Out of Weakness

It never fails but if I’m talking to someone, particularly someone who is or thinks she is older than me (this is not rare) and the conversation turns to politics, they say something like “oh, you’re for small government and negative liberties because you’re strong.  You’ve never experienced weakness.”

The funny thing is that there is no point to my explaining, because they won’t believe me, but not only am I not strong, but I am unusually weak.

I was born severely premature — I fit in my dad’s size eleven shoe.  Yes, that is my family: faced with a severely premature child they didn’t expect to live out the night, they could think of nothing better to but see if I fit dad’s shoe.  The strange thing is that I’m one of two sf fans in the family — in an unheated stone house round about the Cuban missile crisis. Until I was 12, I spent more time bedridden than standing on my own two feet.  You name it, I caught it, and I probably caught things that no one has caught since the middle ages and which, as they swept the village, never got a name because they were just “one of those things.”) I probably had the scrubbies, the gnats and the gurgling peas.  (Part of this is that we lived in close intimacy with animals and with sewage both human and animal.  As most humans have, for most of history.)

Granted, after 12 or so I didn’t get sick more than normal human beings, but I still have some deficits.  Part of my fear of driving is that I know I have never been good at physical things.  I can in fact screw up something that requires coordination and agility and which I’ve executed perfectly a million times simply by THINKING about it.  And I think too much.  I swear whoever put me together left out the instinct module.  There are things everyone else seems to know that I have to reason through, painfully.  And sometimes I get it better than other people seem to, and sometimes I screw it incalculably worse, and I can never TELL which.

Besides, to compensate for no longer being sickly, I decided I needed other kinds of handicaps, and so I got married abroad.  Not only abroad, but in one of the few places in the world in which neither mom or dad can claim relatives.  Sure, we now have a network, of sorts, but we’ve gone through vast portions of our life where if we (or we and the kids, later) died in our house, no one would ever find out.  Dan’s employer might get upset, but I don’t know if they’d have looked.  And the same for the kids school.  Chances are that eventually the house would get foreclosed and the new owners would get a surprise.

That type of isolation has its own weaknesses built in.  When the kids were little, this was mostly that there was no one to lend a hand.  Not even just the big important things, but for the little “all the time things.”  No matter what else was going on, kids needed to be taken care of, house needed to be at least minimally sanitary, food had to be put on the table.  And I suspect this is what some of the people who have argued with me think is “strength” but it is not.  It’s the direst weakness.  I had no give, I had no margin, I had to keep going till I got sick, and then I had to keep going when I was sick, because people depended on me.  My kids and my husband depended on me (these were mostly the early days when Dan was working often 16 hour days) to keep the house running in such a way they had food and a place to sleep and weren’t unduly disturbed.  And my husband depended on me to write, because when we got married he gave up his music and took a job that would take a lot of his time, so I could write, because my money was our retirement.  The only retirement we could hope for.  (I’m hoping for it, still.  I have hopes, now there’s Indie.)  Because though both of us intend to die with our fingers on the keyboard, we know old age means more of what my childhood was like: there will be times we can’t earn our keep no matter how we try.

So I know weakness.  And it is out of weakness that I believe government should be small, almost powerless, providing to individuals only that which needs coordination and cooperation of many: mutual defense, for instance.  I believe each of government’s actions should be overseen, watched for potential violations of liberty and cut back if there is a shadow of a doubt over its unintended consequences.

Usually in this part of the discussion, I get accused of wanting widows and orphans to starve in the dark.

Which is not just not the point, but is entirely beside the point.

Look, humans are tribal and therefore we identify with the weak and the needy in our group.  And our group can and sometimes does extend to all the world.

I think it’s no small part of the fact we are the dominant species in this world (after grass) and have conquered all types of habitats, that we DO look after the weak.  As far back as we go we find skeletons with the marks of injuries and illnesses they could not have survived without everyone rallying around.  Even some of our cousins, now extinct or absorbed, were like that.  This is probably because cousin Gugr, who broke his arm and can’t throw the spear, can sit around the cave long enough till he figures a way to make fire, or perhaps to make a new type of spear, or perhaps —  Human invention often comes out of enforced idleness, so such a scenario is at least plausible.

However, what we have to think about is two fold — charity is a wonderful thing.  Looking after the poor and the weak is a great thing but — Who should do it?  AND Should it be a right?

The who should do it is important.  The so called “positive liberties” which our current president is very fond of include some doozies.  I think — but someone can fill in here, since I only think so because I heard it from sympathizers — the Soviet Union guaranteed housing, food and a job.  At least that’s the sort of thing proponents of positive liberties here wish to grant everyone.  Oh, and health care, transportation and, for the more daring ones, the right to free entertainment.

We agree these are all lovely things.  Things we would all like to have.  H*ll if I didn’t spend half of my time worrying about money (I know, I know, but the boys will be out of college in two and a half years and off our payroll) imagine the art I could create.  (More on this later.)

But who should do that?  Who has the power to grant these “positive liberties?”  The only entity large enough is a powerful government.  In the US a federal government.

So a lot of people (including the current president) think that it is the duty of the government to do this.  Because you’re not truly free if you don’t have a car to drive wherever you want, or a place to live, or–

But the key word here is not freedom.  It’s liberty.  And liberty for what?  Life and the pursuit of happiness.

Let me back track: as beautiful as those ideas sound and as much as, as an idealistic 14 year old I’d have told you yes, yes, we need positive liberties, any adult who keeps on thinking they’re a bright idea is either not really an adult in mind, or is so thoroughly indoctrinated he never thought through the consequences.

When you say someone should have “housing and food, a car, entertainment, health care” you’re not saying that angels will come down from heaven and grant this.  Or if you are, you really should tell us how to summon these angels.  What you’re saying is “we should violate someone’s most basic and fundamental liberties so that someone else can be the equivalent of a trustfund baby with never a worry in the world.”

Whose liberties?  Well, builders and farmers, entertainers and doctors.  And while you might think those people can “give” you’re not thinking of scale.  If “everyone” is entitled to this what you’re saying is that these people have to work so that other people can have everything for free even without doing anything.

And if you say this is just a safety net, for when people fall through all the rest, you’re still missing the point that somewhere along the line you’re taking people’s labor and people’s goods to give to others, and since no human institution was ever free of fraud, and since that type of giving creates INCENTIVES for fraud, what you’re doing is taking from those who work to give to those who choose not to.  At which point I must ask, who died and made you god, precisely, that you would take from others their G-d given liberties, those that exist if no one violates them?

And if you make these things a “right” people WILL stop working (enough experiments with guaranteed minimum income show just that.  People can live on very little indeed, provided they have to do nothing for it and there’s no stigma attached to living from it.  Oh, they’ll agitate for more, and therefore empower the government to give more and more “rights” on the back of fewer and fewer people working until–

We have readers here who grew up in the Soviet Union. They can tell you how the end state of this is people doing less and less while demanding more and more, till everyone is living in dire poverty and bitching about deserving the stars.

But let’s leave aside the fact it doesn’t work on the macro-level: does it work on the micro-level.

Humans are scavengers.  This means we are instinctually designed to bring down (or more likely initially find) mammoth and then sit around and eat till mammoth all gone or too rotten to eat.  We’re not instinctually designed to run around killing more mammoth while we still have mammoth because animals that act that way deplete the food supply and starve.

I too have illusions.  One of my favorite games when stressed over money, is to buy a lottery ticket and spend a few days fantasizing about what I would do with 100 million or whatever.  And the first thing that comes to mind is “I’d write a lot.”  I might even do it.  I’m broken on the instinct front. But most people wouldn’t.  It doesn’t matter whom we’re talking about, someone always says “Yeah, he wrote those novels when he was paying a mortgage/putting his kids through college/paying off his divorce”  This is always and inevitably the writers’ best work.

Sure there are others, people of means who spent years perfecting the single, beautiful work they’re known for.  But they’re not nearly as many.

In the end that’s the worst thing.  Grant everyone “positive liberties” and you turn the country into a huge project.  No, I mean Cabrini Green type project.

