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All The Scarlet Letters

One of the most interesting things – and by interesting I mean scary – about the reaction to Sad Puppies 3 is that many people who are anti-puppy (always wanted to write that) were mad at Brad for “not telling people you were putting them on the slate.”

Okay. The accusation is not true. Brad actually told people, except for a couple he legitimately forgot to contact.

But let’s not defend Brad on that front, because when we are defending him on that front, we’re already swallowing whole a pretty bizarre assumption of the other side.

Instead, let’s step back and take a deep breath.

What are the Hugos?

They’re awards, right? They’re awards given, supposedly, for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year, right?

In theory, theoretically as it were, who is supposed to nominate: why, Lord love a duck, right? Any reader of science fiction who pays at least the supporting worldcon membership.

And who gets to make recommendations for nominations? Well, from what I’ve seen over the years, anyone with an interest in sf/f. I could, tomorrow, (well, not tomorrow, but at the beginning of the next set) put my list of recommends on the blog, whether I meant to vote for them or not. (I.e. whether I paid the membership or not.)

Readers, reviewers and various other side-spurs of science fiction do that pretty much every year.

So, if I did that, would I have any obligation, no matter how remote, to tell people I was putting them on my slate? Why? I mean, I might, as a friendly gesture, send a note saying “I love your books and I’m putting such and such on the slate.” BUT WHY would I HAVE to?

I mean, when I won the Prometheus and the two other times I’ve been nominated, all I got was an email saying “you’ve been nominated.” No one warned me. And trust me, ten years ago that announcement would have frozen me solid, instead of causing me to dance in my office.

That is because ten years ago, I lived in a state of fear. And the fact that my fear was real and serious is justified by that accusation to Brad, “You bad bad man, when you decided these people deserved awards, you didn’t TELL THEM you were putting them on a recommend list.”

I lived in fear because of the implied end of that sentence “And you knew that because you associated them with you, a known conservative, we would make their lives miserable and do our best to end their careers.”

And that, my friends is what I realized when I sold my first novel in the late 90s. Most Americans might not be that sensitive to the “climate” but I was. I had after all grown up in a socialist (at best, during the better times) country where to graduate you had to present the proper progressive front. I knew the signs and the hints and social positioning of “further left than thou.” For instance, my first SF cons, as an author, in the green room, I became aware that “a conservative” was a suitable, laughter inducing punchline for any joke; that all of them believed the Reagan years had set us on course to total dystopia; that the US was less enlightened/capable/free than anywhere else; that your average Republican or even non-Democrat voter was the equivalent of the Taliban.

As for Libertarians, I will to my dying day cherish the dinner I had with my then editor to whom I was describing a funny incident at MileHi where for reasons known only to Bob, I found myself in an argument with someone who wanted to ban the internal combustion engine. My editor perked up and (I swear I’m not making this up) said “Oh, a Libertarian.” At which point my husband squeezed my thigh hard enough to stop me answering. But yeah. That was a not uncommon idea of a libertarian. If it was completely insane and involved banning something, then it was a libertarian.

I once overheard the same editor talking to a colleague and saying that if she got submissions across her desk and they were – dropped and horrified voice – somewhat conservative she recommended they try Baen.

Which the other editor (from a different house) agreed with, because after all, they weren’t in the business of publishing conservative works.

This immediately put me on notice that in the field if you were a conservative (I presume libertarians were worse, or at least they seemed to induce more mouth foaming. And though I was solidly libertarian and – at the time – might have qualified as a Libertarian, I suspect if faced with my real positions they would have classed me as conservative, because my positions were self-obviously not left and that’s all it took.) there was only one house that would take you, and if what you wrote/wanted to write wasn’t accepted by then, then you were out of luck.

After that I lived in a state of fear

I imagine it was similar to living in one of the more unsavory periods of the Soviet Union. You saw these purges happen. Whisper-purges. You got the word that someone was “not quite the thing” or that they associated with so and so who associated with so and so who was a – dropped voice – conservative. Suddenly that person’s books weren’t being bought and somehow people would clear a circle around them, because, well, you know, if you’re seen with a – dropped voice – conservative they might think you’re one too. And then it’s off to Neverland with you.

I found a few other conservatives/libertarians (frankly, mostly libertarians) in the field, all living in the same state of gut clenching fear.

We did such a dance to test both the reliability and discretion of the other before revealing ourselves that we might as well have developed a hanky code. [Blue for true blue Conservative, white for pure Libertarian, red for the blood of our heroes, brown for OWL (older, wiser libertarian), purple for squishy conservative, baby blue for Brad Torgersen.]

Conventions were nerve wracking because I watched myself ALL the TIME. And you never knew how much you had to watch yourself. Suddenly, out of the blue, at a World Fantasy the speaker, a well known SF/F writer went on about Howard Dean, our next president. The room erupted in applause, some people stood to clap, and I sat there, frozen, unable to actually fake it to that point but too shocked to even put a complaisant expression on my face.

This is one of the instances where I think if I didn’t give myself away I gave them the impression I was not very bright and therefore untrustworthy. Another would be the letter exchange with a gentleman who went after my first Analog story. Another instance would be that I actually could not help myself and defended Heinlein at all possible occasions.

They were never sure enough that I was a – dropped voice – conservative, but they were sure enough that my books had the strangest issues with distribution and marketing. I. e. like the year I had six books out and not one on the shelves anywhere. [Yes, I have considered the possibility that maybe my books sucked, but a) if that was the case then why did they keep buying? b) why are the same books making me a paycheck every month indie?] And I was never one of the “darlings” who got promo or even really nice treatment (by editors) at cons (until I worked for Baen.)

Btw, speaking of Baen, when I was picked up by them after my first series tanked and no one else would touch me, I was overjoyed. The agent who had been trying in vain for years to get SOMEONE to buy me, promptly told me that I couldn’t work for Baen because of the Baen taint. (yeah, that – dropped voice – conservative taint – this while Baen publishes anyone from any political color provided they like the story.)

One time I came into the room at a con and found one of my editors talking to another of my editors. I could tell from the expression, the startled look at me, that news that I might be a – dropped voice — conservative had been conveyed. I hoped I was being paranoid, but I wasn’t. My treatment by that other house immediately changed, overnight.

So I lived in fear, unable to associate normally or make friends with anyone. It was like being spied on all the time and knowing the worst construction would be put on my actions and words, even if the actions and words were not political, even if I just forgot what the week’s hate and the week’s cause was.

I got tired. I got really tired. I know authors who walked away after one or two books because they simply couldn’t take it anymore. I know others – gentle souls – who didn’t realize they’d been blacklisted on suspicion of being – dropped voice – conservative. This was particularly true of Libertarians (and libertarians) who never thought of themselves (I still don’t) as “conservatives” and couldn’t understand it when I tried to explain it.

