The Message And The Story – An Explosive Tale

Sorry this is late. I’m now on that stage of rewrite/revision in Through Fire where I don’t fully sleep. Or rather, I sleep to half dreams of wandering around the novel seeing what needs to change. I sleep, but I don’t stop working.

This is actually all good, since the changes I figured out tonight solidify character and strengthen the story, taking away some of the “random happens” bit I didn’t like about the end.

But it means I sleep later, because I keep waking in the middle of the night and going “oh, that.” And “Yeah, that would work better.”

So lately I’ve been thinking – partly through an exchange of emails with a friend – about story and message.

She interpreted my post on “everybody wants to change the world” as calling for just entertainment in stories.

It was and it wasn’t that. It would be the height of hypocrisy for the author of the Darkship series to say there shouldn’t be messages in stories.

But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.

But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along.

And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”

By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.

Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being.

The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.

But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them.

Which is what Heinlein did.

I’m not going to say his other messages failed completely. Red Planet when I got my hands on it, in my late twenties, convinced me of the wrongness of gun control. And If This Goes On still gets me to shiver a little at the idea of populist theocracy.

What I’m saying, though, is that the most effective messages weren’t openly delivered and might not have been consciously delivered.

He changed an entire generation and not just in pushing them towards science and space (which I’m sure was deliberate) but in making them men and women who rationally examine the world and don’t blindly trust government.

Which incidentally is why the feminists, being dependent on people “group thinking” and behaving like widgets hate him and try to steer people away from him. They’re not even sure what causes that effect, but they know they don’t like it.

Now, did he know he was delivering that message? Probably. He was a man of strong principles and ideas of what was morality and what moral behavior meant.

But those weren’t the main theme/messages of his books, and they weren’t openly delivered.

And they’d never – and this is important – have made it to my (or other Heinlein’s Children’s subconscious) if they’d been the whole of the package.

Yeah, I know he gave mini lectures in the middle of his books, but they were done in voice for the character, and they made sense in the book. And they didn’t take over the book to the point of making the characters puppets.

Instead, the mini-lectures, usually wrapped around some practical event or occasion, were an integral part of the character’s personality and learning.

So, they were absorbed because we already liked the characters.

Now, instead, if you subordinate everything to the message and just yell at me from the beginning that this is so, and I should accept it, and break your entire universe to carry water for that macro-message, you’ll never succeed, because people don’t work that way. Particularly if you’re insulting some of them for characteristics they can’t do anything about – like being male, or white for instance – and telling them they’re guilty of crimes they never committed. The book will get closed, unread, and your message will not make it anywhere.

So, your overt attempts to change the world will fail.

It’s like the problem of intercontinental ballistic missiles. I understand even if Iran should build the bomb, it will be pretty hard (though not impossible) to hit us because their delivery methods are not anywhere near there (unless they buy from Russia.)

You can have the bomb but not the missile itself that will deliver the bomb.

So, while I find the bombs of the left weak sauce, being not so much speaking truth to power as power speaking at you in the same voice it has spoken (to me and most of the generations after mine, even in the US) since kindergarten, so that they are at best a wet firecracker, if you don’t deliver them in the compelling medium of a novel, through characters so admirable people want to imitate them, you’re not going to do anything. The bomb is going to explode amid your circle and get you the amen chorus, and that’s it.

But perfect that delivery, and even the incidental payload, the things that road along and you didn’t know, might make a big difference in the life of many people you don’t even know.

So, do we all write to change the world? I don’t know. I suspect not explicitly. Oh, sure, we all put some overt message in our stories: the ones at the center of our being, sometimes.

But mostly I think writers – people who think in narrative – write to make sense of the world. (It’s not the first time I absorb/deal with a major life shock through a series of stories, and I know my husband dealt with his brother’s death through a year of short stories.)

Reality is chaotic and often events seem not to have a cause. We write to unite the raveled threads of cause and effect so they make sense to us.

And we write science fiction to warn or enjoy about how those causes and effects, projected to the future, can change the course of history. This is important, because it makes people more than puppets of events – it gives them the rational power to think through things (at least properly done) and might influence current events (like turning me against gun control.)

But it is the sense we make of the world, the compelling logic of our story that will change things: not the sandwich board, not the soap box, and certainly not running around the world trying to shut down everyone who disagrees with us and ensure the field is an echo of our ideas.