Humans who don’t have to strive, and who by virtue of the system, don’t have the hope of getting much better, turn to the old human pastimes: fornication, fighting and mind-altering substances.  (Yes, I DID try to come up with an f.  No caffeine yet.)

You see it in the very wealthy throughout history, that sort of enui and a kind of “active despair”, the feeling that life is meaningless, and the appearance of all the vices of mankind.

The end of it is the destruction of the human, himself.  Humans are made to strive.  Remove the strife and we become less than human.  Apes, with too much time on our hands, and nothing to strive for.  When cousin Gugr was lying about in the cave with a broken arm, if he invented a new spear or a better way to preserve mammoth meat, he did it because he was conscious that without him the tribe was vulnerable, and he must find a way to compensate.

If you have no one dependent on you, nothing that you absolutely need to do, no matter how you feel, at best you go through life doing nothing and being nothing.  At worse, you find ways to introduce strife to your life.

I won’t say that I think we should eliminate all social programs.  I don’t say it, because I don’t think it’s achievable. Though with winter coming and the mess in the world, who knows?

And no, I don’t mean I want widows and orphans to starve.  I wouldn’t let any starve that came within my purview (and before you say something about the circles I move in, let me say you know nothing of them.  We spend almost as much on charity as we do on taxes, and beside that we give and help with stuff that isn’t official charity.  We’ve bought more computers of writers — sometimes with the money coming out of our food money — than I can count.  Literally.  If I try to count them I always forget some.) because it’s my duty as an able bodied human to look after other humans.  Even when I’m weak there are those who are weaker than I and need me.  Which keeps me from being too weak and therefore keeps me moving.

But I have no interest or need in supporting also a tribe of bureaucrats who eat the substance of that which would go to the poor.  And I have no interest in making the poor and needy feel these are permanent conditions, that they’re entitled to all care, and that no one, ever, should have to strive.  Because that’s denying them their essential humanity and the right to stand on their own two feet and find strength in their weakness.

Because I’m weak and because some days I’ve sat and wondered where the next meal was going to come from, I understand them perhaps better than most of the children of fortune addicted to “positive liberties.”  Give a man everything he wants and needs, and you’ve just destroyed him.  It would destroy me.

So because I’m weak, because I still have no idea what we’ll do for food or housing when we can no longer work, I say: leave us alone.  Leave us our negative liberties, those we have without your interference.  Don’t kill us, don’t imprison us, don’t take our stuff, allow us to struggle for what we want and need.

Because only then can we find strength.

Sunday Vignettes by Mary Catelli, Luke and ‘nother Mike

Sunday Vignettes by Mary Catelli, Luke and ‘nother Mike

*Sorry, guys, I was out being a menace to Colorado Springs traffic (I’d prepaid the lessons while we still lived there.)  Or actually not being a menace but feeling like it, which is the problem. However, the confidence is coming back, now the eyes are better.  Soon, soon, I’ll be a menace to the streets of Denver (like anyone would notice.) – SAH*
Sunday Vignettes!

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches.

We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration.

You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like. We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette.

Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is school

Some Science Fiction Books

As some of you know the commenter who came in breathing fire or at least breathing superiority has stayed to ask questions.  This happens, and some of you became regulars here that way.  Of course the percentage is the same as of the lepers that came back to give thanks for their cure, but you know, no one promised us easy or simple.  When we put our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honors on the line, we were aware it wasn’t a game.  Even if going one by one (like Juan Valdez) arguing and discussing is not nearly as much fun as running around the hills with a Kalashnikov, and even though sometimes it feels like we’re trying to catch every bird in every hidden tree.  It is a mark of how badly our school system is serving us, and why our very first imperative is not only “Teach your children well” but “teach every child well.”  Or forget child (though most of the people who stay and discuss ARE rather young) and just teach everyone who is open to it.

Not in a preachy way of course, the poor things have managed to be preached more at in their lives than I did growing up in a monolithic Catholic country during a series of socialist-ish revolutions (ranging from socialist to outright Maoist, though thank heavens those only had the reigns a very short time.)

But one of the things that struck me as funny was that she (or anyone) would set up to write not just reviews, but scathing reviews of contemporary SF while having read virtually nothing from more than say twenty years ago.

Look, I get it.  I’m sure Verne was more exciting to my dad than it was to me.  The language was closer, and the entry-point easier. But at any rate, when I was coming up I read EVERYTHING that said “science fiction” on the spine.  For a genre that is supposed to work in imaginary, parallel and might-be worlds, overcoming the language shouldn’t be a big thing.  If this is your meat, there might be a point at which you have to work — usually in the beginning — but then you adjust.

And even then, even now, I wouldn’t set up to do scathing reviews of much of anything.  Even the ones that Kate Paulk did at MGC — reviewing some award winners — were limited to the craft in the introduction and she didn’t NAME the authors, because it wasn’t personal, it was professional.

The reason I wouldn’t set up to do it is that my taste is so strangely skewed, partly through having cut my teeth on science fiction that got translated to Portuguese.  I swear what gets translated to Portuguese is mostly whatever the agents in Spain (you heard that right) are enthusiastic about.  Looking at a shelf in Portugal now was almost surreal.  I mean, NO Correia, no Ringo, no Weber, but people you never heard of and I have only because for a while ten years ago or so I followed SFWA politics.

BUT beyond that, and beyond the fact the history is all jumbled in my head, because the not-translated-to-Portuguese authors I discovered in the eighties are all filed under “recent sf” and some of them are … well, not recent.

Add to that that until the boys were toddlers — I wonder if that will come back now — I read an AVERAGE of six books a day, with a preferential bend to science fiction, and a secondary one for mystery (though I went through phases.  Also, I read everything, including history and biology manuals) and that for a great part of my young-married time I was dependent on whatever the local library had (which is why we spent an entire summer when Robert was an infant reading only Piers Anthony and Jerry Pournelle.  I’m not going to bitch, that’s when I discovered Jerry who became a staple-read in this house.  Piers… not so much.  I found after the third book it was sort of like being on a diet of spaghetti-ohs.)

When I was trying to assemble a recommends list, I also realized that I might have slighted ten or so authors who are favorites here, but whom I could never get into.  The one that comes to mind is Jack Vance (met him.  Very nice man) whose books simply wouldn’t allow me in.  I thought about it yesterday and realized my introduction to him was during the year of climbing, when my first son had just become mobile, and when he discovered that climbing the twelve foot built in bookcase and dancing on the top brought interesting squeaks from mom, and also caused her to go get the ladder to retrieve him.  This was also the year of chewing books — he cut his teeth on my hard cover Agatha Christie collection.  LITERALLY — and the year we moved three times, which rivals the last one.  In fact, every author I tried that year I “couldn’t get into”.  Because, you know, we’re not Robots but beings of flesh and blood, and what else is going on in our lives affects our perceptions of books, as well as anything else.

Anyway, so I’m going to do a list of ten books, and add some authors, like Poul Anderson (whose name I still have trouble spelling because we assumed the Portuguese publisher had got hold of the wrong end of the stick and his name was really Paul Anderson.  I missed my only chance to meet him when he had a signing in town 19? 20? years ago.  But the kids both had some kind of stomach thing, I had piles of sheets to wash and was running the carpet cleaner 24/7 and I didn’t want to infect the poor man) and Jerry Pournelle, and our own occasional commenter Margaret Ball, whom you should just seek out and read everything they wrote, because I did.  (There are others.  There are always others.  This is sort of like trying to catalogue trees leaf by leaf.  Every time I look closer another name pops up.) I’m leaving a bunch of other names out, in my uncaffeinated condition, but I trust my commenters to provide them.

To reduce it to ten books, it has to go beyond, “These are books that have lingered” though that’s the first cut.  I was, for instance, surprised to see that my brother and I HAD owned Slan, as I have NO memory of reading it.  Ever.

Instead, I’m going to go with the books that made an impact on me, and how I thought, or perhaps “a brief history of my interaction with the genre in books.”  There will be Heinlein.  That goes without saying.  (Though honestly, I’d have named #2 son Clifford Simak, if Dan had let me.  But he wouldn’t, even if I promised to call him Kip.  Husbands, amIright?)