All this was justified, you see, because in the minds of the establishment and establishment hangers on, conservatives are creatures shown as “right wing” on movies and tv (none of whose writers would know a true conservative, much less a libertarian if one bit them in the fleshy part of the *ss [and libertarians might.] They give conservatives (which again is everyone to the right of Lenin) informed attributes never found in the real creature: conservatives, in their crazy little heads, are people who are racist, sexist, homophobic, ultra-religious in a medieval fashion or a crazy-evangelical (there are some, but not many) one.

Informed attributes for those who don’t follow the link, are a characteristic of lazy, sloppy writing, particularly common in fanfic AND beginner writers (though we all do it, but hopefully not in contradiction to our real writing.) This is when you tell the reader that the character is kind or socially conscious or whatever even though the rest of your writing shows exactly the opposite. (One of my ex-fledgelings had a penchant for this. Would inform you the character was so nice and universally loved, and then show he was the ass everyone rode in on and most people hated him. Eh.)

The informed attributes of “conservatives” in gatekeeper circles for SF/F are just that. Someone informed these people that “conservatives” are sexist, racist, homophobic religious fanatics and they believe it without checking it against every day reality.

Here I am tempted to insert snark about their preferred modes of writing, but I won’t. I’ll just say that once in a group populated mostly by them I found that if a person was good but didn’t proclaim it, then they were horrible. No, I don’t get it either. But somehow it works for them. They HEARTILLY believe this stuff, because someone told them.

And frankly if someone were racist, sexist, homophobic (religious fanatics I don’t care either way, unless they chase me down and make me believe as they do) I wouldn’t want to work with them either.

So, if you are revealed, through… what are the words of the old act of contrition? “Your thoughts, your words, what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do” or indeed, whomever you associate with at a third remove, or whom you failed to denounce on denouncing day, to be a – dropped voice – conservative they don’t want to work with you. And if they have to work with you, they’re going to do it at as arm’s length as possible.

When I realized I couldn’t watch everything and didn’t have the energy to keep up with the hate or the enthusiasm of the week (there is a reason most of the darlings are single or at least childless) I told my husband I was dropping out. But by then there was indie, and I was working for Baen, and he convinced me to stay on.

Still, such was the reflex of that fear that the first time I was mentioned on Instapundit I reached up to wipe the scarlet L from my forehead.

Now? I’ve come a long way in seven years. By baby steps. But now I don’t hide I’m a libertarian. (Technically an OWL – waves brown feathery scarf.)

And still that naked “you should have told them you were putting them on your slate” and the implied, scary because we intend to f*ck up their lives because you like their work made me catch my breath and remember the fear.

The people who preach to you of inclusiveness and love (SF is “love” apparently); the people who are hunting for writers of various colors of the rainbow to give awards to demand (and receive) perfect lockstep abasing compliance with their beliefs.

The prize they held hostage was a writers ability to make a living.

Fortunately there is indie. They haven’t realized it yet, but what they hold in their hands is nothing. And the more they show their colors, the more they pursue their little purges (now in public) the less they’ll be taken seriously.

We haven’t yet reached the point when “banned by the New York Publishing establishment” is a badge of honor, but unless I mistake my gut we’re not very far off.

And it’s a beautiful thing. A scarlet l on my forehead, and an American flag on my heart, and what is it to you, and who made you keeper of other’s thoughts, other’s ideas, other’s art, other’s opinions?

Are you so empty, so vacant, so devoid of creativity and joy that all you can do is tear down the designated targets?

Well, then, you have my sympathy. But you no longer have my fear.

And you never had my allegiance.

Depart from us in peace and go find someone else who might still fear you. It won’t happen here.

Ask not for whom the puppies bay. They bay for you.

By The Numbers

Americans are crazy people. I’m allowed to say that right? Considering I went a long way to become one.

Which doesn’t make Americans, born and bred, less insane to me. Particularly when it comes to organizing your fun. I mean, that’s something you expect from Germans, maybe, but I’m not even sure Germans did it. (Not that I could discover in my visits, at least.)

What do I mean by that?

Okay, first be aware I spent my formative years in a country that could not organize a piss up in a brewery, a country that not only can’t make buses run on time, it doesn’t even try. I was once shocked to find there was a schedule for public buses. This after ten years of using them to go to school and being used to the usual “Wait however long – more than an hour if it was raining, for sure – then get five buses in a row” style of public transportation. A glance at the schedule told me it was lovely fantasy. My brother calls the national style “pile in, may G-d help us.” There was a meme floating around the younger members of my family on facebook showing “the queue” with a bunch of people standing in line and then “the Portuguese queue” with a pile on with arms and legs protruding. And yeah, that’s more or less true.

And then I came to the states at 18 as an exchange student. And I was flabbergasted.

It wasn’t just that the local chapter of the organization that brought me over was… organized. No, we tried to do that even in Portugal. When you’re shipping someone’s sons and daughters over the Atlantic (and sometimes the pacific) you need a modicum of organization.

No, what shocked me was that – as I got invited to speak to a lot of clubs – all hobby-clubs were organized: the local Scottish ancestry club? Organized. The local stamp collecting club? Organized. The local bird watching club? Organized. The local sewing circle? Organized. All of these had refreshments, a punctual time of meeting, sometimes competitions or conventions, and all of them followed Robert’s rules of order. The SEWING circle had motions and seconded them and followed rules. I was amazed.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t know if it’s the same in other Anglophone countries. I suspect it’s the same in Canada (motto: “We are not America. No. We really are not. Don’t make us dip you in maple syrup, you cheeky little person. Stop saying we’re just like America. We say “eh””) but I’m not sure about England and Australia.

I know, however, that in fandom the US is unique.

Yeah, yeah, yeah “World fantasy” and “World sf” go off to England, Australia, Scotland and sometimes Japan. (Pinches bridge of nose.) Guys it’s like “World baseball tournament” okay? You remove the US from the equation and the other “organized fandoms” would never have happened. They are mostly in imitation of those crazy Americans who organize their fun.

And because the future comes from America, people DO try to imitate American things, and I understand there’s even SF conventions in Portugal. Some day I’ll have to attend one and see how it is, because the mind boggles at the thought. (It’s not just the organization, it’s the ethos of sf/f conventions. For instance, in a country in which wearing last year’s fashion on the street is a solecism and everyone tries to be “normal” just like everyone else, I wonder how Spock ears are worn. I’d bet money not just costumes but anything out of the ordinary is worn only at a designated time or in a designated room, so people can avoid being “ridiculous” or looking “crazy” – in other words to save face.)

I want to say right here, not only don’t I have anything against people who organize and run conventions – some of my best friends, quite literally, spend considerable portions of their lives doing that – nor do I think it’s a bad thing to do. I think it’s a crazy thing but then I think organized sewing circles are crazy things, and all of it, including other crazy things like diners that will serve you breakfast at midnight, and drinking fountains in public buildings, and all the things that are uniquely American are a little crazy: in a wonderful way. They’re part of the reason I wanted to be one of you.

