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2016 – The Show

Chris Chupik first said it about two weeks ago: 2016, bad writing, implausible premises, and why are we even still watching this?

Now, as most of you know, I’m not a big one for TV.  Mostly, if I get captured by a tv show, or two, it means that I was sitting around, spending time with my husband while he watches, and the show was so good, it caught me.

I got caught by 2016 for various reasons.  To begin with I’ve enjoyed some of the predecessor shows.  Even 2001 with its nail-biting climax three quarters of the way through, a sudden shift in focus from what had been discontent and bickering abroad to an external threat… well, I’ll be honest, that season wasn’t enjoyable.  It depressed me so much I acquired a new cat and spent three months in front of the tv, crying.  But I WAS watching.  In 2002 the writers had already lost the plot some.  The appeal to the UN subplot really didn’t appeal, because let’s be honest, the UN is so twentieth century and no one in the twenty first could believe in it as a force for good.  Particularly not when we’ve seen the subplots about sex slavery where UN troops go, about child abuse, about UN secretaries who are both rapacious AND crooked.  So I thought they were trying to return to the plots of a simpler time, but it is the effect of writing that you can’t put humpty dumpty together again.  Once you’ve dirtied a character or subverted a background, you don’t have it back clean and sparkling, unless of course, you engage in one of the endless reboots that comic book franchises do.  And I always thought that was a cheap trick.

Anyway, since then we’ve had our ups and downs with this franchise.  I thought 2012 had jumped the shark with having one of our ambassadors die on 911 and yet the “crooked media” device being used to smooth it over and give the crooked president and his crooked associates yet another term.

But I hadn’t seen anything yet.  In 2016 they take one of the responsible for the 2012 dead-ambassador debacle and run her for president.  This was already stretching my disbelief, as I thought they’d have to use the crooked media to a near-unbelievable point to make it work.

They have.  But to this they have added, to make it plausible this terrible person would win the election in a country of non-crazy people, the ascendancy of a crooked lapdog of government businessman, who is like the worst cliches of the seventies come together as her opponent.

To do this, they used the “crooked media” device to get rid of more promising candidates on both sides.

Now I understand there are contracts to honor, and the crooked ex-secretary of state might have one that said she got to play president later, but really…

One way to make her ascendancy plausible, in addition to giving her the least plausible opponent ever (in fact, many are predicting later in the season, the reveal of a double cross plot, in which her opponent is running SOLELY to handle her the presidency.  As stupid as that plot would be, I regret to say it would be slightly more plausible than the idea that the opponent is playing it straight) is to handicap the opponent.  Make him stumble a couple of times in public.  Give him a secret illness.

The writers seem to be aware of this, but instead of applying it to the opponent, they applied it to this Hillary character, thereby making my disbelief start to scream for mercy.

As though to keep its viewership through sheer horror, the show started killing characters left and right. Let’s say that I think that George RR Martin is moonlight in 2016, with characters dying left and right. As though this weren’t enough, the foreshadowing has been really heavy all along.

I mean, okay, I’m not the greatest person to talk on forecasting, since I like mine so light other people don’t see him.  That’s neither here nor there, though.

This one has been so heavy that we have trouble abroad, an impending massive economic crisis, and “government” that doesn’t do anything about its most show-defined legitimate function: Common defense.

Instead, the “government” in this show blunders around creating trouble, helping enemies and hurting friends, in a way no real life human being or even group of beings, human or alien would do.  It just makes no sense.

It’s too obvious that, alert to flagging viewership, the writers are preparing a big “surprise” (not) global conflict to bring them back in 2017.  Or as another critic put it “It’s obvious we’re watching the period that is labeled in history books ’causes leading up to’ just before the maps get all spikey and arrowey.”

Look, I’m as fond of a war show as the next viewer.  It gives an opportunity to sketch characters larger than life, and to make subplots that resonate with practically everyone.  Also, times being what they are, on likes the idea of problems one can shoot one’s way out of, as opposed to the ones we have to deal with.

But 2016 has run up against a major issue with long running shows trying to create a major “war scenario” — it’s almost impossible to do without someone (to quote one of the worst scripted scenes of a former show) “acting stupidly.”

And the problem with the idea that the character should cause his/her own problems is that you must be careful not to make it too obvious and stupid.  Because if you do, we lose respect for the characters and confidence in the writers, and stop watching.

Which I think is where most of us are right now.  And no, the appearance of random “creepy clowns” unexplained, in various parts of the show, doesn’t make any of this more plausible or interesting.  It just makes me wonder if the writing team is having a nervous breakdown.

As much as I hate reboots, comic style, I think that it’s time for one, if this series of shows is going to be salvageable, and if anyone is going to come back to watch 2017.  Heck, at this point I’d take that most hackneyed of reboot devices “it was all a dream.”

I suspect that the writers will resist this because they think they’re entitled to artistic pride.  Trust me, guys, you don’t have any left.

2016 is just a bad show that needs to be rebooted, if it’s going to save itself.

Creepy Clowns

I’m getting really tired of the creepy clowns.

No, I don’t mean the ones everyone keeps seeing around schools, though that fad interested me enough because it resounds with visions of strange things in times of trouble, like seeing UFOs in the seventies.  In fact I went so far as to look up the sightings, but couldn’t determine if, as when one sees UFOs (or in the olden days fairies) there were the after effects of burning eyes and what seemed to be a mild cold.  Years ago, in a summer of insanity (I’d just given birth) I read everything I could about UFOs and fairies and determined they were similar phen0mena and possibly had some sort of intelligence behind it.

Anyway, none of the accounts of the creepy clowns is detailed enough to mention that stuff, so other than as a sign of our slow national psychosis, I am not interested in them.

I’m not even talking about the two creepy clowns running for president, each more profoundly unserious than the other and each in many ways children in adult bodies.