We could do all that, and, without a compelling vision, a compelling logic and an absorbing story it would be for nothing.

People get preached at all the time, from church to commercials. They’ve developed high levels of anti-message immunity.

Which is why messages must come with stories and it must make them follow both the logic and the feelings of the author.

To change the culture and the world.

144 responses to “The Message And The Story – An Explosive Tale

  1. Oh so glad to hear that Through Fire is coming together.

  2. One notes that the exact people who need to learn a lesson are those who reject it most easily. Depict characters that don’t match their stereotypes, and they denounce it as unrealistic.

    • And yet these same people demand that you don’t use stereotypes, except for the ones they are currently looking for. So again, you can’t win without the decoder ring of the day.

      • In their minds your stereotypes are demeaning and their stereotypes are not stereotypes, but truths.

        It takes subtle writing and not polemics, to get around people’s walls. It can and has been done.

        • On of the other reason the SJW crowd dislikes Heinlein is that he often didn’t make obvious the race of the main character thus allowing the reader to fit themself into the role.

          • Laura Montgomery

            Isn’t the main character in Tunnel in the Sky black, but only if you know to look for the clues?

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            • Yeah, that got brought up the other day. Kind of like how Colonel Campbell in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is black, but there’s only about 3 or 4 points in the book where it’s referenced, and only one that is stand-out obvious.

              • What difference does it make if he’s black?

              • It doesn’t. But that’s kind of the point. I mean, for all I know, he could have made Campbell black solely to put in the line, “It’s a good thing my skin’s the same color as yours, or else I’d be called a racist for what I think of you”, to the one guy in the Circle of Orobouros.

                But I really just think Heinlein enjoyed having an occasional character that didn’t have any description turn out to be different, just for the headsnap effect when the reader figured it out.

      • Cultural appropriation anyone? IOW, “Hey Whitey, stay in the spot you’ve been assigned.” Sound familiar?

  3. I had an interesting experience the other day. I have been reading back through some old Heinlein stuff, and I ran across a short story of his, called “They.” The interesting experience was that I had ALSO just read one of Keith Laumer’s stories, called “A Trip to the City,” which is very similar in plot to “They.”

    In both cases, the protagonist believes that most of the people in the world are just “window dressing” to try and fool the protagonist, who is one of the only “real” people in the world. In the Heinlein story, most of the story is taken up with a conversation between the main character and his shrink, who is trying to convince him that he is insane (or at least mentally disturbed) for holding his belief that there is a grand conspiracy out there to fool him. In the Laumer story, the protagonist breaks free of the limited environment they are maintaining for him, and gets a look at the mechanism behind the facade. Being Laumer, he then gets into a running gun-battle with the villains, but after several reverses and close scrapes, he makes his escape, sadder but wiser (ie more paranoid, as always in Laumer’s stuff).

    The thing that struck me the most was that I got pretty tired of all the talk talk talk in the Heinlein story very quickly. The Laumer story kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire time. It isn’t always like that, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” while preachy, does manage to deliver on the story, but even Heinlein sometimes got so wrapped up in the message that the story suffered. Laumer never had that problem. Let that be a lesson to us all.

    David

  4. I generally like reading things that make me think. What I do not like is when I feel like I am being mugged by the messages in my fiction. (Don’t like it much in my non-fiction either.)

    Even light fare can cause you to reflect on how people relate, for example. This is one of the things I enjoy in our esteemed hostesses’s cozy mysteries. (That and I am crazy mad in love with E. 😉 )

  5. Interesting post. I’d say there are three factors with regards to message within fiction – is it overt, hidden, and how sensitive the reader is to the message itself.

    Overt messages work great on children, and those with a childlike disposition. Adults generally find them, grating, annoying, preachy and they get in the way of the story.

    Hidden (covert) messages are great for adults, as most of us are good (to one degree or another) at piecing together the puzzle and going “aaah” once we get it – whether we agree with the message or not.

    Sensitivity is the biggest factor though, and the biggest unknown as every reader is different (IQ, reading ability, education, mental flexibility etc etc). Some messages that the author thinks are hidden stand out like a sore thumb to some readers, while others dont get the message at all. The best hidden messages are those that take multiple readings to tease out, imho.

    Likewise plots, characterisation etc – its all down to the level of complexity.