I fell into Science Fiction at 11, when my brother was in Engineering and met a man who had a library with hundreds of science fiction books.  (I signed a book for him — Noah’s boy.  I really should send him DST — when I was in Portugal.  Life’s odd.)

My brother started reading it and bringing it home, and I started reading it standing up by his bedside table, ready to throw the book down and run into my room, where I pretended to stare at the walls, at the slightest step on the stairs.

You see, he’d told me not to read them, thinking they were too mature for me.  I’ve asked, and no, he didn’t do that to ensure I started reading science fiction.  Weirdly.  It’s amazing how even our family members don’t know us.  At some point he realized I was reading it.  And at some point, later, when I was around thirteen, we used to pool our resources (think the equivalent of $5 a month) and go halvsies on new releases.  In addition to that, I scoured the spinning racks in every postcard shop and handywork stall and icecream shop I went to, particularly when visiting friends in out of the way places, as you often found really old books at OLD prices (more like 50c in those places.)  Of fond memory are the year my parents took me to Algarve (at fourteen, I think) for the summer, and I found all of Heinlein in a fisherman’s village.  And the year I found a bunch of thirties and forties sf while helping a friend’s family clean the apartment her grandfather was moving out of to move in with them.  The old man was so thrilled I knew some of those names, and also to have a chance to talk SF that he gave me the two boxes sight unseen.  His grandkids didn’t fall in our little, odd fraternity.

Anyway, so the first book I read Standing by Alvarim’s bedside table was Out of their minds by Clifford Simak.  Simak must therefore be in the list, but Out of their Minds is a rather “average” book.  Honestly, at eleven it hooked me more because it had Snuffy Smith as a character, and I watched Snuffy Smith cartoons.  A book of his I came by some years later is far more interesting (and not one of his acclaimed ones like City which on re-reading I found had a lot of bad-tasting though typical of its time ideas.)

1- They Walked Like Men by Clifford Simak. It’s the story of a truly unusual alien invasion, and it hooked me with its voice from about paragraph two.

Years later, thinking about when I’d first found science fiction, I realized that I had read one science fiction book before Alvarim “met” the genre.  It wasn’t, like Out of Their Minds so implausible that I paused and looked at the spine and asked “what is this science fiction” which made my brother explain.  It was a book that was a little unusual but fit in very well with the environment I grew up in (dad loved Three Men in a Boat, yes.  And the answer to “I want a radio” was “I have no objection, get one” which led to my building one) and for all I knew in America every teen got a spacesuit, and going to the moon could be given away in soap contests.  So:

2- Have Spacesuit Will Travel – by Robert A. Heinlein. (As a note, I can’t for the life of me remember what in holy heck it was called in Portuguese.  That title is in a tense that doesn’t EXIST in Portuguese and I can’t figure out any way to translate it that wouldn’t run to three sentences. It doesn’t mean much.  Sometimes titles in Portuguese make your head hurt.)

I can’t remember what the second book I read after realizing SF was SF was, except that I remember singularly off putting elements of it: the US had walled itself in, communism (which was supposedly a good thing) ruled the rest of the world, and the version of America was the “decadent Rome” version that Russian agitprop pushed.  I remember the character (female) got in a bus and had a lesbian encounter with a stranger by chapter two.  Which didn’t seem to mean anything to the rest of the plot, and which she frankly didn’t seem to enjoy much.  The dang thing might have been gray goo.

The third science fiction book I read has stayed with me all these years and, to me at least, is the be-all, end-all of apocalyptic science fiction.  Perhaps I was attracted to it because of the history of the country I come from.  Or perhaps I’m a little nuts.  Mind you, this recommendation is significant because I don’t LIKE post-apocalyptic stories.

3- A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter Miller Jr.

Then when I was a teenager, during the sojourn in Algarve, I found a Heinlein I’d never seen anywhere else: Stranger in a Strange Land.  Since this was my New Age Summer — 14 — it fit right in to where I was at that time.  I will say now, as an adult, SiaSL is my least favorite of the Heinleins.  And yet it’s not as “unfavorite” as all that.  On re-reading it recently I found that it, like Starship Troopers, is not exactly what people think it is.  Both are much deeper, and more deeply conflicted, books morally and politically than people who haven’t read them imagine.

In the same summer, I discovered The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which has been a favorite ever since.  As can be told by just about anyone who has read A Few Good Men, which is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but on Earth and without supercomputer.  (So, TMIAHM now more extreme and with more thumb marks, though the later is not intention, it’s just that I, truly, am but an egg.  So:

4- Stranger in a Strange Land

5- Starship Troopers

6- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Sometime in the next school year, not sure if I was 14 or 15, I came across Le Guin’s Left hand of darkness (weirdly, I didn’t even hear of the Tombs of Atuan until I was married and in the US.) The book fascinated me for several reasons, the first being the “structure” which in retrospect is veddy veddy seventies and part of it being that there is a certain psychology to the biology, which didn’t ring true.  (Hermaphroditic species on Earth are far more likely to be VERY violent.  Also, the whole communal child-raising didn’t seem right.  Also I wondered how a civilization ever arose without the need to protect those who couldn’t run while pregnant.  Never mind.  It bugged me, and by bugging me was responsible for my starting to write, which is why my first series was “hermaphrodites don’t work that way, particularly not human-derived ones” and yes you might see that series in the fullness of time, that being what I’m most short of right now: time.)  At any rate part of the reason the book hooked me was not the irritation (though weirdly that was part of it) but the characters.  Read The Left Hand of Darkness for the characters, and watch what she did, because Estraven broke my heart.

7- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

And this was when I fell head first into Phillip K. Dick.  Sometime between 16 and 20, not sure when.  Look, there are worse things you can do.  You can acquire a drug habit or you can get a second hand one.  (I did not type that aloud, and you can’t hold me to it.)  Perhaps it was the age.  Perhaps it was that I’m rather of a philosophical bend, anyway, but I read everything of his I could get hold of.  Of that, the one I tried to get the boys to read (I can’t remember if either one did) was

8- Ubik – by Phillip K. Dick.

Here I’m going to elide over — because of the ten books — The World of Tiers by Phillip Jose Farmer which I mashed with Ubik while talking about it last night.  I love the books and the concept, and it’s the FIRST time I read a series (though I’ll note that I might have been primed for it because of being an avid mythology reader. I’ll just mention in passing that Riverworld never did much for me.  Partly, I think, because it reads “bleak” and as a chronic depressive I’ve learned to shy away from those.  Note I don’t mean that I only read happy-fun books.  In fact, most of what I write is in rather awful places/times.  But it’s the tone of the writing itself.  If it feels like it’s beating me down with “abandon all hope” I pull back, and often don’t do it consciously.)

I haven’t talked about reading women, because there didn’t seem to be any point to it.  I mean, there were women SF writers up there, through all those years of getting acquainted with the genre, but most of them didn’t “stay”.  I.e. they only rose to the same level as most of the men I read at that time, which was “okay.”  And yeah, my reading through this time was biased to males, but that is mostly an artifact of who was translated at that time.  And before the squawks start as though because I’ve got a vagina I MUST read people who have vaginas, let me add some of my favorite non-sf writers through that time WERE women, in fact in mystery about half my favorites — Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters, both prolific — were women, which skewed more female after I came to the US with a lot of writers of whom, off the top of my head, I’ll mention Patricia Wentworth and Dorothy Cannell and Carolyn Hart.)

However, I reserved the two last slots of this list to women who played pivotal roles in my relationship with science fiction.  The first is Anne McCaffrey whom I started reading in Portuguese (I had to look the first book up because I SWEAR the title I remember in Portuguese is Dragon Drums) and finished in English.  It was the second series I fell into and the most immersive.  I damn well wanted to BE a dragon rider.  There is something feminine about the writing, to the extent writing can be masculine or feminine, in that it’s the characters that grab you and pull you, though the world building and all that are worthy of note.  (BTW some men also write full immersive characters.  Some women write crazy-involved worlds and plots.  Some people do both.  And some people do now one now the other.  Because gender characteristics aren’t the same as contents printed on a can and humans are still individuals, world without end.  When I say something is more feminine I mean only “as far as this goes, you’re likely to find it in say 60% of women and 40% of men, or vice versa.  It’s not an absolute measure.)  My favorite of that series is

9- Moreta – by Anne McCaffrey.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, perhaps related to what was available in libraries and bookstores, perhaps simply having to do with having found a surfeit of bad books, I wandered away from science fiction somewhere shortly after the boys were born.  It might simply have had to do with the fact that popcorn-mysteries (formulaic, simple, easy to get into and out of) are easier for a young, distracted mother.  I couldn’t not-read, but I could read things that required less work.