No, it’s the creepy clowns on Facebook, who are starting to terrify me.

There’s a posse of them running around everywhere telling everyone how we’re doomed, doooooomed, dooooooooooooooomed and the republic is already lost and there’s nothing we can do.

I honestly don’t know if these people were convinced Trumpites (I think so) who have now lost faith in their figurehead, and therefore everyone must be doomy and gloomy with them.  I know some of them were.  The others are probably just general purpose ass clowns.

There is one person I respect who thinks we’re all lost — but on a longer timescale than the assclowns — because of a Marching Morons scenario.  I.e. he thinks we’re paying the least competent to reproduce, while our most successful/competent/responsible people can’t afford kids after all the student loans.

I respect him and like him but I think he’s wrong, even if he’s probably smarter than I.  His perspective is distorted by his job, where he deals with the fast-reproducing dregs of society and also for his failure to see the effects of dependency on human intelligence and ingenuity.  It’s not that those living off the system are the dumbest (some aren’t dumb at all, since the system is a labyrinth to navigate.)  It’s that their natural wit and ability has been turned to sponging off society.  Cut the oppressive “net” around them and quite a few of them will shock you with how smart they are.  Most of those irredeemably dependent and tame will die, in some way or another.

No, differential reproduction doesn’t worry me.  There have been periods like this before and it tends to be a self-correcting problem.

And that’s the ONLY legitimate reason to be worried about our society and our republic in particular.  Yep, the only one.

What about the creepy clowns running for president?

Well, honestly, they’re more a symbol of how much grip the left has lost on our society.  There was a time when they could run a Republican and a Democrat, both fully accepted, both with “deep credentials” and both statist to the core.  No?  If you think Nixon was a champion of liberty, you need your head examined. Ford? Not even.

Nowadays they can’t do that.  And the left was aware of a protest vote of seismic proportions building, and the BEST they could do was push it to the only “republican” likely to lose to Hillary.  The fact that this turned the race into a spectacle worthy of an insane asylum didn’t worry them.  It was their hail Mary pass.

But they should worry, because in vulgar terms, they’ve shot their petard.  However this turns out, this is the last time they could pull this maneuver.  And, given how pressure cookers work, and Hillary’s inability to understand the national mood, they not only will never be able to do it again, but they might have bought themselves the mother of all backlashes.

As for the rest of society, if you think that a love of freedom is at its lowest ebb, you weren’t alive in the sixties and seventies.  And if you think this is the worst election evah, you haven’t read enough history to be aware of FDR, or Woodrow Wilson for that matter.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about.  I’ve never lied to you guys and said that we’re not going to go through a pretty rough period.  We are.  If our different beliefs were divided by geography, we’d already be in a civil war.  As is the idiots on the left, who are convinced if you just shut the valve on the pressure cooker, it will shut up and you can do whatever you want with it, are going to create something very like.  And it’s not even far off.  I thought it was going to erupt over the stand off on the cattle ranch.  And that’s without the left running around trying to fan the flames of a race war they’re sure will finally bring about Marxism.  (Because if you can tan, you’re naturally Marxist, don’t you know.  You’re born with a little hammer and sickle tattoo on your rump.  Those racist idiots who think your skin determines your thought disgust me.)

I told you, and stand by it, that we’re going to go through blood, sweat and tears, and we’re going to see some things we thought were impossible in this country come to pass.  I just think in the end the trend of the technology and the trend of the nation is towards more individual liberty, just like the trend in tech and thought in the early twentieth century was towards mass production and therefore standardization.

I believe in the end we win, they lose, I don’t believe it will be painless or without problems.  The very fact that the left believes history comes with an arrow and they’re “on the winning side” guarantees we’re going through a decade or two or awfulness.  (Which might very well be the rest of my natural life.)

But I do NOT believe all is lost, or that we should abandon the ideals of the republic and sit around telling each other how everything is doom and gloom.  Doooooooooom, I tell you.

The people doing this seem to have drunk the left’ koolaid, and think the arrow of history points away from them.  Which would also explain why so many of these creepy clowns are worried about things like corporations.  (Bad news, guy, the family is a corporation.  Why?  Mostly so that if I drop dead tomorrow, the guys can control my literary estate without a hiccup.  Also so I can be publisher to all of them.)  This corporation is, like all others, run by humans and suffers from the faults of humans.  It’s not an alien lifeform oppressing humans.

At least one of them is also terribly concerned about income inequality, which is Marxist claptrap.  Because free market has inequalities.  The only way to make everyone equal is to make everyone equally poor.

What really bakes my beans is the latest from these assclowns.  When challenged (the last one just informed me our country is terrible, and he’s not proud to be an American and then bristled when we suggested he find some place he can be happy) they bring forth a new and bizarre argument.  I call it Argumentum Ad Enlistorum.  I.e. they will parade before you the fact they did military service, that they served x terms, and tell you that if you didn’t you can’t be/aren’t a real patriot.

This argument would make plenty of sense in Prussia, but it really doesn’t do much in America.  Most of the founding fathers were NOT veterans of any military service.  Nor are we organized as a military dictatorship.

I will say that I have a lot of friends (probably 2/3 of them) who are veterans, and that as a rule I trust veterans more than I trust any other group.

However, I also taught military people.  And I know for an absolute fracking fact that they have their share of idiots, problem children and *ssholes.

What is more, learning to shoot back when shot at, and even giving years of your life to serve the republic does NOT make you an expert in history and political science.  It might, if you served in Heinlein’s military in Starship Troopers, so if that’s the case be sure to inform me, okay?

To use your service to the nation as a way to try to make people believe it’s uniquely horrible is a betrayal of yours and other people’s service and of the nation and of civilians.

Also, it’s liable to get you pointed at and laughed.