    • I don’t know. Explicit message annoyed the living life out of me in childhood too.

      • Me too, but Id guess we were both way above what we *should* have been reading for our age group, so it stood out like a sore thumb.

      • Curt Thomson

        Ditto. To the point I was inclined to reject it instinctively, regardless of its worthiness/appeal.

      • Ditto. Which is why “Goofus and Gallant” and all Chick books, as well-intentioned as they were, had no effect on me.

      • Another ditto. Usually it was accompanied by cardboard characters.

    • I think a fourth (or third) factor is how deeply the message is embedded in the plot. If you write a good story, it will have values and themes. They might not truly be visible until the story is nearly complete. They might not have been determined when you sat down to tell the story. Good message stories start with the story, see the story is a good fit for the message, and develop the message as part of the story.

      Bad message fiction starts with the message and develops the story to fit the message. Characters are created as one-dimensional entities to fit the message. Plot holes develop because exploring them too deeply would go contrary to the message. People are said to be good, not because they are heroic, but because they support the message, and those that oppose the message are either cartoonishly bad or tend to be a lot more likable to the reader than the people they are supposed to root for.

      I always joke that ‘my plot sense is tingling’ when I see an obviously telegraphed bit in a story. Bad message fiction brings that out really badly, and it’s at it’s absolute worst when I can see the major plot twists five minutes in based on one one-dimensional character that can only be there because of the message. “There’s a slightly-creepy guy that sells weapons! It’s going to turn out both sides are just misunderstood and the arms dealer is actually running the war for profit! It’s a cliche parable about the military-industrial complex!’

      • Not message fic but it drive me nuts where the characters are just puppets for the plot. And some writers, especially in television, can only write stock characters.

        • The characters had better be puppets of the plot, and know it. If not, there’s a pike with their name on it.

          • They had better be such good puppets that we can’t tell that.

            One notes that one of the commonest errors of message fiction is to push the puppets into something irrelevant to the plot. Advocates of the Bechdel test will actually solemnly ask if having two female characters talking about embroidery will really damage an action/adventure plot with a male main character.

            • Had never heard of the Bechdel test before. But I cut a well-researched scene of starting a fire with a flint, and striker because it did nothing for the plot. All of it was distilled to “She knelt and built a fire.” Doesn’t it really boil down to whether talk of embroidery helps the plot?

              • Honestly, the Bechdel test was meant to be a humorous look at movies, not books. Note that many old-school Hollywood movies pass it easily—think Katherine Hepburn and you’ll get the idea. Obviously, POV matters as well as subject—for instance, two female characters talking about plotting a burglary of a museum would pass Bechdel quite easily as well as fitting in an action/adventure plot.

                • So rather like Schrodinger’s Cat was actually an argument against taking quantum states to excessive levels, but gets used rather in the opposite manner quite often.

              • Lucky you. I have a story with no speaking female parts because I was just so annoyed with one on-line discussion of it.

          • Yeah, but I hate when the characters have to have an idiot ball in order for the plot to progress.

            • Or pass the Idiot Ball around: “Here you go, Mary. It’s your turn to do the next obviously stupid thing!”
              “Thanks Bob!”

              • There’s no such thing as a stupid actions. There is only an action for which motives have been insufficiently delineated.

                Some actions need more delineation of motive than others.

                • Some actions need more delineation of motive than others.

                  Possibly an entire set of encyclopedias…..

                • BobtheRegisterredFool

                  It is really quite simple. I screwed up.

                • Have you seen the commercial that’s a send-up of slasher films? The panicked kids run down their options such as “Let’s hide in the attic.” One girl says “Jet’s jump in to the running car,” but is voted down with “Are you crazy?” So they take refuge behind a curtain made of rusty chainsaws, never seeing the leather-face/Jason heavy behind them. He removes his hockey mask and gives a little shake of his head.

      • The thing is that people are good at reading the message they want into a story. I have read myself a person who interpreted all war movies as having an anti-war message because they would all sometimes involve some war-related unpleasantness.

        • This. I read all three Hunger Games novels and saw the first movie… and thought it was a tale about the horrors of Communist government. Seriously. Religion has been eradicated, guns are exclusively in the hands of the police/military and all economic activity is controlled by the government to the point where District 8 can’t even have a freaking FLEA MARKET.