Then I took my very first “vacation” when Robert was I THINK 6 or so.  Dan had a conference down in San Antonio, and I could share his hotel room if I just paid my flight.  Which we did, and I went off, with loads of books.  I spent a week walking around, reading, eating in diners.  It was fun.

During that week I found Connie Willis (I’d run out of books, hit a book store and looked in SF/F when there was nothing in mystery) with one of her least known works Lincoln’s Dreams.  I then went on to read everything she wrote, and debated heartily with myself what I should recommend this morning.  I’m going to go with:

10- Bellwether by Connie Willis.

There are a lot more people I discovered since, and a lot I simply can’t mention without this already large post growing to encyclopedic lengths.  The ones I buy now sight unseen are:

1- Larry Correia — don’t let the explosions fool you, the plots which he builds incrementally add up to serious questions about the nature of men, the nature of monsters and the difference between the two.  Yes, even outside MHI.

2- David Weber – I’m a traditionalist.  I like Honor.😉

3- John Ringo – who damn it made me like another apocalyptic world: the world of Black Tide Rising.

4- Jim Butcher – watch his d*mn character arcs.  I have character-arc envy.

5- F. Paul Wilson – Just go and read him.  I heard him dismissed as “cartoonish” which means these people have never actually read him. Like Larry (not surprising as he was a major influence on Larry — and me — it’s all about men and monsters and the razor thin difference.)

6 – ADDENDUM – my brain has him filed under “friend” because I read him after meeting them, but I am sure if it had been the other way around I’d still buy everything he wrote.  Possibly harder and faster.  IF YOU HAVEN’T READ DAVE FREER, RUN, DON’T WALK TO BUY EVERYTHING HE EVER WROTE.  Also, I’m jealous of you, you lucky bastage, reading Freer for the first time.

These are the people I would pay premium prices for — and do, for Wilson and Butcher — ebooks.  (Thank heavens the other are Baen.)

There are even probably a couple I missed in that last list, but I still haven’t had coffee and I’ll be d*med if I’m going to think any harder than I have to.

Meanwhile because I know the gaps above are gargantuan, I turn it over to you.  Because I REALLY don’t want wall of text comments, try to limit your answers to three books per comment (though not per commenter.)  What is YOUR list of must-read science fiction/fantasy?

It Was a Bright Cold Day in April, and the Clocks Were Striking Patriarchy

‘As you lie there,’ said O’Brien, ‘you have often wondered you have even asked me — why the Ministry of Love should expend so much time and trouble on you. And when you were free you were puzzled by what was essentially the same question. You could grasp the mechanics of the Society you lived in, but not its underlying motives. Do you remember writing in your diary, “I understand how: I do not understand why“? It was when you thought about “why” that you doubted your own sanity. You have read the book, Hayek’s book, or parts of it, at least. Did it tell you anything that you did not know already?’

‘You have read it?’ said Winston.

‘I wrote it. That is to say, I collaborated in writing it. No book is produced individually, as you know.’

‘Is it true, what it says?’ Something about the idea that O’Brien had written it did not ring true, but Winston had no proof it had existed before the Utopia.

‘It was thought to be true once, yes. The programme it sets forth is nonsense. The individual by himself, no compensation to historically oppressed groups, no debasing of privilege.  Everyone knows the only way to run a society is to keep the forces of oppression and compensation in balance, to right historical wrongs.  The way to sanity is to always be aware of your evil thoughts, your tendency to abuse your privilege.  And everyone has privilege, except the priests of balancing, the enlightened, those who know how to keep society running.

The peons can’t be trusted with such delicate balancing of forces.  Left to themselves,s the lumpen proletariat will embrace greed and money making and the society created will be unequal, and wrong, and chaotic.  Like Somalia.”

“What’s Somalia?” Winston asked.  And for a moment he saw a shadow of confusion cross O’Brien’s eyes.  “It’s not important.  That’s how to answer the idea of individual freedom.  It’s like Somalia.  And Somalia is not Utopia. Utopia is perfect and it’s forever. Make that the starting-point of your thoughts.’

The faint, mad gleam of enthusiasm had come back into O’Brien’s face. He knew in advance what O’Brien would say. That the enlightened ones did not seek power for their own ends, but only for the good of the majority. That it sought power because men in the mass were frail cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves. That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better. That the enlightened ones was the eternal guardian of the weak, a dedicated sect doing evil that good might come, sacrificing its own happiness to that of others. The terrible thing, thought Winston, the terrible thing was that when O’Brien said this he would believe it.

You could see it in his face. O’Brien knew everything. A thousand times better than Winston he knew what the world was really like, in what degradation the mass of human beings lived and by what lies and barbarities the enlightened ones kept them there. He had understood it all, weighed it all, and it made no difference: all was justified by the ultimate purpose. What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?

‘You are ruling over us for our own good,’ he said feebly. ‘You believe that human beings are not fit to govern themselves, and therefore –‘

He started and almost cried out. A pang of pain had shot through his body. O’Brien had pushed the lever of the dial up to thirty-five.

‘That was stupid, Winston, stupid!’ he said. ‘You should know better than to say a thing like that.’

He pulled the lever back and continued:

‘Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. Only the enlightened ones can punish humanity as it deserves to be punished.  Humanity is a cancer upon the Earth, the only species capable of rendering others extinct, the only species that will destroy the planet left to its own devices.

But killing everyone would be wrong, because then someone might get the idea they could kill us and we don’t want to die.  And the instinct to reproduce is so strong, that merely outlawing reproduction wouldn’t work.

Setting a barrier between men and women? Convincing women men are the oppressors?  Convincing women that they are simultaneously fragile and powerful, till they’re crazy?  That works.  Convincing people heterosexuality is somehow abnormal, and sex is just for play, and then ultimately that all sex everywhere is about power and wrong?  That works.  The birthrate is falling, Winston, and soon we will have w orld without people.”  Winston stopped, a mad gleam in his eyes.  “A world without people.”

For a moment Winston ignored the dial. He made a violent effort to raise himself into a sitting position, and merely succeeded in wrenching his body painfully.

‘But how can you control all humans?’ he burst out. ‘Don’t you think here and there, a new colony will start and the species will grow anew.”

O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘Oh, yes,” he said.  “Humans are like cockroaches.  But if we get in their minds and make them believe us, then we have them. You can make them believe anything. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not make you believe. Invisibility, levitation — anything. That despite biological, obvious differences, and other differences in musculature, in brain formation, despite hormones and how they shape everything about a human before he’s even born, we can make humans believe there are no differences between the sexes.  And alternately we can make them believe all males are natural oppressors and must be punished simply for existing, and all women, no matter how powerful or rich are natural victims and must be appeased.  We can make them believe there are no differences, and at the same time that there are six genders, or ten, or twelve, or a hundred, all of them natural from birth.’

“But that’s mad,” Winston shouted.  “Utterly mad.  You can’t make anyone deny the truth of their own eyes, forever.”

He knew the lever would be pulled.


“How many genders does humanity have, Winston?”


The lever was pulled.

“How many?”


The lever was pulled.

“How many?”

“A hundred”

The lever was pulled.

“How many?”

“As many as the enlightened say.”

“That is right, Winston, you are almost well.  And what is PIV.”
“Violation.  Always violation.”

“Can’t a woman consent to sex with a man?”

“There is no true consent, since even in Utopia cis het males are programmed to institute patriarchy.  You must always be vigilant against your own thoughts and your own unconscious privilege, even if you can’t be fully aware of it.  All penetration is violation.  A baby is an invader in a woman’s body.  Utopia is forever and only the enlightened can tell us when we’re wrong. Because the individual is not able to balance the forces of retribution and oppression and greed by himself, or not even within himself. Society is always imbalanced, and there will be oppression till all of humanity is gone, so the enlightened ones must teach us and correct us until that time.”