When you tell me things like you’re no longer proud to be an American, but resist any thought of going abroad, what you’re telling me is that you know d*mn well that the rest of the world is worse.  So what you’re demanding of your nation is that they be PERFECT to fit your… perfect self?  Really, if you believe that you need meds.

And if you carried your point and convinced everyone everything is doom and gloom and we should sit back crying and wailing, and let the country go totally to h*ll, what would you gain by it?  The ability to say I told you so?  Yeah, I hear that keeps you in advanced medicine and food, when a society collapses.

No, if you’re acting like that you’re just a creepy clown who is too cowardly to put on make up and scare little kids.  You should keep your doom and gloom to yourself, and, perhaps, see a psychiatrist for that depression.

Because the rest of us would continue fighting EVEN IF, like in the beginning of the 20th century, it looked like technology would drag culture away from individualism and freedom.

We’d continue fighting because we know while you’re still fighting there’s still hope, and history doesn’t come with an arrow.

We also know even if we win this, there are no permanent victories.

The price of liberty is to fight for it.  Not just physically, but philosophically, in the culture, in your family, in our schools, and everywhere it can be betrayed.

And those of us who aren’t dead will continue fighting.



Belated Promo by Free Range Oyster And Sunday Vignettes by by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

*Vignettes at the bottom.*

J.M. Ney-Grimm

Devouring Light

Mischievous Mercurio guards the planet Mercury – his sacred charge – with quirky devotion. He loves the oddball chunk of rock, with its illusion of retrograde motion and its out-of-sync orbit and spin.

Almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia bids Mercurio to organize a circus act for Sol’s birthday celebration, the joke’s on him.

While Mercurio wangles his way around the captious refusals of his would-be stilt-walkers and clowns – “No, no, and no!” – the somber guardian of Pluto plots a darker scheme.

With the subtle delight, clever misdirection, and teasing wordplay that Mercurio himself enjoys, J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a tale of steeply rising stakes in a clockwork solar system ruled by the gods of ancient Rome.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Laura Montgomery

Out of the Dell

Waking Late Book 2

On the planet Nwwwlf, in the lost colony of First Landing, the original settlers carved out one sylvan valley, a lone outpost where humans flourish. But their bright hopes and best intentions devolved over centuries into a rude replica of medieval feudalism.

Gilead Tan, who had been held captive for centuries in his sleeping cell, survived treachery and pain to free a small group of sleepers. But he and his friends now face the perils of life outside First Landing’s sanctuary—without their powered armor, their tools and technology, or anything else they need save for a few chickens.

Gilead must establish a safehold for his crew, but the alien environment does not welcome them and petty bickering threatens their meager resources. He hopes that a trace of smoke – spotted above a distant ridge – beckons them to a better place.

It doesn’t.


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



So, as some of you know, I’ve been reading a lot of (mostly regency) romance.  I have kept it to a certain type of formulaic offering, because this is stuff I’m reading in 20 free minutes, between writing chapters.  I also read cozies, but I’ve run out of cozies that balance on the fine edge of “not throwing against the wall” and “Not so riveting I’ll loose hours to finishing the book.”

My favorite regency romance authors are really historical mystery authors, just with the romance hyped a little.  In fact, though the name would be different, so I can’t tell, I’d bet you a lot of them were writing historical mystery when it was decided the genre shouldn’t be published because it wasn’t selling.  As usual the publisher had published a lot of crap under that name, of course, so it wasn’t that historical mystery wasn’t selling, but that there were a lot of them that weren’t.  But this is Traditional Publishing Thinking TM, not to be confused with real thinking of any type.  So a lot of the people who would have written historical mystery went to Romance.  (Which never occurred to me, since at the time I didn’t read it.)

However, I’m trying to be frugal, and the authors I know are still traditional and expensive.  So I’ve been using my KULL free reads.

And I’ve come face first into the REAL problem of indie in this field — weirdly NOT in historical mystery.  My guess is because more regency romances than mysteries sell, anyway, and people are looking for a quick buck, while those who write the historical mysteries are engaged in a labor of love. — which is “OMG, READ A BOOK.”

For those who haven’t read regencies, they are highly codified romances, set about at the time of Pride and Prejudice.  Yes, now they have sex in them, which is beyond absurd (in fact one I read last night with sex made me roll my eyes so much they almost fell out.  It was a very short read though, as I must have flipped past 80% of the book.) BUT the setting is codified.  There are things your characters can and can’t do.  There are places you’ll visit and events that happen.

The Ton, in Regency England was a small set of people who were landed gentry (Or were related to.  Or hoped to be.)  It was, numbers wise, the size of a village.  And like all villages, it had rigid rules.

I’m perfectly willing to give the dog a bite, as you know, even with the best research in the world, you’ll write a line without thinking.  At least it happens to me.  So, when a female character attends a funeral, say, I roll my eyes and carry on.  Or if a character writes and reads in “Parchment” even though paper had been in wide use for centuries, I sort of sigh and carry on.

But the one yesterday — the 20% I actually read — and the one over breakfast (I ended up skimming a lot and not because of sex) had me rolling my eyes so hard they couldn’t focus.

Look, if you want to write a regency, you presumably have read one, or maybe two.  This should be enough.  Though most people who are going to read this, will probably have read dozens.

Which is when I must ask WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

I’ll excuse the author of the “Spicy” romance (that’s what she called it at the end, though unfortunately not in the blurb, or I’d have stayed away.  What I mean is, seriously, if you’re going to put at the end “read more spicy romances by” put that in the beginning.  That way people who aren’t looking to read with one hand will just not get it) because I suspect she only reads the sex scenes in romances.  But the other one is a sweet romance, and good LORD IN HEAVEN, what is wrong with this woman’s head?

Some errors — not an exhaustive list:

“A season in town” meant a season in London, not a season in Dunhaven or whatever the heck the author decided to name the town, so (she thought) the author could get away with not researching London or the real season.