          Ok, so maybe I had a point, but Sarah Meyers wrote it. She’s a leftist.

    • “Some messages that the author thinks are hidden stand out like a sore thumb to some readers, while others dont get the message at all. ”

      One reason why learning an author’s real views may color your reading of their fiction is that once you’ve been primed to look, you can see their messages quite clearly.

  6. I was pointed at an article yesterday that talks about the background noise of culture in a way that is relevant to this post.Conservatism as Counterculture talks about how a lot of people react reflexively when they have been taught strong associations with certain concepts. It’s an interesting read.

  7. This is actually a problem I’m facing from a reviewer’s POV over on my blog. The book that I’m currently reading (and should be reviewing on Friday, God willing and I get the thing read by then) is very entertaining a third of the way in, but it is EXTREMELY message heavy. The thing is, I’m really enjoying the story but that could be because I enjoy the message. OTOH, the book centers around struggling to deliver the message. OTOH, if my politics were different, there is a very good chance I wouldn’t be enjoying it nearly as much. In other words “The bomb is exploding amid the author’s circle” and I may just be part of the amen chorus.

    The problem for me is that I don’t want to lower the rating of a good book just because the author agrees with my politics. So, I dunno. I’ll have to see what I come up with when I write the review. My ratings are generally created at the end of the review once I’ve worked out all my thoughts about the work.

    • The whole benefit of having a specific person review a book is that you can go off of their world-view.

      I’ve actually written reviews where I said “Actually, I hated this book, but that’s because I can’t stand X style, not because it was bad.” Review it, note that you really liked the POV, and leave it at that. Folks for whom it’s poison will still get some use out of it.

  8. When you cook, do you put together all the things that are strongest in the nutritional value that you need, or do you try to build something that tastes good?
    Food that only tastes good is an alright occasional treat, but will leave you hungry; unless you’ve got a major nutritional lack, you will not eat the stuff that’s just “stuff that is good for you.” (I’ve been that bad once— I was so anemic that I ate an entire tub of the most horrible salsa known to man, and if there’d been any red meat around I probably would’ve been willing to eat it raw.

    And then there’s stuff that tasted good when you ate it, but made you sick– the very smell of that will make you sick before you eat it, next time. *looks at Communism*

    • Preferably, you’ll take the nutritional food and make something tasty of it. For instance, if you think that regular oatmeal is boring, but you do kind of like dried fruit, there’s this wonderful thing called “baked oatmeal” which has all the good stuff plus some, kind of halfway to a cookie.

      I think it’s a huge disservice to our culture that we’ve equated “healthy” with “unlikable.” For thoughts as well as food. The best of both is nourishing AND good.

      • My kids go through phases where they inhale baked oatmeal– a friend shared a recipe that’s as much “egg dish” as “oatmeal dish.”

        My modifications start with “tasting good” and then I use ingredients that have good stuff in them to reach that goal. Sometimes I miss, sometimes it’s very much a matter of taste. (The kids did NOT care for the Crasins version– they prefer an eggy version of the “maple and brown sugar” packets.)

        I think it’s a huge disservice to our culture that we’ve equated “healthy” with “unlikable.” For thoughts as well as food. The best of both is nourishing AND good.

        If you take the most powerful bits of and just shove them together, they are unlikable– stuff that works in a soup is horrible as a salad, although it can be edible if you drench it in the right dressing, so to speak.

        To make healthy stuff good, it takes effort– you’ve got to figure out complements for strengths, and how to avoid conflicts, shore up weaknesses.

        Recipe, for those wondering:
        3 cups dry oatmeal
        1 cup brown sugar
        1 tablespoon cinnamon
        2 teaspoons baking powder
        1 teaspoon salt
        healthy shake of nutmeg or “pie spice” seasoning
        (you can make this up ahead of time and put it in a ziplock)

        1 cup milk
        1/2 cup butter, either melted with the milk or chunked and on top or bottom of the mix
        1 tablespoon vanilla
        4 to 6 eggs

        Random Additions– fruit, nuts, leftover baking chips (although I don’t care for the result, little too sweet for me); if fruit is fresh, use fewer eggs, and I believe you can substitute apple sauce for eggs.

        Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, and resign yourself to it being gone quickly. (unless your kids don’t like cranberry raisins in it)

  9. I’m listening to Door Into Summer these days. One of the mini-lectures is about cats. I’m still trying to unearth the subtext.