Of course, just like I became a lunatic about diners, I have this “thing” for hobby clubs. They have a huge advantage, too, because for a reclusive writer, they FORCE me to interact.

At one time I was a member of a cat rescue group, two writing groups, an exchange student program group and a needle arts group.

The last few years I simply haven’t had time, but I can tell you something: if I ever have a writers’ group again, it will go according to Robert’s Rules of Order. (By which I don’t mean my son. – rule one, everybody wear ties!)

That said… There is a difference between sewing and being in a sewing club. You can be a fanatic seamstress and cover your house in yards of stuff to the point of making a broom cozy for your broom, and not belong to a club. You can be one of those genealogists who are descended from a dinosaur G-d himself (Through Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Very common thing for European crazies. No, really) on his mother’s side, but never belong to a “divine ancestry” club. And you can have cut your teeth on your mom’s Heinlein collection (and if she was like me she still has the chewed up books AND the replacements), read everything new that you can get your hands on, watch every sf movie, AND have a light saber in your closet, and yet not belong to an organized fandom club. In fact, I’d say that probably comprises 90 % of sf/f readers/gamers/watchers/fans.

That is fine. You don’t have to belong to a club. And you don’t have to organize conventions. You might go to one every once in a while, or three every year, even, without belonging to anything.

And you can be very grateful to the people who organize conventions without thinking they are the arbiters of taste, or all that matters.

Look, let’s be blunt: in belonging to all these organized clubs over the years, there are some things I learned, which I think go back to “human social dynamics” and economics.

The first one is that most people in the club are not themselves particularly organized, though they’re often nuts about their hobby/interest. The second is that some of the people aren’t very interested in the hobby/interest but they are amazing organizers (they might have started out interested, and then got sidetracked into organizing. Or they might have come because spouse/child/cat does this, so they might as well come along.) The third is that the groups are almost always run by the second kind (not always mind. I think the Liberty con organizers read/watch more than I do) and that the super-organizers, poor things, slammed under demands and work, will often be susceptible to outside influences.

In science fiction organized fandom, specifically those that organize cons, the outside influence is often publishers. Look, as Liberty con can attest it’s a good thing to have a publisher that likes you. You get more authors coming, you get a publisher attending, you get free books for giveaways, and suddenly you’re much more than a little regional con.

This is fine, since Liberty con doesn’t give any prizes and doesn’t declare itself representative of all fandom. (Maybe Southern fandom. Or fandom that likes shooting ranges, but they don’t even declare themselves that. Oh, and if they gave a book prize, it should totally be the zap and it should be a tricked out, amazing futuristic-looking gun sculpture.)

But when you have titles like “worldcon” and “world fantasy” the unwary might think you really represent all the fandom everywhere. Heck, you might start believing it too.

Hence, the insane stuff we’ve gotten lately about how the Hugo is the award of all fandom and then, when pressed, how the hugo is the award only of ORGANIZED worldcon fandom.

It’s certainly what it has been the last few years. And that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing. What it contains is not what it says on the tin.

Organized, mobile cons are subject to pressures from publishers, to really good campaigns, and to what I call “the mind of the organizer” which means they’re susceptible to the sort of push that says “you don’t have enough one-legged Thai Lesbians winning this award, you horribly racist person.” Because organizations requires a certain by-the-numbers mentality.

Yesterday one of my eyes on twitter sent me something from a past Worldcon organizer, which was in the main sensible “we can’t stop Sad Puppies and they’re not violating any rules” except for two things: he seemed to think that someone was paying for all these memberships for everyone. (I’ve heard this nonsense floated about Larry and I wonder if they’re barking mad. I DON’T know if Larry bought a membership for his wife, but if he did I bet you that’s the extent of his buying. Yes, he’s doing fairly well from writing, which means he’s making an upper middle class income. He has five young kids and obligations. He’s not Uncle Scrooge swimming in a money bin, and he’d neither be able to buy – nor, for heaven’s sake WHY should he? – memberships for all his fans, nor is that a sane thing to posit. This is an example of “Stop drinking your own frigging ink in an effort to find wrong doing.” Campaigning is what all your side has done for years, and it’s all we’re doing.) And he seemed to think the goal of the Sad Puppies campaigns was ultimately to destroy the credibility of the Hugos.

Will someone please grab my eyes? They rolled so hard they must be in the next county.

What we actually want to do is restore the Hugos. We want winning a Hugo to mean something. Not, mind you, necessarily “This is the best sf ever” or even “best of the year” NO ONE can keep up with everything published, particularly now that indie is in. BUT we want it to be “this is memorable SF” “This is sf that a significant portion of fans will find amazing if they stumble on it years from now.”

Take as an example of something that should have won a Hugo but didn’t Barry Hughart’s Chinese trilogy. It didn’t sell much (marketing and distribution being crazy then – and now, but worse then.) It won a World Fantasy, but his publishing house didn’t even take notice. He’s written nothing else. However now that the word of mouth has had time to percolate, there are very few intense sf/f fans, of the kind who reads books, who hasn’t heard of it. And there are fewer who, reading it, don’t go “oh, wow.”

That is the sort of thing that should be winning the Hugo.

That is the kind of award that the Hugo was when Heinlein, Asimov and Ursula leGuin won it.

It wasn’t a “oh, you’re so nice, and you attend all these cons, and you’re nice to us, and your publisher sends tons of books.” No. It was a “This is science fiction that won’t be forgotten in ten years.”

Now, was ALL of it that great? — shrug – humans ran the award now as then. Some of their guesses at what was amazing backfired.

But they were by and large that type of book.

They weren’t chosen because the authors were purple one legged bi-gender dinosaurs. They weren’t chosen because the books were about the plight of purple, one legged b-gender dinosaurs. They were chosen because the books impressed the readers.

I can’t say about the other people pushing it. Some are my friends, but we’re not organized fandom (or organized anything. For crying out loud, two of us have Portuguese ancestry and that’s the sort of thing that washes out of family culture SLOWLY) so I don’t know. I know I’ve never heard anyone talk of “destroying the Hugo” as a goal. Unless “make it awesome again” is destroying it, because that’s all Sad Puppies aims to do. It aims to make the Hugo an award worth winning.

An award that is the signal of a good read.

And that’s all.

Defenders of the nail house

Originally posted on Brad R. Torgersen:

We’re about a week out from the release of the final ballot results, for the 2015 Hugo awards. These results will determine which picks are available for your choosing when it comes time for you to cast your ballot. Best Novel, Best Short Story, etc. Already, the critics of Sad Puppies 3 have been laying the groundwork for de-legitimizing SP3. To include statements which completely misunderstand the point of Sad Puppies. Some of it is innocent. Not everybody’s had time to do a deep-dig on the history of Sad Puppies, nor to be able to discern that each iteration of the project has tended to assume its own personality. What they’re hearing about SP3 is probably hear-say from friends, and much of that is at least one to two years out-of-date. And even then, many of the “facts” put forth, are demonstrably wrong.