Getting new dresses for young ladies to wear for the season was NOT the most important point of presenting them.  That was just a way of signaling they were rich enough. They’re not suddenly okay, because they got a seamstress to remake their old dresses, if their family is ruined.

A duke doesn’t OPEN HIS OWN HOUSE FOR THE SEASON.  He just doesn’t.  He doesn’t go around removing the holland covers himself.  And he certainly doesn’t clean the house himself.  No, I don’t care how “broke” he is.  If he’s that broke, he’d sell the townhouse.  Labor was CHEAP.  He’d probably bring his housekeeper and butler down with him (and maybe his cook) and set about hiring locals for the hard work.  Also, if he came to town alone, he’d stay at his club, not his town house.

When a duke spends money on his renters, he’s NOT LITERALLY HANDING MONEY TO THE RENTERS.  I mean, he might, but usually not.  Improving the renters lives usually meant building new cottages, building irrigation ditches, etc, and this normally — in the end — brought in more money, not less.

A duke wouldn’t marry a seamstress.  Not a young duke, trying to do his best for the family.  Holy hell, people, a duke wouldn’t MEET a seamstress in the normal course of life.  Yes, dukes could and sometimes did marry actresses and opera dancers (not a mistake on my part though a lot of these idiots do it as opera singers, because SURELY the first is a mistake) but they did it clandestinely, and were ready to repudiate the marriage at the drop of a succession.  I don’t care how great the love was, there were things they couldn’t do and wouldn’t occur to them to do.  Remember, Mr. Darcy, worth about ten times what Lizzy’s father had, and vaguely connected to nobility was thought to be out of her reach.  A duke and a seamstress.  My disbelief is gasping for air as the rope tightens.

Look, I haven’t extensively studied the regency.  I simply read Heyer and spent some years writing austen fanfic for a group online.  If I know this stuff, anyone passably interested in the genre should know it.

And I suspect the authors would tell me it doesn’t matter because it’s “fiction” — but it matters.  It matters because — as Dave Weber taught me — ninety percent of storytelling is convincing the reader they’re in the hands of someone who knows the story he/she is telling.  I.e. if you feel the author knows what he/she’s talking about, you’ll go a long way and swallow a lot.

If you’re continuously hitting me on the head with the hammer of your ignorance, I’m going to get mad and also popped out of the book.  Then skimming the rest of it becomes and exercise in watching the train wreck.

BTW this same type of issue applies to Americans writing Nobility In Space.  Sure, you get a lot more leeway because it’s the future and we don’t know how things will be.  But anyone very wealthy will not go and open his secondary house himself or perform manual labor.  It’s not a matter of pride, btw, it’s a matter of economy.  I’m being reminded constantly these days that I shouldn’t do furniture refinishing.  “Just buy the damn table in better condition” because the time I spend on that costs me more ultimately.  In the same way a nobleman’s (if they’re administrators of a vast estate, be it in England or planetary) time is going to be more valuable than the money he shells out for a servant.

For instance, if I ever get enough money, I’ll hire someone to clean once a week, so I don’t lose a day a week to domestic stuff.  I probably will then take a day off.  Maybe go for a walk in the park or something.  BUT that is worth the expenditure, if I ever have the money.  (Not right now.)

Most of the Nobility in Space books give me the feeling of high school students dressed in costumes, in front of a painted background.

I’ll confess I find it almost charming how inept Americans-by-birth are with orders of nobility, but seriously, guys, if you’re going to write it, read a couple of books from a time/place that had such.  (Heyer romances are possibly the best.)

I can imagine those indie authors sitting there, wondering if the reason they haven’t caught fire is that their writing isn’t good enough.  Or perhaps they should have more/less sex or…

When in fact, as writers they’re perfectly fine and professional.  It’s the research.  Something that would take them a week, at most, to rectify.

I repeatedly have a conversation with older son, which echoes a meme HE posted on Facebook.  “Me: I feel so odd.  Brain: Caffeine is not a food group.  Eat a vegetable.  Sleep.  Me: Oh, well, I guess I’ll never know why.  Brain: Just shoot me now.”  I quote this at him when he emerges from the basement before a major test going “I can’t sleep and I’m vaguely nauseated.”  And it always plays exactly like the meme.  “No, I ate a leaf of lettuce three days ago.  I slept four hours last night. Must be something else.”

I suspect the result of this rant, if I addressed it to the two authors would be the same, which is why I’m not, but seriously: Pull from air is not a viable long term strategy for writing historicals.  Do some research.  Read a book!

Breaking and Buying

I think the first time I came across a sign that said “you break it, you bought it” was when I went with grandma to the potters.  She used to buy me little miniature jars and pots and pans, which had been made for so long in the region that an amphora was still part of the set.  This was my normal reward for behaving, but it wasn’t enough incentive.  I liked walking around looking at everything and I was maybe five, and things would get swept from shelves by arms that weren’t entirely under my control.  But that sign “You break it, you bought it” stopped me cold, with hand holding on to grandma’s skirt while she transacted her business.  Because I knew how tight things were — we had broken plates riveted together, that’s how tight — I knew how much money I didn’t have in my piggy bank and I didn’t want to spend the rest of eternity paying for dishware I hadn’t even got to use once.

We talk here from time to time — grin — about the fact that there is a faction of the Western world determined to break Western civilization.  They are malicious, determined, and will use anything they can to chip away at the laws and accords that make civilization work.

I contend here they don’t understand what they’re doing anymore than my 5 year old self understood that interest in a beautiful red glaze could lead to a huge bill.

They think they do, I give you that.  And they’ve been exquisitely and expensively educated so they should know what they’re doing.  But they don’t.