  10. I don’t remember the RAH “They”. No doubt I have it somewhere in the basement. Same for Red Planet, just having looked it up on Amazon.
    Messages: What I didn’t like about Star Trek, and why I watched so few episodes. I remember “Brave Eagle, Chief of the Cheyenne” as having a moral at the end. Designing Women, too, though not at first. All In The Family, and Maude. I detest being hit over the head with a moral mallet. Or being fed like with a drip tube throughout.

    • I watched some Star Trek this weekend to honor Nimoy’s passing. I found that although I liked the characters, and certain scenes, the overall episodes (and the movies were just extended episodes) to be a bit silly, and very preachy. But the only ST:TOS episode I saw mentioned the extinction of the American Bison–and it threw me out of the story. I know it looked inevitable in the late 60’s, but obviously it didn’t happen, and made me think of all the other environmental scares that haven’t come to pass.

      • They got totalitarian supermen that looked like Ricardo Montalban.

        We got Dolly the Sheep…..

        • Should we be trying harder?

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          I have it from reliable sources that we’re going to get those soon, only they’ll be called “Good Men”.

        • OTOH, Dolly did inspire a new verse for “Scotland’s Depraved”, so there’s that…..

          TTTO “Scotland the Brave”:

          Bring me some whisky, Mother!
          I’m feeling frisky, Mother!
          Clone me a sheep for I’m lonely tonight!
          And while you’re at it Mother,
          Clone yourself for my brother!
          England’s forever, but Scotland’s depraved!”

          Note: I heard this one from a Scottish programmer from Edinburgh….

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      The funny thing is, back in the beginning, Roddenberry had some very good messages. Perfection is undesirable, paradise is stifling and probably false. Of course, by the time of TNG, humans were bragging about what a perfect paradise they had created.

      Talk about missing your own point.

      • Yes well, by the time TNG rolled around, Roddenberry had spend twenty five years drinking his own ink, and having flocks of adoring fans around him ready to brew some more ink for him whenever he got low.

      • What? He managed to depict perfection on the screen to show it’s undesirability?

  11. I’ve been reading a historical geography/ environmental history book about Britain. It is a good survey, well written, if a “tad” fat. And it only gets preachy ever two or three pages when the author just has to slip in an AGW comment. So I’m reading around the message, but it does take some of the fun out of the book. But if it were fiction I’d have chunked it before finishing the first chapter.

    Yes to writing out problems. The first Rada Ni Drako stories came about because . . . grad school. But I’d been writing about talking airplanes and other things for years before, in order to keep from doing more than contemplating were in Dante’s Inferno I’d put a certain supervisor. (I still have not decided.)

  12. masgramondou

    It seems to me the best “message” fiction derives from the entire worldview of the story. For example, Starship Troopers looks at democracy but – despite the lessons – the real foundation of the message comes from the way he rebuilt society so that only veterans could vote. That limitation of the franchise is the real subversive message and most people who read it totally miss it, until sometime later when they get upset at all the “Low Information Voters”

  13. If you want to instruct me, tell me a story. It isn’t hard. All kinds of people whose politics I disagree with tell me lovely stories. E. Nesbit was a Fabian Socialist. I don’t care. Spider Robison has this weird thing for hive minds, which scare the hell out of ME. I don’t care. J. R. R. Tolkien had apparently bought into the whole “the industrial revolution was the worst thing that ever happened to the common man” nonsense. I. Do. Not. Care.

    Maybe I’ll reject your politics even if I like your story. But if your story bores me, you have no chance whatsoever. My problem with the New York Times isn’t their slant. All newspapers have a slant. My problem with them is that they are boring.

    If you are on the Left, you aren’t fooling anyone. We all know you are a bunch of pinko-commies. So tell us the frickin’ STORY of Communism. Make it attractive to try. Because that’s where you’ve blown it. There used to be great stories of how the Working Man would Rise Up and forge the future. And then you let yourselves get bogged down. And what you offer these days has all the uplift and bounce of a wad of damp paper towels.

    Don’t offer me bullshit about how man is ruining the Earth in the hopes that I will panic and hand over absolute power to you . Tell me how good a future run along the right lines could be. Tell. Me. A. Story.

    Don’t lecture. I’ll pick your arguments apart, and you frankly aren’t very good at arguing.