But other commentary is not so innocent…

View original 2,585 more words

It is the East and the promo post is the Sun!

*I’ll post late tomorrow — doing this on Sat. Night — and it might be a snippet or a Blast From The Past because I’m writing (yay.) – SAH*

Greetings to you ladies, gentlemen, and other such entities. From the depths of my shelly lair, I bring you books! New books, from three regular contributors to our beloved chaos here at According to Hoyt. I’ve minions to wrangle and naps to diligently pursue, so go enjoy the rest of your weekend with a new book!

As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

A Mollusc for Every Occasion

Alma Boykin

Circuits and Crises

The Colplatschki Chronicles Book 6

The Eastern Empire shattered the Turkowi at the Great Plate River… or did it?

Emperor Andrew Babenburg has turned his attention to more important matters: rediscovering lost Lander secrets and technology. Tivolia teeters on the brink of civil war, Morloke and Scheel have divided into two provinces, and far to the south of the Empire, a messenger arrives from the Rajtan of the Turkowi: convert to the worship of the true goddess or pay the price. The Patricians of Scheel have other concerns.

Spring comes to Colplatschki with hell and high water.

David L. Burkhead

EMT

Emergency Medical services on the Moon present new challenges, not all of which come with the territory. Kristine is an EMT in the Lunar Ambulance Service. Budget cuts and inadequate equipment make it increasingly difficult for her to do her job. William Schneider is finding that some of his subordinates have ideas of their own, ideas contrary to the corporate philosophy he is building, ideas that lead to shortcuts and trading lives for money. They find themselves riding their problems on a collision course to avoid disaster.

Cedar Sanderson

Dragon Noir

Pixie for Hire Book 3

The pixie with the gun has come home to see his princess crowned a queen and live in peace. But nothing is ever easy for Lom. A gruesome discovery on his doorstep interrupts their plans and sends Lom off on a mission to save not one, but two worlds. It’s personal this time and the stakes are higher than ever before. With friends falling and the enemy gathering, Bella and Lom must conquer the worst fears and monsters Underhill can conjure. Failure is not on the agenda.

Things I’ve Learned About Recovery

Indulge me.  Some of these are actually funny.  And if I’m whining too much, just tell me so.  The Ambulatory Mollusc will have book plugs later.  For now, here are some surprising things I’ve learned about recovery.  ((Mind you, I’ve had major surgery — Caesarean — once before, but then there was a new born and also I was recovering from Pre-eclampsia, so the entire time is foggy.  I have a vague memory it was a year before I could get up before noon, which clearly isn’t the case now.)

1- Even while not on Opiates, my brain is dropping and/or forgetting things.  It’s like a preview of dementia.  Mind you I’m normally scatterbrained while writing, so the family might not see any difference, but it bugs me.

2- Having a sixteen pound cat jump on you might cause major damage.

3- My men have really weird ideas of where things go in the kitchen.

4- When Disney comics become too intricate to follow, it’s time for a nap.

5- my natural writing-burst length has become a 100 words.  Don’t like.  Contains live bobcat.  Would not order again.

6- Cabin fever strikes even while I’m sick.

7 – I need a minder.

7a- I need a minder because I can never remember when I last took the meds I’m supposed to be on.  That one of these falls in the night is a problem, as I often dream I took it.  I’m counting pills a lot.

7b- I need a minder because if I get even slightly tired, I’m exactly like other people when drunk.  (Explanation — when drunk, unless there’s complications, like pills I forgot I’d taken — I just become relentlessly dry and logical)  I.e. last night the “Hillary wiped her server” set me off and I spent the rest of the evening manufacturing increasingly goofy memes with bad Hillary pictures until I couldn’t see.  Could have been worse.  I could have put on a snazzy hat and gone directing traffic at a nearby intersection.  This seems to be what drunk people do in Portugal.

7c – I need a minder because logic isn’t working right, so I make the weirdest leaps in thought, and then can’t retrace them.  This led to the famous “where’s your antibiotic, Sarah?”  “Don’t know.  Might have given it to a passing stranger.”

8 – It seemed perfectly logical for me to assume that my doctor was delusional when she said it turned into abdominal (non laparoscopic) surgery.  I couldn’t find the scar, so I thought she’d dreamed it (hey, seemed reasonable.  Remember I was high as a kite.)  Well, lost some weight, found the incision, which is bigger than my Caeserean one.  Of course now it hurts.  I hate my mind so much.

9- I have less will power.
This is a problem whether the thing I need will power for is not eating the wrong stuff or not snapping some idiot’s head off on facebook.  Yeah, I probably should stay off facebook, or at least off arguments.

10 – I am a freak of nature.  My dad, with whom I get very well along otherwise, used to introduce me to people with “This is my daughter, she doesn’t like TV”  I think he evolved it as a way of warning people that small talk about soap operas or detective serials wouldn’t work.  However the effect was more “See the two headed freak.”  Normally this doesn’t bother anyone, except sometimes Dan has to point out I wouldn’t know actors if they bit me in the *ss.  Because asking me “You KNOW, John Von Blob, wasn’t he in Three Sheets To The Wind?” Just gets you a blank look.  So, how does this tie in to the situation?
Apparently the way most Americans recover from surgery is a movie-coma.  Everyone and their brothers is recommending series/other stuff.

a) I’m not visual. This means it takes me more effort to CARE about the story on the screen.  Most of the stuff I’ve “watched” (Buffy was the last one to catch me, I think) I actually “listen” to, because I’m doing something else, with occasional glances at the screen.

b) Most tv has embedded Marxist messages which most of you might not get.  But I was bitten by Marxist dialectic early in life.  So I see them.  And then I want to throw stuff through the TV.  Besides the fact this would make Dan sad, think what it would do to my incisions.

c) TRUST me when I say if you know how to plot a book most tv plots are so predictable it makes your eyes glaze.  Now, if this is something like “love affair predictable” that’s fine.  But most of those have those pesky messages.  See b.

d) Most of what I enjoy watching are mystery series/movies, and I’ve watched all of those I can tolerate.

11 – I can write, I just need to watch it because of those weird leaps of logic, so I can’t write anything I care about just now.  This has led to some experimental stuff.  (No, I’m not sharing.  Well, maybe if you’re very good.)

12- This too shall pass.  Eventually I’ll get the other house done, with directing the guys or not, and it will be for sale.  Eventually novels will be finished (well maybe not Through Fire.  Might be cursed.

In the mean time, I’ll wend my loopy, ill-controlled way to recovery.  There’s going to be a lot of documentaries, Disney comics, stupid memes (some even non-political) and cat pictures, though.

Bear with me.bear it

 

 

A Genre by any other name By Tom Knighton

*Apologies to Tom for putting this up so late.  I can’t even say I wasn’t awake, but for medication reasons I still haven’t had coffee, and I’m prone to just sit and derp without it.*

A Genre by any other name

By Tom Knighton

 

Tell someone that you’re writing or have written a novel, they’re likely to ask “What genre?” Well, unless you’re dealing with someone like the Books-A-Million employee who responded to a question about novels with, “What? You mean, like, fiction?” They don’t count. Most people know novel equals fiction, and fiction is cut up into genres.