The problem is that the Marxists fed off a strain of the old romantics about how life was much better before civilization.  Oh, not at first.  Marx was an unabashed industrial-revolution booster, and agricultural labor needed to be run on industrial framework.  (It was, in places like the Soviet Union.  Turns out as with all the rest of Marx’s tripe, it worked very well… inside his head.)

But as industrial laborers failed to effect the revolution, the hope of the communists turned to the “natural man” — those from societies where the industrial revolution had never happened — because being poorer and in general living in more stratified societies they were more susceptible to the lies of socialism.

At that point Marxism melded with the old romantics.  I know the old romantics well, because my dad has a non-malicious strain of this.  He’s given to romanticizing the old days, to talking about how beautiful things were, and the stuff they did that is no longer done.  I too have a strain of this, I realized when I went back to find the village built over with skyscrapers and filled with strange people.  The little swampy lake where dad used to make me flutes from the reeds, and we used to sit and watch the fireflies in summer is completely paved over and has a subdivision in it.  I find myself telling the boys in dreamy tones of my childhood.

But hey, I keep in mind that in my day the day they emptied the septic tank and let the liquid flow down the irrigation channels to the fields was a great day for the village kids to sail boats on the effluvia.  And I remember too that this method of fertilization gave us chronic issues like intestinal parasites.  So there are trade offs, in that even the poor people in the village have sanitation, and even the poor kids have toys and don’t have to rely on smelly trickles of … well, some water for amusement.  That swampy lake with its quiet and its fireflies was paid for with a lot of early deaths and a lot of poverty.  Or conversely losing that gave most people a better life.  And I’ve seen pictures of my dad growing up, and he was poorer than we were as kids.  So nostalgia is qualified.

The thing is, very rich people don’t qualify it.  The noblemen who became the first romantics, and built (!) ruins on their estates didn’t need to qualify it, because they had no memories of real privation in the bad old days.  They just thought of the good things lost to give other people a better life, and they pined for the lost.

Our own Marxist romantics are by and large like that.  They come from a background where they never experienced even struggle.  And as such they keep thinking that life must be better in those societies where–  Take your pick.  What follows is a grab bag of their beliefs, not very well integrated and not all of them held by the same individual — people were more natural, work wasn’t so onerous, capitalism didn’t give one false needs, there were fewer machines, people were more egalitarian, villages raised babies, women had more power, people weren’t as aggressive…

There are more to that list, and most of them border on delusional.  I challenge anyone to find a more primitive society that was more tolerant of the different, or where women have more power (I don’t mean power over this or that, I mean, more power as a whole) or where people don’t hanker for things they don’t have, or where people are not as aggressive.

If you cherry pick, are very careful and don’t look into the matter with any depth, but accept Mead-ed versions of those societies you might find a couple for each characteristic.  Only when you look closer, you find they’re not really more tolerant of gays, and that idyllic life where you CAN assume life as the other sex is actually rigidly determined and you MUST be the other sex.  And where women who take itinerant husbands actually end up NEEDING to take itinerant husbands to survive.  And…  And the Amerind tribes, the original noble savages, had to take the European horse because those who supposedly lived in harmony with nature had in fact eaten any animal of large size in the continent into extinction.  Which makes perfect sense for civilizations that never progressed to agriculture.  (Some of them.  The other thing you find is that it varied by tribe.)  Which is what rendered them so ridiculously vulnerable to European diseases which were the real conquerors of the Americas. (In this, it would probably have helped if the Aztecs hadn’t been so anxious to practice ritual cannibalism on the Spaniards.  As we’re now finding out the Aztecs were plugged into trade networks extending through South America.  The contagion spread ahead of the invasion.)

But in college they learn that before agriculture, and before organized society everyone was free and egalitarian, and everything was common and sex was free love.  This is possible — barely — as a belief based on the graves we’ve found, because we found so few.  Frankly the indications are more of family-groups rather like primate bands, which by definition have one leader, that usually being the oldest/strongest male.  It is part of our genetics, after all, and part of why we long for the “man on the white horse” to come and free us.  And anyone who thinks family groups are more free than a city state was very fortunate in his choice of extended family, or never experienced an isolated extended family or what a family tyrant can do.  And in most traditional families you have a tyrant leader, because humans aren’t that supremely gifted at leadership.  Oh, you get a good one once in a while, but they’re not the normal ones.  This is why the legends of “good kings” are so powerful.

So these children, (even those in their seventies) trying to tear down the norms of western civilization aren’t even aware that there is nothing to default to except painful barbarism.

Sure, yes, the norms that existed even when I was a kid were often iron bands that left people scarred.  I can make the case as well as anyone else for no-fault divorce.  I’ve seen my share of miserable marriages.  I can make the case for relaxing rules about children born out of wedlock, because the city slicker and the farmer’s daughter are a stock in jokes for a reason, and if you watched it unroll you know that the farmer’s daughter is the only one who pays the price, forever.  In the old days she was damaged goods and would never be married, ever, and be she ever so pious or well behaved the rest of her life, she’d always be talked about as “That woman” and her kid treated as somehow inferior.  I can argue for the injustice of those who are born to money and never have to struggle being considered somehow superior to those who do struggle.

I’m not sure the changes we made are worth the fall out though.  No one warned us of the nature of marriages where you can never trust your partner not to fleece you, ever; of casual sex where women are by nature exploited, because they have no compensation and no societal enforcement should they be left holding the bag (the point being that traveling salesmen got away with it, but village boys had to marry the girl, or all their friends would ostracize them) and their sole value becomes play thing for male sexual appetites (This is called empowerment, I believe.) As for money — you will never get rid of money differences or status, so long as humans are humans.  If we enforced a rigid distribution of money, people would find other things to serve as real money.  Meanwhile, the redistribution we do practice maim our economy and turn half of our people into helpless pensioners.

