. Dare to have a favored mode of conduct. Dare to write admirable people.

And as a reader, feel free to praise meaningful books and even (just?) happy books.

Reject the pollution of the dreary.

Doing it p*sses off all the right people.