Winston gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken zeem to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the androgynous, unreadable face. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of zees nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. Zee had won the victory over Zeeself. Zee loved Big Gender Indeterminate Sibling.

A Tsunami Of Bath Sets – A Blast from the past from December 2011

A Tsunami Of Bath Sets – A Blast from the past from December 2011

*As I was re-reading this, it occurred to me that the “tsunami of bath salts” effect is also why ALL command and control economy doesn’t work in the end.  If you can’t give good gifts to your friends, how can you determine what strangers will need much less want?*

I swear this is about publishing, so bear with me.

A quick post, as I slept very badly (for reasons having nothing to do with anything emotional.  Just one of those nights.)

I hate having people give me gifts.  I’ve mentioned this before, right?  Oh, not everyone.  There are exceptions.  My husband, for instance, is one of those supernaturally good gift-givers.  His gifts to me have ranged from a little glass owl to two pounds of cold cuts, and in each case they were exactly what I wanted.

On the other hand, the man has an ace in the hole – he can always give me a red rose and I melt.  So… hard to go wrong.

There have been other superb gifts throughout my life, but most gifts fall in the category of the ones this guy blames on (and might be) Aspergers.  Even when people know me – I think – relatively well, I find myself looking at something that , at best, I wouldn’t have looked at twice in the store, and feeling like I failed a test.  Why feeling like I failed a test?  Because… what did I do or say to give them the impression that I…  Etc.  When people don’t know me it can be worse.

I’ve found, for instance, that people latch onto something about me – not just in gift giving – and they seem to think that’s all of me.  Like, conferences STILL put me (sometimes exclusively) on the “Shakespeare panels” or create them just for me, because they think it will please me.  Do I like Shakespeare?  Sure.  It was one of my favorite things in college.  To be honest, though, partly it was to escape reading the more modern stuff.  Also, the study of his biography is fascinating.  But I also enjoyed Jane Austen, I love Dumas and I did my master thesis on Flannery O’Connor.  None of which, btw, compares to my obsessions with Heinlein, Simak, Pratchett, or even Rex Stout, Christie or Ellis Peters (And we won’t mention the Lord Meren series which I wish the author would self-publish and finish.)  So, you know, it’s not like Shakespeare is the all consuming light of my days.  And as for my trilogy on Shakespeare, well, it was in another publishing “country” and besides the series is dead.  I might go back to it, but it’s about as relevant to my work life as Dumas and arguably less so than Heinlein.

So, you see why I have issues with receiving gifts?  Not that I’m any better at giving them.  Gifts I give fall into three categories: the gifts I KNOW the person needs.  This is usually only my closest friends and relatives.  Like, say, I know one of the kids needs new slippers.  Then there’s the gifts I think people will like.  Again, I’m only good at these if I know you REALLY well.  Like, we’ve been friends for years with someone and know that this particular sparkly or that particular statuette is just right, or perhaps JUST ties in with something they’re writing.  Or I know the type of chocolate they love.  That sort of thing.  Of course, it also helps if the person has a prominent hobby-interest that consumes their free time.  Like knitting, or cooking or something.  A lot of people do, but writers and my family tend to be more eclectic.  After that there are “broad category gifts.”  These work best for kids.  If you buy a set of blocks, chances are a two year old will find a way to play with them.  But after adolescence it becomes iffy.

I’ve never fallen into the “give someone something you want.”  Well, not since I was ten and gave my brother the complete book of dinosaurs because that’s what I wanted.  (He’s ten years older and was in college, in engineering.)

I’ve always assumed these gift dysfunctions, both giving and receiving, were peculiar to me, however, studies show that in fact, about 80% of gifts people receive fall into that “OMG, what am I going to do with this?” category.  I think this is why there’s this rise of near-generic gift sets: bath sets with nice-smelling soap and cute towels.  Or coffee sets, with mugs and a couple of generic-brews and biscoitti.  That sort of thing.  (And I shudder to think how many times the non-food ones [one hopes] change hands before finding someone who really, really wanted them.)

Which brings us to the publishing industry.  I TOLD you we’d get there.

I will grant you that I’m not the best informed on the history of the business workings of our field.  However, from reading biographies about the pulp days, it seems to me there were various niches.  People who liked a certain kind of horror tended to read the output of a certain publisher, say.  Same for sf and f.  The closest we have to that is Analog, which could be called “science fiction for geeks.”  (Guilty as charged.)  And Baen which could be called “We’re okay with character, we like science/history accurate, but no plot no sale.”  And that’s fine, too.

But both Baen and Analog have had fairly clear personal directions and hand-offs, while the rest of the field has been a fest of mergers, short-lived under editors (short lived in position, mind, not saying anything about lifespan) and such.

And the selections of the other editorial houses has been much like the result of getting gifts from strangers.  I mean, most publishers these days have under-readers who are (beyond overworked and stressed) not of the field.  They might have edited romance last week, they’re editing sf/f today. Most of them have never been to a con.  They don’t know us.  And then, it’s not just editors.  In the major conglomerates these days, you can’t buy a book without “buy in” from the sales persons.  And then after that, the sales people/distributors decide what they’ll push.  To the extent that bookstores still get any say, they decide what to unpack or not.  And most of the time, these people are not of us.

This seems particularly important for sf/f, but mind you, mystery readers have their quirks too.  Romance is more of a broad church and might be easier to serve, or at least it has well known niches, which is kind of like a giftee having a hobby.

So, the kind of books that keep getting “push” and which used to be hits just by virtue of distribution – since both publishing and bookstores became conglomerates – were:

1 – the generic – i.e.  “Spaceships/dragons, decent grammar.  Those sf geeks will love it.”

2 – the repetitive – i.e. “It’s just like that Rowling chick we published last year and they loved that.”

3- catering to hobbies – i.e. “Well, I know tons of people like knitting.  Let’s do knitting mysteries.”

4 – catering to fads – “there’s that series on TV about chicks, sex and shoes, let’s do all our mysteries about chicks, sex and shoes.”

5 – catering to general categories “this book will appeal to all the sexually frustrated middle aged housewives.”

6 – and finally “what I would like to read” – which works great, if you are a graduate from an Ivy League school about twenty five years old and interested in impressing people with how high brow you are.  For the rest of us?  Not so much.

And this is my answer to the “tsunami of crap” – crap by whose definition?  Why do you think what’s crap to you is crap to other people?  I tell you kids, reading romance has been an education and no, I’m not being snarky.  More romance is competently written than sf or mystery, I hate to tell you.  But because I’m a stranger to the field, I’ll pick a lot by the stuff that says on the covers.  Like “Bestselling author.”  And, OMG.  Some of those books don’t rise to the level of “crap” to me, just on the historical errors.  (Yes, I have a very specialized form of insanity.  Why do you ask?)  BUT they’re mega bestsellers, whose numbers would make an sf/f writer faint.

So… qui flusheth the crap?  Who decides?  WHY would you want someone to decide for you?  Look, given my obsession with dinosaurs, give me a book on sentient dinosaurs, and I’ll forgive a multitude of sins.  Are there enough of me for someone to make a living off it?  Probably.  Enough for a major house to make a profit when they have to print, distribute the book and MORE IMPORTANTLY convince the bookstores to carry the books?  Probably not.

It might interest you to know that the same study on how inefficient people buying gifts for others were, also discovered that people buying for themselves were nearly 100% efficient.  So, now that technology allows us to buy for ourselves, why shouldn’t we?  And why shouldn’t we write/publish what we want to?  Yeah, okay, that falls under giving people the gift you want.  But look, you’re not that unique and you’re facing a VERY LARGE potential pool of book readers.  (If I had a thousand brothers, say, and I gave each one the book on Dinos, it’s guaranteed that a few – maybe even a hundred – would have loved it.)  You’re NOT that unique.  So write for the people you know best – those a lot like yourself.  And chances are you’ll be rewarded.  Doubly, because you’ll be writing for enough people to make you rich, and because you’ll write what you want to.