    Don’t preach, especially when you claim to not be religious.

    And don’t try to scare me to death with statistics unless you can cook up something that will stand up to scrutiny by someone who still has a copy of HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS.

    Tell me a story. Entertain me. Seduce me, dammit. Because at present your diatribes about privilege and oppression remind me strongly of the tired and tiresome Moral Lectures of the Victorian Moralists.

    You know, the ones you despise and mock.

    • My problem with them is that they are boring.

      I think it’s rather that they don’t manage to do their job– a story is to entertain. A news paper is to give news. Instead, they offer false information, and leave out very important details.

      NYT does a better job of telling a story than a lot of books!

      • I have to disagree with you. The “Newspapers are to give news” idea is part of the “an objective media is possible” lie we’ve been sold. Newspapers were always, Always, ALWAYS about spreading a point of view and engaging the reader. Kipling was a newspaperman. So was Twain. So was Damon Runyan. So, for that matter was Harold Ross.

        The NYTimes fails not because their POV is hogwash. Lots of the stuff you can unearth from the old Hearst papers was hogwash. The NYT fails because it is tiresome.

        The New Literature also fails because it is tiresome.

        • No, the idea that “news” means “objective” is the falsehood.

          There’s nothing in the definition that says “objective”:
          news
          [ n(y)o͞oz ]
          NOUN
          noun: news
          newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events:
          “I’ve got some good news for you”
          (the news)
          a broadcast or published report of news:
          “he was back in the news again”
          synonyms: report · announcement · story · account · article · More
          informal (news to)
          information not previously known to someone:
          “this was hardly news to her”
          a person or thing considered interesting enough to be reported in the news:
          “Chanel became the hottest news in fashion”

          The NYT fails because, as I said, they do not deliver news. They make a story, and give false and selective information to support that story.

          Contrast with good online news sources, say Watt’s Up With That, where they give you information and where it came from. Yeah, it’s got a perspective– but it’s not a blindfold, it’s just where they’re standing. That will change what’s in view, but it’s wildly different from editing the information so that it supports what is “supposed” to happen.

          That paper that did Bat Boy was really entertaining, but it still failed as a newspaper because it was telling stories. (It didn’t really pretend to be a newspaper, either, which puts it ahead of the NYT.)

          • That paper that did Bat Boy was really entertaining, but it still failed as a newspaper because it was telling stories. (It didn’t really pretend to be a newspaper, either, which puts it ahead of the NYT.)

            Exactly. The thing that bothers me about the media arm of the left is that it pretends it’s non-partisan. The First Amendment guarantees their right to slant the story however they want to. I happen to believe that they should at least make it obvious that they’re doing so. Whatever happened to the days when you could pick up a newspaper and it would clearly say “Your Republican Daily” on the front. Just put it out there people.

          • I guess my picture of newspapers is skewed by reading Mencken, who was quite up fron about what he called “the manufacture of the news”. The Times isn’t all that much less honest than the papers of Mencken’s day, they just aren’t as GOOD at it. They have so much invested in the narrative they live in that they’re no damn good at selling it to anyone who doesn’t live there too.

            The Hearst papers got that way too, in the late ’60’s. Their audience was mostly unreconstructed Republicans who believed FDR planned Pearl Harbor and sold his soul to Joe Stalin. The John Birch Society was printing more convincing stuff.

            Remember, Newspapers started life as political broadsheets. Any nods toward honesty are usually windowdressing.

            • The Times isn’t all that much less honest than the papers of Mencken’s day, they just aren’t as GOOD at it.

              It’s a lot easier to get caught, these days– but then, it’s also easier to get good information, so being objectively less honest is much worse, morally and market-wise.

              • The way I read accounts of those days, in Mencken’s era, nobody considered smart enough to pour pee out of a boot believed the papers. They read them, and tried to correct for known biases, but they didn’t BELIEVE them.

                And the papers of the early 20th century were one hell of a lot better written than the hack rags we have today.

                • *shrug* I know the ones I’ve seen were pretty straight information, with only the “color” stories falling victim to bad information. My grandmother was a reporter, and contrasting the paper she worked for vs the local paper at my folks’ place– or even the nearest city!– is painful; they screw up names that were spelled out for them. They get dates wrong. They edit letters-to-the-editor to say the opposite of what they actually said.