In just about everything we look at, we find this.  Take education: sure the blackboard jungles were awful.  I learned at the threat of ruler (never actually got it except when memorizing the multiplication tables.  Do you know how difficult that is to someone who switches digits randomly?  I ended up getting really good at fast sums, to verify my memory.) and sure my friend who was dyslexic often got hit for things that were NOT her fault.  But now no one has to memorize anything and learning is supposed to be “fun.”

As much as I’ve supplemented my kids’ schooling, sometimes I find appalling holes they’re not even aware of, in their education.  And I was the first in my family not to learn Latin — presumably since the Romans invaded the peninsula — because it was horrible to make children memorize all that stuff, when the language was dead.

Except Latin not only unlocks other languages, it gives you insight into how the people at the root of Western civilization thought.  It allows you to see them with clear eyes, both the good and the bad (come on, people who invented a word for killing one in ten are not … good people.  In fact they’re almost amazingly bad.  There is also a word, though it now escapes me for killing everyone in the city after you conquer it: man, woman and suckling babe.)  So as an adult of middle years, I’m trying to remedy the deficiency.

But some deficiencies might not be so easy to remedy.  Our kids are not taught to memorize much of anything.  They are instead taught to “discover it” or “intuit it.”

Leave aside the fact we’re demanding these kids recap the geniuses who built civilization.  This is crazy enough.  We’re also not training them to memorize.

My education consisted of a lot of memorizing, some of it for joy de vivre.  For instance, before various school things, we memorized endless poems and speeches.  We’d never use them again, but we had to memorize them.

As a result (though yes, genetics play a part) I had reasonably good memory (maybe it will come back, who knows) which made a lot of things in life easier.

My husband, educated by more enlightened means has memory of ten seconds.  If he can’t reason his way to it, he sure as heck can’t memorize it.  Our kids are worse and had to learn memorization in college.

Because it turns out, and studies show, memorization is a skill like any other.  It has to be learned.  Those horrible blackboard jungles with their endless memorization were therefore preparing kids to acquire skills better than the school where learning is “on demand” does.

And so it goes.  The problem with the insatiable workers laboring to tear down western civilization, is that they in fact had no idea what’s at the bottom, or what humans default to without that civilization.  They have, in fact, been kept exquisitely ignorant of the truth of human nature and the natural man.

We’re seeing some of this as the women freed to go and earn income so they can pay ever higher taxes for the enlightened to redistribute and spend on “social good” give their children to strangers to raise.  I know many people don’t have any choice in that situation.  I’m not berating.  But consider that those strangers — to prevent abuse, natch — are not allowed to discipline the kids.  Consider that to prevent foisting their beliefs on others’ children, those people aren’t even allowed to extend moral guidance.  ANY moral guidance.  Consider the type of personality that flourishes in those daycares, and you’ll meet the SJWs.  But there is worse, since most of these children aren’t being raised by people who care AND can do anything about it.  A lot of them are simply feral.

So the fifth column moving restlessly through civilization breaking the crockery and acting like five year olds don’t know what they’re doing.

All they do is repeat what they were taught and piously believe the nonsense that their heads were filled with.  They have no experience of any other civilization, and only idealized notions of the past.  They have no future.

Sure, they flourish like the green bay tree right now, but their very culture prevents their future existence.  This is going to leave very few of us (and here I’m counting our descendants) to rebuild when the civilizational cr*p hits the historical fan.

They’re breaking it, and buying whole and in full what will result.

But if we don’t like it, we’re the ones who will pay.  We’ll pay in blood, sweat and tears to rebuild.

Teach your children well.  If you can teach other people’s children well.  Snatch brands from the fire.  Because the time is coming when every able hand and mind will be insufficient.

Burning it all down makes a beautiful flame, but then we all die of cold.

Be aware of the future you’re buying for the human race.  Go and build.


No It’s Not About Good Manners – Kate Paulk

No It’s Not About Good Manners – Kate Paulk

I recently ran across a blog post on something of next to no interest in this crowd (it’s a software testing blog, okay) where, in the context of a brouhaha that’s currently roiling through the testing blogverse, the poster mentioned that he didn’t see why people opposed political correctness because it’s really just about being polite and respectful of the other person.

I didn’t respond to that post for a number of reasons, but the assumption that PC is a way of codifying good manners and the anti-PC just want an excuse to be rude has been festering for a few days, building into something a little, well… a lot non-PC.

What we have here is a matter of framing. Of, if you will, successful propaganda. Political correctness is framed as polite and respectful and why would any decent person want to go against that? And of course no decent person would choose to be needlessly impolite – most of us are well aware that manners, at least in the form of basic courtesy, form the social grease that prevents friction between humans from becoming violent friction.

The fact that PC is neither polite nor respectful gets lost because of the framing and the way those who support it marginalize and exclude those who don’t, to deny not only their ability to be part of society, but their right to exist in that society. How often are screams of ____ist! used to shut down conversation or debate even when the group supposedly insulted or belittled by the allegedly ____ist speech repeatedly denies any insult?

Political correctness starts by dividing humans into groups based on characteristics the group members can’t control. It divides by sex (we won’t even touch the inanity of claiming women as a minority), by skin color (usually claimed as “race”, less commonly “color” or “ethnicity”, with “culture” getting used as meaning the same thing, although the last time I heard the amount of melanin in one’s skin and the proportion of red vs brown melanin has absolutely nothing to do with the language a person grows up speaking or any other cultural marker – there’s an old, old joke about this: an American rabbi takes a vacation in Hong Kong, where he meets up with the local Jewish community. An elderly ethnic Chinese woman grills him about America and his life, asking repeatedly, “Are you sure you’re Jewish?”. Finally, when he asks, “Why do you keep asking me?” she says, “It’s funny. You don’t look Jewish.”), and claims to be assisting each so-defined group by Balkanizing it into progressively smaller slices.