And please don’t come back and say “but what about the books written in crayon and drool?”  What, you think that doesn’t get published now?  I remember a bestseller in the eighties that was bought even though it came to the publisher written in crayon on wrapping paper, and yes, I read it, there must have been drool on the edges, and probably obscene drawings.  Publisher thought it was “refreshing.”

There is no OBJECTIVE standard for what’s crap in literature.  If you think there is, you bought what they sold you in lit classes.  And it wasn’t worth what you paid for it.

The standard for good is “what sells” in ANY form of entertainment.  Might not be to your taste, but clearly it entertains other people.  So, what business is it of yours.

And as for the famed tsunami, having experienced “Mega bookstore and not a book to buy” many, many times, I tell you “I’ve seen the tsunami, and it’s traditionally published.”  Doubtless it will be indie published, too, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’ll just hie my way among it, picking up from the muck those things that are diamonds to me.  Now, you shut up and do likewise.

Raising the Power

I am not pagan, though I have friends that are, and though there was a strain of belief in the village which, without having anything even vaguely to do with American/New Age/Paganism, was not… precisely Christian. Or anything much else.  Call it “using natural forces that science hasn’t yet identified” and be done with it.  It exists in every rural community.  Communities close to the land that have no room for frills spend an unusual amount of time on manipulating these “forces.”  Perhaps they are forces of the collective subconscious as things like “the Secret” claim.

At any rate, this is not to talk of religion, even unusual ones.

It is to talk of raising the power.  Raising the power (Yes, I’ve watched pagan ceremonies.  I watch a lot of things) is a fascinating concept, and it’s probably all headology, but one does feel something while watching it.

Again, I’m not pagan.  I don’t propose to raise the power from the four corners of the world, or whatever.  I also sometimes drive my pagan friends nuts by pointing out historical truths about some of the names they invoke (or heaven help us, call their children) and say “not near me.  It might be all superstition and imagination, but history has a power, and not near me.”  Having to explain to a friend that sacrifices to Tanit were NOT a Roman invention was kind of interesting.  Everywhere the Carthaginians went there’s Topeths.  And hundreds of little skeletons in clay jars.  If those were only burials of malformed/premature children, the Carthaginians must have had a hell of a child mortality rate, unheard of in the rest of the world.  And I am not a very good person (or at least very nice.  I DO try to be good.  With mixed success) but one thing I know and that’s that dead babies are an evil thing.  Sort of the touchstone of my morality, such as it is, is that “You shall not hurt the helpless, the trusting, or those who have reason to expect good from you.”

Anyway, I don’t play with things I don’t fully understand, which is the same principle that leads my poor husband to be responsible for electrical and plumbing.  I’ll do painting and carpentry because I GET those, but not electricity or plumbing.

But again, I like the concept of “Raising the power.”

So many of you, not just here, come and say something like “I’m trying to fight, I am, but I’m so tired.  I’m just so tired.”  And I get you, because I’m so tired too.  Tired of politics, tired of the career that often seems like running on ice, tired of a million daily contretemps and problems.

To continue focusing on the difficulties, the problems, the areas that don’t make you happy, doesn’t help.  It just drains you more, till you become angry and bitter.  Trust me, I know.

Twenty years ago I was dying in a hospital bed.  No, it wasn’t some woo woo stuff.  It was pneumonia, but being intracellular pneumonia it took a while to diagnose and if my blood ox hadn’t been too low to read the hospital would have told me it was all in my head and sent me home.

However, everyone who was anyone told me I was going to die.  (Except my husband who said “the hell you are.”  And that’s why I’m here, because he wouldn’t give up, even when I had.)

At that moment, clearly, I found what my “center of power” was.

I was back then still unpublished.  We had a house I was trying to fix/improve (as, when aren’t I?) and the boys were toddlers, and I had no help, let alone being eaten alive by stuff like clothes and shoes.  Life was a continuous round of work, interrupted by the occasional rejection.

But in that hospital bed, I realized what I really missed.  I missed going out garage-saling and thriftshopping with the three guys (my husband and sons.)  I missed the cats.  And I felt guilt and terrified that all my worlds I’d never written or never written well enough to be accepted were going to die with me.  (My very first world still waits writing.  I now know how to do it, but I need to clear the decks a little, first.  It would be amusing if that is the one that hits, particularly since it’s weirder than any world has a right to be. And definitely ah– Post binary.  Suffice to say it was my answer to The Left Hand of Darkness.  Then it went crazier.)

And in that moment I found my power.  I was going to live so there would be more of those moments with the guys.  I was going to live so I could write, and write well enough to be published.  (I wrote Darkship Thieves four years later.  Yes, I do know when it came out.  There are other, publishable novels I wrote in between that just need my going over and editing.  Some I’d forgotten I wrote.)

My raising of power is almost always from my family — I’m soppy that way — and there are particular jewels I keep and bring out and relive fondly.  Like the labor day when #2 son was three, and we discovered Lakeside.  (For those of you not in Denver, Lakeside is a rather decrepit amusement park with an art noveau design, and a lot of outdated, still running pretty well rides.  And a wooden rollercoaster.) Since I hate heights and falling, amusement parks are a bad idea for me.  Except the door price at Lakeside is very low (I think it was free, but parking was $5) and you pay per ride.  So Dan and the kids could sample everything from the wooden rollercoaster to the bumper boats, and I could walk around reading one of the mystery books I’d bought the day before at Murder By The Book, and then take the train ride around the park at the end.  That first time there, we left the park at ten, as they were starting to turn off the lights, and went in search of a place to have dinner.  The little one fell asleep against me, his head heavy and warm, as kids’ heads are.  And we ended up finding PF Chang’s at the top of a high rise (everything else was closed) and eating there, looking at Denver lights.  We lied to Marshall, too, and told him the duck was chicken, because he only ate chicken at the time.

I can close my eyes and bring it all back.  And I feel better.  If everything crashed tomorrow, I’d have had that one perfect weekend.

There are others, usually fleeting.  My favorite is when I was very depressed and, out of nowhere, Dan said “I’m not going to work today” (we’re terrible people.  We work on weekends) and took me off to City Park at sunset.  We made three circuits of the park and harassed the ducks.  And then we went out to eat — I THINK — at Ted’s Montana Grill, which has a little fountain outside, which we watched while we ate.  (Well, Dan might have been watching the scantily clad girls walk by.  It’s all good.)

Almost as good was the time two years ago, when older son was working near-full-time and odd hours and I was trying to rebuild a house, write (which was difficult as thyroid issues only allowed me to think of three words at a time) and make some sort of life in a space cramped with boxes. I don’t remember why but we had to go to the mailbox (which we had the foresight to get in Denver even though at the time we lived in the Springs.)  Must have been a contract or check I was expecting.  So we drove to the mailbox, and since it was an hour and a half away, while we were there (after getting whatever it was) we decided to go to the zoo.  It was pouring rain, so we stopped at a walgreens and got umbrellas, and then we walked around the cold, rainy zoo, talking, having the zoo all to ourselves.  Afterwards it was too late to drive home (we’d have hit right at rush hour) so we went to Pete’s kitchen and watched the rain stipple the windows while we had coffee and (against our diet, very much, but we only do this once every few months at most) we split a baklava.

Or there’s the time when we were so broke that Dan could only afford one gift for me for Christmas, and that was a little blown-glass owl, which still sits in my office, because it reminds me of how much trouble he went through to get it (having to drive to Manitou during work hours, while working unusually long hours) and how much thought he put into it.

If we let despair and turmoil overcome us, we deny that these good moments can happen, that there is beauty and happiness in the future.

Or we can think of and meditate on our “happy places” and our “centers of power” and raise the strength to dive back into the muck.

Once more into the breach, my friends, but let us keep in mind those things that make life worth living.

It’s all very well to pledge your life, your wealth, your sacred honor, but life must be worth living to be worth sacrificing.

Remember that.  Raise the power.  And fight on.



In case it hasn’t been blindingly obvious — stop shouting, guys — I’ve been a little out of sorts.  Part of it is that we’re in a time of great change.  No, I don’t mean politically, but that too.