The idea of grouping books into genres is a marketing tool. People who like books about going into space and battling aliens may not be the same people who are interested in a sweet love story about a woman and her probation officer, so they group books together to make it easier for readers to find the kinds of books they want.

However, even this doesn’t always work.

Recently, I got a review on one of my post-apocalyptic stories claiming that I was trying to cash in on the prepper subculture with my story. He made a claim about something in the book being implausible that, well, I’ve done a few times so I know it’s plausible.

So what happened?

Genres are, for good reason, pretty broad. There’s a reason that Alas, Babylon and The Earth Abides are in the same genre with Starship Troopers and 2001: A Space Odyssey. They all deal with fiction where scientific things play a key role.

However, things get dicey when readers get their own opinions of what a genre, or a subgenre, actually should entail. In my own example, I apparently had a reader who figures indie published “post-apocalyptic” to mean “prepper” fiction. As such, he read the story through that lens, and was disappointed. Rather than read about the character throwing the canned goods in the average American household in the pack (which isn’t that much food, really), he may have figured his own well stocked pantry, hence his assumption that walking afterwards was implausible.

Now, before anyone assumes I’m bellyaching about this review, I’m not. It pointed out my own failings in writing the story, namely that I wasn’t more specific as to the quantities involved here. I’ll take that hit and learn from it.

What I’m doing, however, is pointing out how a reader’s assumptions must also factor into how an indie writer markets their work.

If your readers believe that thrillers always have what one author refers to as “manly men doing manly things in manly ways” and you introduce a female protagonist, you’re going to have some difficulties with these readers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. In fact, I have a cousin with a book in the works right now that does just that…and it sounds AWESOME! She’s like the anti-James Bond, but in meaningful ways. Not a whiff of SJW-dom in it when he and I chatted about it.

The difference is, my assumptions for the genre are very different than those belonging to some other people. Theoretically. (No, I don’t know anyone who classifies any genre in such a way.)

As indies, there will be some assumptions to be made regardless of genre. Some readers will seek out typos as proof we didn’t get editors, for one. Those are going to be there for a while, despite the fact that even the Big Five are letting through a lot of typos as well. We just have to deal with it and move on.

But we can be cognizant of their expectations. This is also why it’s important to read within your genre. How else are you going to know that genre’s conventions and clichés if you don’t actually read them?

It would be nice if there were a pile more choices available for subgenres. I’d love it if prepper fiction and post-apocalyptic were separated. We would all appreciate it if “socially conscious” science fiction wasn’t lumped in with the awesome stuff most of us grew up loving.

As a reader, I would really love this, though it wouldn’t do much for the willfully clueless.

There is one writer of certain infamy that some of you may be familiar with. He’s notorious for lashing out at his critics. I won’t mention his name, because it’s believed that uttering his name will summon him from the nine pits of hell. Or Maine. Either/or, really.

Regardless, he wrote a book about his “good girl” protagonist that sort of absorbs an entity she calls HAL. She uses the power she gains from this, which is supposedly limitless, to solve problems all over the world and stuff.

Most here see this description and see it as science fiction. I know I do. A number of other people as well. A few others have argued it could qualify as young adult due to the protagonist being an 18 year old female. A case could be made for it being a kid’s book due to the writing style.

Nope. This author slapped his book down as women’s lit.

Yeah…let that sink in for a bit.

His argument is that because she’s a woman, it’s women’s lit. Of course, he also argues that his book is sooooooo much more different than anything that’s ever been published before that it defies genre or something, but anyways. He’s ignored any advice to the contrary.

What we have is a book that meets the conventions from one genre slapped down into a completely unrelated genre. Even if he’d written one of the greatest books in history (and trust me, he didn’t. Not even close), no one would bother. Would you read a book plopped down in a genre it didn’t belong in if you weren’t into that kind of book?

For the willfully clueless, there’s no amount of expansion that will do any good. This author would have still plopped his science fiction kids’ book in women’s lit no matter what. As a reader, the willfully clueless will always be a problem. They drop whatever they want, wherever they want, and we’re expected to like it.

Luckily, they’re the minority. Most of the time, it’s just a misunderstanding between what two people think a genre entails. If I weren’t such a libertarian, I’d say that there ought to be a law. Of course, then we know things would get screwed up. Nothing gets so messed up as when the government gets involved.

Bright Lines

First an apology for being so late.  Tom Knighton sent me a guest post, and Bob sent me one a while back, and I have one from Chris Nuttall, but as I’ve said before, I don’t like giving my guests short shrift by putting them up late.  And I was all set to put up Tom’s post last night, when I suddenly found myself in bed.  I guess it’s like that.

I should explain this was actual abdominal surgery and not entirely laparoscopic.  Which explains the slower recovery.

Also, while I’m now at a point I can survive without percocet  which is good because it makes me feel like I just downed three whiskeys on an empty stomach, I came to the conclusion last night — exhausted and unable to sleep — that I still needed Super Motrim (I always imagine the bottle wearing a little cape!) Mind you, if past experience is a guide, percocet will take a week to work itself out of my system, so until then I’m getting a mini-preview of extreme old age or at least dementia.  The whole “I can put my keys down in an empty room and ten minutes later I can’t find them” thing that the late (great) Terry Pratchett talked about.  This is okay, as it provides amusement for the whole family.  For instance when the bottle of antibiotic went missing last night, I had to confess not only didn’t I know what I’d done with it, but it was equally plausible I’d a) put it somewhere in the house, b) given it to a passing stranger  c) thrown it in the trash d) pitched it from an upstairs window.

Turned out btw that that one wasn’t my fault.  The guys have been pictching in to keep the house running while I’m down, and Older Son is… thorough.  So in cleaning the kitchen, he’d put it with the other medicine bottles.

Anyway, all that behind us, taking the pain killer meant I slept very deeply and very long (since I only took it at midnight) which means I’m late with this.  I’m sorry.

However the digression brings us to today’s post.  You see, percocet (really any opiates for me) does something to my mind that means I do stuff on automatic, stuff I wouldn’t normally consider doing.  On a normal day, no matter how hassled, I wouldn’t have considered whether I might have run out of the front door and given the bottle to a passing stranger.  On percocet?  Totally possible.

It reminds me of the recovery from concussion, a time at which to judge from the record, I not only half finished three novels of which I have no memory (one isn’t half bad, but I had to check that it wasn’t Amanda Green’s.  Our style is similar enough and I didn’t remember writing this at all), no, I also wrote a full medieval romance.  (Yes, yes, I know, but I have to read it to edit, and the whole thought of medieval romance makes my skin itch.  To make things worse it seems to be B & D in the middle ages.  Apparently my suppressed subconscious is kinky as all get out.  Who knew?)