The individual who doesn’t meet the assumptions of whoever decides these things is presumed to be a traitor to their group and therefore evil. Worse, built into all of this is the notion that each defined group needs assistance from its betters in the form of the ever-so-politically-correct modern progressives (who are, almost exclusively, members of the same incestuous Marxist-elite cultural clique and have every intention of being the ones to send us dissidents to the gulags). Even the names given to the assorted groups (“minority” or “victim” groups) codes the eliteness in.

To those who doubt, I would ask: is it more insulting to be encouraged to work towards your goals, or to be told you aren’t capable of handling normal life so you’re going to get an easy ride, but so as not to offend you it gets called “equal opportunity”. Would you rather I said, “You can do this – let me know if you need any help.” or “You poor dear, let me fix that for you.”?

Too much “let me fix that for you” destroys people. A child who is carried everywhere will never learn to walk, and a person who is given an easy ride will never know what it is to struggle for something and succeed.

Worse, the Balkanizing effect completely ignores the impact of the individual. Each one of us has had a different path through life, and will view anything that happens in light of our experience. For many, there is a more or less common perspective, but not always. Some (yours truly among them) are just too stubborn to accept things as they stand and insist on trying to figure it out for themselves (and reach mega badthinky conclusions due to that horrible tool of the patriarchy known as logic). Others accept what they’re told and go through life believing that they can’t do things without the help of kindly superiors. Then they wonder why their coworkers resent them or don’t let them do the more difficult work. Or come to believe that it actually is ____ism that’s causing them to be unable to do the more difficult work, not the much kinder truth that due to someone’s fuzzy political correctness and sense of fairness they were promoted beyond their capacity.

This isn’t fair, and it sure as hell isn’t just. It violates the person who’s been advanced beyond their abilities and the person who didn’t get the advancement because someone undeserving got it to appease some politically correct quota. Sure, life isn’t fair, but life doesn’t tell people they can’t do something because they’re poor little victims who need to be protected from the world. Life doesn’t teach learned helplessness. Only supposedly well-meaning progressives (aka Marxists who are either too ignorant to realize that’s what they are or they’re hiding the fact that they’re Marxist behind a nicer sounding word) do that.


Where do our ideas of how the world works come from?

I recently re-read The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie and realized that the reason it was one of my very favorites growing up is that I could have stood in for the main character, Megan Hunter, at that age.

She’s a rather unfortunate girl caught between childhood and womanhood, and in a way both being refused the right to advance into womanhood (her family seems to think she’s about 10) and refusing to advance to womanhood (she refuses to admit that people might evaluate her AT ALL by the way she looks.  So she dresses as badly as possible, slouching about in old not very well kept clothes.  I suspect like me at 16 or 17 Megan believed that her “prince” would see through all that.  Of course in the book he does, though he doesn’t realize he does until the revealing incident.)

Now, at 53, I look back at that book, and smile a little and agree with Miss Marple that “Girls with brains are at such risk of becoming complete idiots.”

Part of it is the awareness that we don’t quite fit in.  Not quite.  It’s not that girls with brains fit in worse than boys with brains, but there is a …. ah, acceptable path for boys with brains, traditionally.  They are supposed to go on and make great discoveries, invent great things, forge ahead for humanity.

Oh, now girls are too, but they’re supposed to do it while being “beautiful” and sort of brainy sex pots.  At least if the TV has anything to say to that.  And because TV makes it look effortless, it’s all too easy for girls to think beauty just “comes.”

In the last few years I’ve neglected my “beauty.”  Mostly since the boys were born.  I feel a little guilty about it. My husband sort of had the right to expect me to keep some of the “beauty” stuff up, but we were doing child raising on extreme difficulty awrrif, without even a nearby grandparent we could offload the kids to for a couple of hours a week.  The closest we came was our friend Charles who would sometimes — innocently — drop by and get the kids offloaded onto him for an hour while we ran off and watched the first cheap movie, or sat in a pub drinking iced tea and talking.  But it wasn’t enough, and I lived for 20 years in a state of dropping-down exhaustion, particularly when you added the writing thing.  I still haven’t decided where this is going: whether I resume the beauty stuff or just concentrate on writing and let the rest slide.

Sure, beauty has a genetic component, but it’s not all genetic.  Or even mostly genetic. Beauty is buying flattering clothes, it’s a “beauty routine” every morning, it’s watching your diet.  It’s perfectly all right to say you can’t be arsed (I haven’t been arsed for the last 20 years) but then you shouldn’t expect the rewards of doing the work.  And you shouldn’t yell at women who do do the work. If — like me the last 20 years or so — you find you CAN’T lose weight and decide to let it all slide (until you find the medical cause, which unfortunately is not as easy as it seems in a world where overweight amounts to sinful) it’s still a choice.  Guys can forgive a ton of weight if it looks like you’re at least TRYING.

If this makes it sound like a woman’s role is more complex than a man’s — waggles hand — you’re half right.  It’s not exactly true, it’s more that a woman’s physical appearance stuff is different from a man’s.  A man is supposed to look strong, which is as difficult for those predestined to be 90 lbs soaking wet as for a woman who is born with a face only a mother could love to look “gorgeous.”

It’s just different work.

People like us tend to forget we have a body.  Which is why girls with brains are at risk for being complete idiots.  And boys with brains are at risk of becoming pajamas boy.

But that’s not exactly where I wanted to go with this.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of romances.  Regency romances, to be exact.  Why?  Because I can read them like popcorn, and even if I confuse the couples it sort of works.  And since I’m reading in twenty minute intervals between writing jags, that is fine.  I don’t want a book that will grab me and not let go, because Darkship Revenge is late enough.

I have picked these books by authors I read in the past and who are decent.  Some are excellent.