I’m finally getting my thyroid issues treated, (though I need to schedule a check-up blood test) and I have a desk treadmill, both of which by and large make me feel 20 years younger.  Unfortunately there are things making me feel twenty years older.  Such as… younger son moved out this weekend.

Now, we still have older son on the property, but he has his own area, where he can live without coming upstairs but once or twice a week.  So suddenly I find myself an empty nester.

I was never one of those mommies.  You know exactly what I mean.  When they were toddlers, and I was looking forward to their entering school (yes, yes, I should have homeschooled.  Hindsight is 20-20) I was talking to a bunch of other moms and the consensus was “oh, when they go to school you’ll miss these days.  You won’t know what to do with yourself.”

I was doubtful on the accuracy of this, and in fact it wasn’t accurate at all.  When the kids were at school I wrote.  That’s what I did.  I never had any problems figuring out “what to do with myself.”

So why does the move out, and being alone with my husband (whom I happen to like, as well as love) freak me out?  Why does it feel so weird?

I think I figured it.  It’s not even the reorientation of our priorities.  We’re still partly financially responsible for each boy and will be for two more years, and they are, of course, our priority till they’re wholly self sufficient.

No, it’s the images in the head of what each life stage should be like.  When and where I grew up, when the kids left, you were done.  You had done your job.  Retirement was around the corner, and then you slowly dwindled into irrelevance while life went on without you, with nothing more to look forward to than visits from the grandkids.

Obviously this has changed in the last fifty years.  It was always different for some people anyway.  There were always exceptional people who started their career/interest in their fifties or sixties or even, occasionally, seventies.

But when and where I grew up sixties was “old” and seventies was very old and eighties was unheard of.

My parents are in their eighties and have broken the mold to an extent.  I know what they did when the last kid (me) left the house.  They went traveling.

I don’t particularly want to go traveling and besides, I think that was part of the assumption they were old and counted for nothing.  They were going to travel before they died.  They’re still around, and dad is keeping up on his reading and walking, but I don’t think my old age will be like their old age.

Part of what is changing everything — some for the better, some not — is that the entire concept of life milestones is changing.  First is the longevity thing.  We now can live to our nineties, or can count on it, barring the obviously unforeseeable stuff (I’ve lost friends in their fifties.)  Expectation CAN extend to the nineties without straining credulity, and if you’re lucky, you can get to a hundred.  It’s not only not unheard of, older son while working at the hospital saw a lot of centenarians.

That’s an almost doubling of the “reasonable expectation” of life for people when I was a kid.  And before you say “but most of that is useless old age” … well, my dad complains (who doesn’t) and he’s not walking as fast as he was, but if I didn’t know his age I’d rate him as early seventies or, in village terms when I was little, sixties.

And yes, I too saw the article saying we can’t get past 114 because of errors in copying.  (Rolls eyes.)  This sort of assumes our gene-science never gets better.

The point I’m trying to make is that I have shoved the last kid out the door (not true, he skipped out) and I have an expectation of maybe forty years more, maybe more, because, well, look at how things changed in the last 50.

That is a lifetime.  Careers lasting 20 years are full careers. Thirty, definitely.

It’s no time to dwindle, no matter what my subconscious says.  But I have no models for what it is a time for.  And humans are social animals.  We live and die by models of what to do.

Hence I’ve been a little out of sorts.  I’m trying to get over it, honest, because I have books to write, and there is no reason to be moping around waiting for grandchildren that might or might not happen (except for the adopted ones, who live too far away.)  And certainly no one in my generation is seeing one red cent from social security, so we’ll have to work those next forty years, anyway.

But it’s all new.  There is no guiding experience of previous generations, no model for this stage of life (we’ll call it “second maturity” shall we?)

Maybe I’ll start wearing a bun and dress all in black, to assuage the instinct, while I go about finally getting my career off the ground (almost impossible with offspring in the house.)

But I — and a lot of people who find there is no “model” for their stage of life — am going to be a little out of step, a little out of sorts.  It’s almost like a second adolescence.

Bear with me.  And advantage of being older is that I do know this too shall pass.


A Uniform Front

I am in many ways a terrible person.  Or I am to anyone in authority over me, trying to give me a story without making it a detailed explanation.

Say I am told that books just aren’t selling because people don’t read.  I go “But I am someone who JUST reads for fun.  No games, no tv, no movies.  And most of the time I go to Barnes and Noble and can’t find anything I WANT to read.  For years all I bought there were stuff like The Times Table of History” and it wasn’t for lack of WANTING to read, it was because of not finding anything remotely readable for my tastes.  (If I want to be preached at, I go to church.)

I’m that kind of horrible person, I ask questions.

Which is why I found it somewhere near ROFL funny when that creature dropped by yesterday — you remember, the one who asked us if we were not free in some way (rolls eyes) which not only betrays a lack of understanding of what I was saying, but also a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of liberty — and I went to her blog to check out whether she was just an idiot or malicious.  (I do in general check out drop ins I’ve never seen before, if their first comment is unreservedly positive or negative. Because, see above.)

The answer would seem to be yes.  But the really funny part was the reason she was so upset at the “puppies.”  (Notice no difference between sad and rabbids) whom she represented as being “right wingers” upset at “no right wingers winning awards in science fiction.”  Hence, the “Yes” since darling idiot seemed unaware the sad puppies nominated among others an outright (and proud) socialist.  It’s always astonishing to me that people can have so little curiosity they don’t check the story.  Also among the organizers, I wouldn’t qualify myself as a right winger, not by European classifications which is what the left uses.  I mean the last time I heard the phrase “Gentlemen, your swastikas” was while watching the Producers.  I’m a Rational Anarchist, who has tried really hard to vote Libertarian and ends up voting Republican half the time, with a clothes pin on my nose, only because I have family in Venezuela and I don’t believe in socialist paradises.  I suppose darling idiot thinks everything not communist is “right winger.” Sometimes I wonder we managed to teach them to write.  Maybe she’s using text to speech software.  There’s a hope.

But the reason she was REALLY mad at us is that now Science Fiction no longer presented a “united front” towards the world.

And there I stopped, scratched my head and REALLY wondered how she managed to read and write.

Look, I know it’s customary to ask “what are they teaching the kids these days?” BUT REALLY I ask you WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING THE KIDS THESE DAYS?

Do they teach people that “uniform front” or “community of one accord” or whatever the hell they call it are normal for any group of more than three people?  And if so WHY?

Everytime I hear that anyone won by unanimous vote, even if it’s in a small organization, I know for a fact either it’s a job no one wants, or there have been shenanigans.

Humans are otherwise so constituted that there are always a few of me among them. And far worse than me.  In a run off between the Messiah and Beelzebub there would be three or four custard heads who voted for Beelzebub in the firm belief he was misunderstood or maligned.  In anything less clear cut than that you’re going to see far more dissension.

And when you’re talking about a community of creative people who can’t otherwise agree on anything, up to and including whether pants should be worn on butt or head, if you see a united front, you know there’s shenanigans.

I.e. I always marveled at all those people who said things like “there are no right wing writers, because right wingers just go along with the status quo and aren’t very creative.”

This betrayed that a) they were living circa the beginning of the 20th century when anything vaguely considered right wing was “the status quo.” b) they’d failed to notice the socialists had run away with the train around 1920 or so, and were now the status quo in every large institution and company.  c) were under the impression it took marvelous creativity to write the 14th Harry Potter knock off, which was in fact most of what was being produced at that time. d) thought it was possible for creativity to follow a rigid set of ideological beliefs.

It seems stupid but I spent a large part of the 00s arguing with people that this was blazingly, in your face dumb.

It was also gospel for all the big publishing houses.  To check if someone was a good writer, you made sure they mouthed the right beliefs.

Which explains why I went to Barnes and Noble to be disappointed.

Thank heavens for indie, people know it’s not like that.

And in the same vein thank heavens for the Puppy movements, because now people know we’re real, living, breathing people and not Marxist robots.  They might be tempted to look over a science fiction book now and then, and might even buy one and then another, and another.