It is a trope in books to say that you won’t do anything in an altered state you wouldn’t do in your normal state.  I have absolutely no clue if that’s true, and I sorta kinda doubt it.

Why?

Because while that might be true for normal (what I’d call non-induced) hypnotic states, I do know that these drugs (percocet possibly included) can scramble your brain and put it together again.  And I have a vague memory of Heinlein in more than one book talking about how some drugs could break you and then put you together the way they want you to be together.  Now he was extrapolating to the future, but we are in his future, and … call it a sneaky suspicion.

Older Son has been reading medical journals since he was 10, and he might be able to tell me whether this is true or not, but he was working till the wee hours and I don’t want to wake him.

However, I can tell you, as a writer, there are bright lines you can’t have a character cross.  In other words, while it might be possible to make your character do whatever in an altered state, you can’t do it and keep your readership.  (Though Good Lord, can I imagine a descent to hell story in which I write a character and force him to do what would break him in a situation where he can’t stop himself.  To an extent that’s what Vampire musketeers was supposed to be with the third book the rise to redemption.  Should I ever get my rights to it back, I’ll finish it.  Because descent to hell without redemption is not how I write.  Period.  It’s not what I believe in.)

So?  What does this have to do with the real world?

Oh, a lot of things, as we discuss the “genius” exchange of high ranking enemy for one of our deserters and people say but poor thing, he had PTSD.

First of all, he couldn’t have PTSD unless he came pre-PTSDed or was a bubble boy unable to face reality in any way.  Or to put it another way, hundreds of thousands endured worse and served with honor; if he couldn’t the defect was with him, not his stars.

That said, I know what it’s like to be in life or death situations.  I know what it’s like to be shot at.  You do things you wouldn’t normally do, in ways you wouldn’t even consider normally.  And that’s fine.  It’s not, as all the movies are so fond of portraying a form of madness, and at least for me, in those situations, the “there are lines you can’t cross without breaking” applies.

I have great sympathy for things do in extreme stress, the point at which the animal takes over and you act out of sheer raw need for survival, which sometimes makes you do things you would disapprove of sternly in “real life.”  There is an unending room for dealing with that in fiction.  And if you know any vets, particularly WWII vets, because a lot went on in that war that was never mentioned, and you know the point at which they go very quiet when telling a story, you know they hit one of those places, and the memory is a hard thing to integrate.

In the same way I have great sympathy for Stockholm Syndrome.  It is the reason I forgive a lot of my colleagues when they go on crazy anti-Amazon and “why only traditional publishers are teh awesome” rants.  I spent enough time there that I understand that entire identifying yourself with your tormentors really.  (And yep, always excepting Baen, geesh.)

But there are still bright lines.  There are things that you look at and say “OMG, no.”

Off the top of my head, child murder is one of those.  I don’t really care how crazy you are.  You don’t kill children, period.  And if you do it, you need to either be put away for life or be put down.  (And I must be a curious kind of person, because in my case, I’d prefer to be put down.  I mean, imagine they cured you.  Would you want to live knowing what you’ve done?)

Child rape is another.  People can talk themselves into all sorts of crazy things, but look, I read an article saying pedophilia is not a crime, it’s a condition.  Oh, granted, and of course.  It’s one of the reasons I approve of allowing them to have CGI porn in which no children are harmed.  But the minute they act on it outside their own head, they’ve become a danger to society; they’ve become a predator amid the flock.  So while I think the various sex offender registries are insane (guys can be put on it, by taking a wizz in public and someone seeing them) and while I in general disapprove of government solutions and of “lock them and throw away the key” and while I realize that it’s not a fault of their own, I think anyone with the condition and unable to control him/herself (we’re finding there’s a lot of herselfs, now that the schools are dominated by female teachers.  Who knew?) should be locked up for the good of the society AND THEMSELVES.

Another unforgivable crime, another bright line that can’t be crossed, in my mind, is ingratitude and betrayal.  I can completely understand killing someone in a fight, or someone you’ve had a long dispute with.  I can’t forgive or understand deceiving someone and killing/harming him/her.  Yeah, even animals.  If I lured a tame animal somewhere to kill, I’d never live with myself.  In fact, all forms of child abuse are a form of betrayal, because they don’t expect harm.  And a lot of forms of adult-abuse.  It’s what makes elder-abuse and family crime so horrific.

The thing is, the people who think everything is a condition and we’re all tainted, and no one can ever refrain from doing the most horrific things are partly right.

They’re right to the extent that given enough incentive/stimulus which might include powerful drugs, most of us can do things that cross those bright lines in our mind: things that break us; things we disapprove of.

They’re wrong where they think that everyone will do these at the slightest provocation; that humans are just savages waiting for an opportunity.  Some humans, maybe.  But humans vary and for some of us those lines are so bright we’ll never even experience the temptation unless we’re fundamentally broken already.  And some of us experience temptations but can hold back (one of us, here, behind the eyes at one time thought she’d never reach thirty without killing someone) and do, even when the temptation is overwhelming.

This is called being civilized.  It’s called having bright lines in your head that it takes breaking you to making you cross.

I don’t understand people who don’t know that state exists.  In my mind, they’re jellyfish, formless and spineless, floating on a current of desires and stimulus.  And I don’t even know if it’s true that they can’t control themselves, or if they have become convinced that controlling yourself is undesirable, somehow.

I do know, in either case that such a state of non-control, of free floating impulse and action, is inimical to the state in which humans can live together peaceably.  And since I think that for 99% of the people (i.e. those of normal brain structure) control is possible, I think we have to stop whining about excuses: about triggers and ptsd, about conditions and helplessness.

I don’t mean all of this should be from the realm of law enforcement.  I think society needs to get a grip and stop looking for fuzzy cozy excuses for those who cross the bright lines.  It should also start emphasizing good behaviors.

If you grew up dirt poor, but your parents emphasized books and education you shouldn’t be told you have “white privilege” (particularly if you’re latino or black.)  You should instead be told how lucky you were to have the parents you did, and how much you should carry that on to your kids, as should everyone.  Because learning and education are habits that help keep the inner impulses of the untamed human at bay.

The same with thrift, deferred gratification, and refraining from violence.  They’re all habits and most humans can learn them.

And as for deserting, most military people even those raised by hippies, manage to refrain from it too.

PTSD might be an explanation, but it’s still not an excuse.

For that particular critter, for us, or for our civilization or what’s left of it.

The fuzzy people (well, it works.  Their hygiene is often spotty enough) accuse us of seeing the world in black and white.  This is not true.  I see infinite shades and colors and a lot of things I disapprove of but can forgive and empathize with.  But I also see the bright lines that cannot be crossed without destroying the individual and society itself.

It takes a special kind of blindness to turn all that into a vague fog of shades of grey. And it’s a blindness that kills civilization.