    • How to Lie With Statistics should be required reading. The copy I saw was as old as my father, so perhaps the examples could use some updating. Even so, it’s probably more entertaining than an overly-preachy message story.

  14. I have a problem in my current WIP. The main character is a good Confucian (12th century Japan), but none of his attitudes make any sense unless people have at least a little grounding in those beliefs (as well as Shinto, Taoism, and Buddhism), so the “message” in my fiction is my main character espousing his views on these 1000 year old asian philosophies (which I hope to hell I have not misinterpreted). It gives a whole new dimension to “story vs message” fiction…

    • If you’re planning for a mass audience you may want to alter that a bit. I get the whole “historical accuracy” thing (believe me, I was once forced to read a thirty page scholarly paper on the inaccuracies of The Last Samurai as part of my degree) but if there isn’t something in there that the common person can identify with it’s not going to sell. Then again, if you’re looking for praise from the critics, it may work for that.

      • What about the character-out-of-his-or-her-element as a “translator?” The character acts as a stand-in for the reader.

    • Why not just put a relevant passage from the appropriate faith at the heading of each chapter? Then let your characters proceed as normal and let it be a moment of discovery for the reader.

  15. “It’s like the problem of intercontinental ballistic missiles. I understand even if Iran should build the bomb, it will be pretty hard (though not impossible) to hit us because their delivery methods are not anywhere near there (unless they buy from Russia.)

    You can have the bomb but not the missile itself that will deliver the bomb.”

    One shipping container, and goodbye Los Angeles, or Houston, or New York, or…

    • Or a short range missile or three in a stack of welded together conex containers, with the top cover hinged and blowout panels at the bottom for launch. Just roll up to just outside where the customs folks are doing their inspections these days (well offshore, by the way, to try and prevent any “sail in and set it off before you dock” attacks), and hit the go button for the glory of (blank).

      Sure, U.S. Naval Air will be there in a short bit to blow you to smithereens, but that will be after the city of your choice is unfortunately glowing debris.

    • The thing is, they could kill a city or three. What they can’t do is kill ENOUGH cities to leave us in such a shambles that we won’t subsequently turn a large part of the Islamic world into a large sheet of faintly glowing glass.

      This is, in fact, what I fear. That the morons currently beating their chests and making faces at us will well and truely piss us off. Because if that happens, by the time we cool off, we will be hip deep in whatever is left of the Middle East, amd well on our way to being a real imperial power.

      On the upside, with the populace in a real rage, the nitwit lefties who insist on holding peace protests will finally get the drubbing they have been begging for, which should be fun to watch.

      • We’ll beat them with their “no blood for oil” signs.

        • I really feel that part of their animus against Bush was the fear that he would dig up all the idiots who had been playing footsie with terrorist orgs for decades and prosecute them for treason. It’s what they would have done in his place, and the thought that he might have more important things on his mind than the fashionable but insignificant treason of the chattering class would not occur to them.

          Get the Nation seriously angry, though, and a wise President might have them jailed just to prevent a number of really messy lynchings. If, for example, that idiot Ward Churchill repeated his nasty crack about “little Eichmans” he might get given the wishbone treatment.

      • “On the upside, with the populace in a real rage, the nitwit lefties who insist on holding peace protests will finally get the drubbing they have been begging for, which should be fun to watch.”

        Oh AMEN!

      • Basically you’ve discovered the 2nd of the Belmont Club’s 3 conjectures
        (http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2003/09/three-conjectures-pew-poll-finds-40-of.html). Effectively you can sucker punch the US once maybe even twice or more, But inevitably the outcome is like sucker punching Cassius Clay (pardon me, Muhammed Ali) in his prime. You’ll get a hit in, you might even do some minimal damage. However you are in for the beating of your life.

        If we can’t stop the more radical parts of islam (and that’s 95%+ of them I fear) from getting nuclear weapons one will probably get used on the US or an ally. Our position has always been clear the use of a WMD of any sort will be met WMD’s of our own. At that point the US president is either going to have to let the US walk towards extinction or act in a fashion against islam that will make Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined look like pikers and dilletantes in the killing business. I suspect even if a president was cowardly enough to not retaliate he/she would soon find themelves removed having been certified as incompetent under the 25th amendment and VP or other in the chain of succession would soon be asking for the football.

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