Now, if only we could get the incipient little totalitarians to understand that it’s possible to have more than one opinion about things, that total unanimity is not a sign you’re right but a sign you’re afraid (or voiceless), and that dissent is not some kind of crime in other more important areas, like national politics.

Perhaps then they might be fit to live in (or even conceive of) a free society.


A Fall of Books – By Free Range Oyster

A Fall of Books – By Free Range Oyster

*And a Sunday challenge from me.  Write the first two paragraphs of a story where the main character is a beggar, the setting is modern and the problem is distraction. – SAH*
A peaceful and joyful Sunday to you all. Let’s start off the new week with a mess of books, shall we? There’s no shortage this week, and we’ve a nice mix of styles to boot. Leaves are falling (in this hemisphere) and books are blooming. As always, future promo post entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Overstimulated, underremunerated, medium rare, and half price on Thursdays

Jason Anspach

’til Death

Rockwell Return Files Book 1

Sam Rockwell is a fledgling private investigator specializing in Returns, or, recently deceased ghosts with unfinished business. After his no-nonsense father is murdered and comes back, Sam takes the case hoping for a big break and a chance to win the heart of his Girl Friday.

Short on experience and long on the swagger of the dog-eared pulp fiction he keeps in his desk, Rockwell sets out to find his father’s killer only to find himself caught up in a deadly game of Cold War Intrigue at its most horrific as the Doomsday Clock inches closer to permanent midnight in this witty throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood noire.

On sale for 99¢

’til Death: Second Impressions

Rockwell Return Files Book 2

Wisecracking Private Detective Sam Rockwell is running for his life, but that doesn’t keep him from taking the case of a Return who’s slipped past Heaven’s radar and overstayed his time on earth. Together with his fiancé, Amelia, Sam brawls and dances his way through San Francisco to unravel a zany mystery where nothing is what it seems at first blush.

The laughs and silver screen thrills of Jason Anspach’s signature 1950s Cold War tale of Hollywood noire are back in this madcap sequel as Sam and Amelia return once again to right wrongs, solve crimes, send the dead off to their proper eternity, and maybe, set a date for their wedding! The Maltese Falcon meets It’s a Mad Mad Mad world in this smart and witty paranormal romp.

On sale for 99¢

’til Death: The Man Who Balked

Rockwell Return Files Book 3

A pennant is on the line and a life hangs in the balance!

When local baseball player Junior Jones receives death threats over the color of his skin, the team’s wealthy owner hires Sam Rockwell to solve the case and stop a murder before it happens. Sam goes undercover as a minor league pitcher to strike out the culprit. Follow the clues along with Sam’s curmudgeonly ghost of a father Frank Rockwell, and Sam’s wife Amelia, who holds a secret that will forever change the lives of the entire Rockwell family.

It’s another laugh-filled, madcap mystery in the warm, witty 1950’s hollywood style of author Jason Anspach.

Currently available for preorder

William Lehman

Keeping The Faith

John Fisher Chronicles Book 2

It was supposed to be a simple poaching case. A “easy way to get back on the horse, after your injuries”. Oh yeah, it involves lycanthropes, but, that shouldn’t be a problem. The trouble is, NOTHING is ever simple when John Fisher, Federal Park police, and retired Navy SEAL is assigned to the case… When they found the dead Marine, that’s when things really went south. John and his partner have to solve poaching, the murder of an active duty Marine Lycanthrope, and several other crimes, but it seems the Government isn’t exactly happy to help.

C.J. Carella

Advance to Contact

Warp Marine Corps Book 3

(WARNING: Contains violence, strong language and adult content)

As war rages on across the galaxy, a diplomatic mission turns into a desperate fight for survival.

Captain Peter Fromm: Fromm and his Warp Marines face old enemies and new threats inside a colossal space habitat ruled by a mysterious alien civilization. Their lives and the fate of their country hang in the balance.

Heather McClintock: The CIA operative faces her toughest opponents yet: a race of decadent immortals with godlike powers and murderous urges. Her only weapon is an untried new technology with lethal side effects.

Major Lisbeth Zhang: The fighter pilot risks her very soul when she makes contact with entities from the depths of warp space. Her choices may lead humanity towards a golden age – or eternal damnation.

Corporal Russell Edison: Russell just wanted to travel across the galaxy, meet exotic aliens, and shoot them. These new ETs want to play with Charlie Company, and they are about to find out that Marines only play to win.

Release Sale: Advance to Contact will be on sale for $2.99 until October 18, when its price will go up to $4.99

John Van Stry

Past Tense

Days of Future Past, Part I

Paul’s been having a bad day, perhaps one of the worse days he’s ever had. And now into the middle of all this, his instructor just got drafted by some mystical goddess to help save a world.

As for Paul? Well, he’s really not supposed to be there, and if he thought he was having a bad day before all of this, it just got worse, a lot worse. He’s now on a one way trip, forced to help a man who despises him while at the mercy of the world’s biggest trickster.

J.M. Ney-Grimm

A Knot of Trolls

North-lands spellcasters who reach too boldly for power transform into trolls – grotesque villains wielding a potent magic and destined for madness.

Spanning the North-lands history, from ancient times to the pastoral present, A Knot of Trolls features seven such evildoers. Seven trolls and the ordinary youths called by chance or by destiny to take a stand.

“The Troll’s Belt” stars motherless Brys Arnsson, challenged as much by his own deceit as by his troll foe. “Crossing the Naiad” presents shepherd girl Kimmer with a dangerous tragedy from the distant past.

“Skies of Navarys” follows two friends with a vehement difference, their contested decision to decide the fate of thousands. In “Resonant Bronze” Paitra and his brother struggle to claim appropriate guilt – neither too much nor too little – and thereby defeat a troll warlord.

“Rainbow’s Lodestone” offers the spirit of the rainbow a chance to learn that the smallest places birth freedom. “Star-drake” stalks a pitiless troll-herald to defeat – or is it victory? – utterly unforeseen.

And in “Perilous Chance” young Clary needs a miracle. But her miracle – when it comes – sports razor-sharp talons, world-shaking power, and a troll-witch to guard its sleep.

Seven tales of magic balance death and destruction against destiny and hope.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Dwight R. Decker

Some Other Shore

From Mermaid-Land to Poughkeepsie…

Daft professors and their put-upon students roam this world and others in these six stories, training the all-seeing eye of Science on history’s stranger mysteries and legends, and answering questions no one ever thought to ask before…

Are Gingerbread House-Building Witches really apex predators following instinctive behavior patterns something like trapdoor spiders?

When a UFO contactee cult builds a landing field for flying saucers, will anybody show up?

Is it possible to bring a dead king back to life when he probably never existed in the first place?

Was the next step in human evolution something we never even suspected – and we’ve already missed the bus?

Those intrepid if somewhat queasy investigators bring a much-needed reality check to fantasy… but sometimes fantasy bites back!

Jeb Kinnison

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

Human Resources (HR) departments are widely disliked, and job searchers are generally advised to contact the hiring manager directly if they really want to be considered for a job. There are good reasons why HR acts like an arm of the government bureaucrats pressuring companies to hire more protected minorities and women—because that’s what they are, in many companies.

There are many people working hard in HR to promote the interests of their organization, but their efforts are often blunted by the prevailing HR culture that values buzzwords and feel-good social goals more than productivity and excellence.

This book may make you angry, but it will show you how you can fight back by resisting HR and its policies.

The Greater Drives Out The Lesser

Pat Patterson, aka Papa Pat, wrote a blog recently about how the greater drives out the lesser. You think you’re having the worst day in the world till you get that phone call and you find your best friend has cancer, as my husband did some years ago.  And suddenly all the petty stuff at the office, or the household repairs are … just petty stuff, and you don’t even remember them.

Nothing bad happened, but yesterday I spent the day in a hospital waiting room.  And then we heard everything had gone well.  In fact very well.  And then we came home.  And I crashed hard.  So hard that today I barely woke up in time to go collect the two-legged critter from the hospital and make him comfortable back at home.

And then I did a quick clean because well, the house was dirty.  And I only now remembered I hadn’t blogged.  I’m sorry.

Family took over for a while.

I am okay and everyone here is okay.