The Freedom to Dream

So the endless recovery – tm — comes with a load of depression. I’ve been assured this is normal (oh, no. Tell me it’s abnormal. At least I’ll feel like I’m unique.)

Part of the way depression manifests in me as thinking everything I do is bad, and everything and everyone around me is tarnished by my incompetence, and…

Yes, I do know what part is real and what part is Memorex, because being me requires me to spend an enormous amount of time watching myself and making sure I’m not telling myself stories. Because it’s so easy to do.

I have been thinking of that – for obvious reasons – because of the whole “drinking your own ink” effect of our elites, and also because I’m thinking of stories in relation to culture and how to change culture with stories, and how that is in fact the only way to change it in the long run.

Not that the culture is ever exactly like the stories. I mean, look, if you don’t believe me go read a bio of Leonardo Da Vinci from the Renaissance, one from the Victorian age and one from our own time. You’ll see the gloss that was “approved” at the time. (It is common to blame Victorians for doing this, but every culture does it. Ours delights in picking on scabs and trying to bring geniuses down to our pedestrian level.)

Part of what’s fueling the depression is that I really want to write, but even doing these posts makes me nauseated. I think that is partly the effort of thinking through painkillers and partly the fact that I bet my astigmatism has changed completely yet again (the sort of seasick nausea is typical of when my astigmatism is out of whack.) This is to be expected since it changes with every hormonal shift and has been in continuous change the last two years – so bad I can only drive for a month or two after new glasses – and there’s nothing to be done there, because I am not going to get new glasses until April 30th to make sure I’m past all of it, because I can’t afford to. So. So I’ll have to bite the bullet.

Anyway, so instead of writing, because I can’t force myself to sleep all the time, I’m watching a lot of documentaries while sitting on a recliner. If you want the full horror of this you should shashay over to mad genius club, where I describe some of the gems.

But the documentary I watched tonight is about the terracotta army, which was apparently built by the first emperor, a tyrannical warlord that conquered China by the force of arms.

Note that one of the things he did first (and a lot of his successors did) was burn books and forbid grannies to tell stories. This means he knew the importance of stories, and when he was making a country out of many warrying states, he wanted to make sure the only tales were the ones he allowed.

The other thing was the terracotta army. I don’t know how widespread belief in an after life was in China at that time, but it clearly existed, and he believed in it enough to conscript hundreds of thousands to build him an army to protect him after death.

None of us has been there. We might have experienced supernatural (I have) but these things are possible of other explanations. So what he believed in, heart and soul (and fortune) was a story. A story that (probably) turned out to be wrong (unless there are realms where those terracotta warriors mean something.)

The Egyptian elite did something similar.

I don’t want you to consider it (just) from the point of view of drinking your own ink, though both of these were insular cultures that considered themselves superior to every other. But I don’t want to mock even their religious beliefs, simply because that is a realm where none of us can say we know how others are dealt with or in what way things are arranged. Yes, I know what I believe, but I have friends who believe vastly differently, and Himself up there, if He’s there, is a multidimensional time-ignoring creature and who wants to second guess Him? Or who can even approximate His thoughts?

No. What I want you to think about are these powerful rulers, facing the ultimate oblivion. And all that stands between them and the eternal is ultimately a thin veneer of story.

Enough story to conscript massive resources he could have better employed.

Faith? I wouldn’t call it that.

He didn’t go willingly, precisely. He wanted to live forever, which seems to be a peculiar Chinese madness.

But he needed that story to take him into the darkness.

And he knew the power of stories because he burned the stories that opposed them.

For decades now, our gatekeepers have been involved in an attempt to forge a people without past (or future) by metaphorically destroying or making inaccessible all the stories that don’t support the narrative they want us to believe. News, History, Stories, even religion, they’ve tried to deprive us of all of them (one of these is the however many ways to die in the west, which is trying to destroy our idea of the old west as a land of heroes.)

And now we have the internet.

I don’t know how long the freedom will last (I would bet it will be restored, if it fails) but I know they’re trying to clamp down on it already.

I also know the more widespread the use of these free means of communication, in story and news, in history and eventually perhaps in movie, too, the harder for them to snuff it out fully.

So run like the wind my friends, and sow story to the winds in all your voices.

To change a culture in a short time (and they’re betting on a short time) they need that single focus. They need to “burn” everything they disagree with, by either making inaccessible or discrediting it.

Read the forbidden. It puts hair on your chest and gives the SJWs the vapors (not that this is difficult.)

Stay free.

 

Becoming America

I am one of those people who doesn’t get along with her body. Or, as my son calls it “inadvertent suicides” by which he means in his work at the emergency room he sees many people come in who are at or almost near the point of death but who put off coming in because they were convinced that their symptoms were “nothing.”

I add another layer to that in that I don’t trust my body further than I can throw it, and at the current avoir du pois I can’t jump that far. I.e. I expect my body to be influenced by my mind and my mind is full of iniquity. It wouldn’t be the first time I tried to write something that I darn well DIDN’T WANT to write, and my body did the good ol’ shut down and “we’re going to turn off in five minutes.”

Well, maybe that wasn’t true. Because you see, there’s always another way to look at it. That’s what I assumed the problem was at the time, but it now seems fairly sure I was actually in horrible shape, and could sort of force myself to write books I really wanted to write, but the others just let the body win, because the body was all screwed up.

In fact, in view of recent discoveries, it’s a miracle I’ve functioned as well as I have for the last 15 years or so, and not a surprise at all it came to near total shutdown these last two years.

That’s not the subject, here, but it is important to know that every time we find out there was a reason behind behavior I had trouble combating, I am relieved: it wasn’t my fault after all. I’m not trying to avoid work, and I’m not very lazy. There is a physical root to all these troubles, and the route can be taken care of.

Even if the route couldn’t be taken care of, it would be a relief to know it wasn’t my fault. And I probably could fight it better knowing it was “real.”

Maybe I’m peculiarly put together (No duh, Sarah?), maybe not. Even if I am peculiarly put together, we all know our country is peculiarly put together too.

(Yeah, I heard that “What?” Bear with me. I haven’t had Percocet since last night having reached the point the pain is preferable to the nausea, but it takes a while to clear from the system.)

Part of the problem with self government is that we each of us blame ourselves for the mess we’re in. Actually what is really funny for people my generation is that we tend to blame ourselves for pretty much everything.

The problem with taking a snapshot of the country as it is in this position in time and seeing all the problems is that we tend to despair. You hear all the variants “Oh, look, the thing is, the country isn’t the same it wasn’t at the founding, and so…”

No, and that’s a given. Fortunately humanity, technology and the world aren’t what they were at the founding, either. (Trust me, you wouldn’t like it.)

And the US IS change. We’re an engine of change in the world, which is why someone either Bill Whittle or Ed Driscol, (can’t remember. Percocet) coined the phrase that “the future comes from America.”

We are the scary-serious kid who not only comes in and takes the lead in the class, but who is always inventing new things no one would have thought of without him.

The problem is this: the ideas of our founding, that grand resounding poetry of the declaration of independence are so new, so strange, so revolutionary that it couldn’t come to fruition in the world as it was now.

I’ll let CACS talk about it some time, but the more I study, the more I see those grand ideas honored more in the breach.

Becoming America is a job of retreat and stumble, of standing up and of crawling, of moving by inches towards being what we said we were, and of being buffeted almost all the way back.

You can read the history, it’s there. From the Alien and Sedition act, to situations as dire as the Woodrow Wilson Admnistration. And then the interesting vortex of soviet propaganda and population glut of the sixties which seems to be destroying our culture from within.

But it isn’t. Or not really. It’s just another step on the road to becoming America. Okay, maybe it’s the baseball bat to the face and set back six feet. But the game started LONG before anyone now alive was born. And it will go on long after we’re dead.

Think of it as sort of my relationship with my body. By all that’s right and holy, born at home, in the middle of winter, extremely premature, I shouldn’t have survived the night. I certainly shouldn’t have functioned enough to finish elementary school, much less advanced studies. I spent the greatest part of my childhood on bed rest, though that’s not the part I remember (Though it’s why I’m bookish, I think. Otherwise I’d never have stopped long enough to learn to read.) And most of my life has been negotiated against the perpetually breaking down body.

But if you don’t know that, if you don’t see, as I do (and despair of) the long periods of silence and illness, it seems like I’m always on the go.

Because there’s things I must do to be me. So I do them. When I can. The hardest thing being to have patience and to take it slow with the down periods.

America is like that too, because it’s such a huge idea it has trouble fitting in with the human condition.

Which is why we go through some pretty dark periods.

It might look like the end, but it’s not, because our founding is one of those ideas that once unleashed on the world can’t be put down. We just have to figure out how to bring reality in conformance to it. And a great part of the despair is that we (my generation in particular) feel guilty. We weren’t taught. We didn’t know. We collaborated with the enemy unknowing.

But all that is small, in the spread of time from the founding and the spread of the time to the future. And we were just picking up the standard where it lay, and now we’re carrying it. The game will go on a long time. We shouldn’t try and can’t expect to win it all today.

The patient has been sick a long time. We must be tolerant of relapses and naps.

Teach your children well!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Don’t despair. You’re not supposed to do all of it today. It doesn’t all rest on your shoulders. Be patient with the foibles of humanity. Be patient with our occasional crawls in the mud. See where the standard bearer last fell. Pick up the flag and run with it.

America comes from the future, and that’s where we’re headed. That future where we’ll finally figure out how to live up to our founding.

Lift that flag. We’re becoming America.

Creative Destruction – Cedar Sanderson

Creative Destruction – Cedar Sanderson

 

I was introduced to this term this week when I was invited to create a presentation for a panel of this title. I’d never heard it before, and didn’t know precisely what it was all about, but the summary I was given sparked my imagination.

What can destructive forces create? What can they precipitate from the solution, sparking the coalescence of something new, and sometimes unpredictable, from human civilization catalyzed with tragedy?

I began my presentation with the Black Death in Europe. It’s the little things in life; that kill us and change our world. Fleas, in this case, carrying a disease between rats and humans. The numbers are soft, but estimates range around 25 million deaths from that epidemic, during the time it raged hotly over the continent, and many hundreds of thousands more in the centuries after. However, in the wake of all the death and destruction, there was change.

It is arguable that the Black Death led to the fall of serfdom, as labor was no longer readily and cheaply available – there simply weren’t enough bodies left standing. The plague led to the fall of the Roman Catholic Empire as it was, and the rise of Protestantism. And in a burst of pure creativity of the Arts, the Black Death led to the Renaissance, Shakespeare, and the glory that was that movement in art and literature.

But it was not the first time the plague had touched Western Civilization. Around 600 ad, the Justinian plague had struck, felling what was left of the Roman Empire, and establishing the course of the initial burst of European world domination. Both pandemics were much, much later confirmed to have the same originator, Yersinia pestis. It is the microscopic things.

There’s a song, which I can’t remember all the lyrics to (and I don’t know who performs it) but this much I recall: War! What is it good for?

The answer is deeply complex. I will leave the political and social considerations aside to talk about the benefits to medicine. Indeed, most modern medicine has been altered in some way by battlefield hospital needs. But during the Crimean War, death skyrocketed. Not from wounds received in battle, but disease. Florence Nightingale, who most people think of as the Mother of Nursing, was also responsible for mothering another field of medicine as she plotted when and why men were dying, and ferreted out the correlations and causations. It was war that led Florence Nightingale to leave her comfortable home and give birth to Epidemiology.

But a virus can also end a war. World War I, or the Great War, might have dragged on and on into the Eternal War, had not the influenza pandemic of 1918 taken all the wind out of the warring nation’s sails with the deaths of millions of relatively young and healthy people. And in an example of how telling the truth can sometimes get you in trouble: Spain was initially blamed for the pandemic, because they were a neutral nation, and their reporters were allowed to talk about the sickness, unlike those of France, Germany, and the US.

And enduring myth – one that is still taught in schools, is that disease helped conquer the ‘New World’ (in reality, an old one, just like buying a used car, you still call it the New Car) as the European explorers brought previously unknown diseases with them to the shores. The reality is that the Incas fell to a vastly inferior Spanish force because they had been racked with a ten-year drought, and a plague epidemic. Many other diseases were endemic to the region, and famine was Death’s stalking-horse long before Europe got involved.

In return for the new diseases, the trade went both ways. Europeans took home many new and interesting things from the ‘New World’ including foodstuffs. Sometime later, after the aristos with their financial interest in marketing the new foods made potatoes popular (Marie Antoinette, in an effort to popularize the potato, wore potato flowers in her hair), the inevitable happened. Overreliance on one crop, and that crop was struck down with a plant epidemic – the potato blight. Back to the ‘New World’ only now it was starving, desperate men and women, serving terms of indenturement that was virtually slavery, sold into servitude by the failure of a food crop.

We rarely consider what would happen should a viroid (a plant virus) get loose and strike down one of the ‘staff of life’ foodstuffs that virtually the entire world depends on. The Staff of Life was almost kicked out from under us once, when wheat rust threatened to diminish the food produced by the US and shipped globally. Only through the efforts of a small team including Norman Borlaug (the Father of the Green Revolution), a process that took fourteen years, was wheat bred into a more resistant variety and stopped the threat of the rust. Borlaug went on to help countries like Pakistan and India develop their agriculture to the point of self-sufficiency, and that came from the threatened ruin of wheat rust.

I ended by talking about telomeres. The heterochromatic caps that protect the tips of our chromosomes, they do not replicate because they are so compressed, and as they wear away with age, we slowly self-destruct. Yet in that destruction, is there not also creativity? Would we be so driven to write, to create art, to live with passion, if we knew we had more time? In our own destruction, we create new life, and know that life is good, and will endure.