So it’s weird to find myself getting more and more peeved as I read.

It’s the main characters, you see.  One is an artist, the other is an art dealer, the other is a journalist, the other is a famous gambler.  All of them are society ladies in the regency.


I shouldn’t be annoyed by this.  I understand, better than most, what it takes to sell the past to the present.  I also remember talking to a fledgling who was writing a romance and who made her female character an extraordinary musician.  It seemed tacked on and it threw other parts of the story out of kilter, so I asked why.  “Well, I didn’t want her to just be a wife and mother, you know” (the character is widowed.)  “I mean, what would she do all day?”

She was a wife and mother in the regency.  Even in the upper classes, where all the physical work went to someone else, there were duties.  One was the “beauty stuff” though in those days it was more “class signaling stuff.”  She was supposed to dress a certain way to signal how well-born and (secondarily) wealthy her family was.  This took a lot of time.  Then there was managing employees.  Those servants weren’t just set pieces or robots.  They had to be managed, supervised, watched, taken care of.  Since a household might have anywhere from 5 to 50 employees working in it (or more for a few families) this was very much like running a small business.  It included, like a small business, making sure there were purchases made and supplies on hand.  Then there was the social networking.  In a society that depended on connections, both family and friendship, for advancement, being able to keep up those connections meant a lot for your future and that of your children.  The society I grew up in wasn’t so different.  If you kept up your friendship with your childhood friend who married a military man, you might hear first about that relatively cheaper commission for your youngest who is army mad.  If you continued corresponding with Marianne, who married the earl, they might have a living vacant and think of your second son who wants to take orders.

But to make this plausible for a modern audience, women have to have a “job” in the modern sense, or they’re thought of as these fifties housewives that never existed, sitting around eating bonbons.

I want to emphasize even in the modern era, running a household and raising children is a full time job.  It is a job we devalue to our own detriment.  All societies who outsourced child rearing to low-status paid employees collapsed shortly thereafter.  And none did it on the universal scale we do.

Part of it is a confusion of roles.  In my sitting around, writing, while Dan is watching TV, last week, I overheard a male character say “Women don’t understand how much men are defined by their profession” and I thought “poppycock. We do.”

This is because female “liberation” got confused somewhere along the line and decided there was one universal female role and that was being a man.

Purely female roles, like being a beautiful young woman, or wishing to run a household and have children, were devalued and considered low status.  (I think honestly because they’re not really easy to teach in a formal environment, so intellectual people think they denote stupidity.)  If you want to be a woman of high status, you work and define yourself by your profession.

This encourages women with brains to be true dolts, who wake up sometime in late middle age and think “I would have like to have a child” when it’s much too late.  Or who end up alone, not really out of choice, but because they never got the “beauty” thing.  And it encourages women with brains who try to “have it all” to be complete messes who blame themselves for not being able to achieve three different full time jobs at once.

All of which gets turned into hostility against men, whose roles look easy, since women have never had those roles.  (No, even if you are in a job, alongside a man, your role is not the same as his.  He’s inserted into a hierarchy of dominance and aggression which is none the less real for not being overt and which you won’t even understand.)

It should get turned into hostility against the current model of society which sold women (and men, to a less extent) a mess of pottage in return for their birthright and which, in the name of the state and the taxes it collects, is now trying to convince us there is no difference between the sexes and we all want the exact same thing (which is to be some sort of super-worker.)

I’m not saying it’s not possible to be a full time worker, and a mother.  I grew up expecting I’d have a job.  I suspect because my family was always composed of “girls with brains” accommodations were made over the centuries so the mother/wife wasn’t utterly miserable.  But accommodations were made for the children too, and they were made unapologeticly because “you can’t have everything.”

Most of the women in my family ran their business from home.  The only ones with professions outside the home were those who could call on a grandmother or aunt to look after the kids during the day.  I couldn’t call on anyone, and so I ran my business from home, and made it relatively small and unobtrusive while the kids were little.  Because the time I had the kids at home was relatively short.  And so, I must concentrate on it till they leave.  And then I could pursue the career better.  To try to do the two to the same intensity at the same time would probably have killed me.  Ramping up happened when they first went to school, and now, that they are almost independent, I’m struggling with internalizing that the house and family is no longer a priority, but writing is.  Struggling with giving myself permission.

This morning I remembered something my grandmother said, which shocked me.  She was quoting one of her influences, a Victorian feminist, who wrote a lot of books.  I no longer remember the exact wording, but it went something like this “I was a maiden, I was married, I’m a widow.  Of the three I like the third state the best.”

This shocked me because grandma REALLY loved her husband.  They had the sort of relationship where each wrote to the other while away.  They wrote to each other EVERY DAY.  Sometimes for years.

But it wasn’t grandad’s death she was referencing, but the ability to focus on HER.  On what interested her.  She went on to explain she could “Come and go” and “work on whatever I want” without hindrance as a widow.  In the village, and at that time, yeah.  IF your husband was still alive, he was supposed to be the center of your day, even if you were just the two of you.  My parents aren’t quite like that 30 years later.  They spend a lot of time sharing chores, go out to eat a lot, and generally are — both — more independent than couples were in the village back then.

What grandmother was saying was something like this, translated for modern ears “When I was young, I lived for my parents.  My actions and the way I presented myself affected them, so they were my priority.  When I was a wife-and-mother I lived for my husband and children.  My actions affected them most strongly, so I must consider them in all things.  Now I am a woman past the age of reproduction, I can pursue my own interests and live for myself.  What I do affects mostly me, so I can become who I want to be.”

I think the greatest difference between men and women is that.  Women are more cyclical.  We’re more ruled by our bodies.  Which means if we are women “with brains” who tend to ignore their bodies, we stand to try to jump roles or to flatten our entire role into “pursuit of personal excellence” and that leaves us feeling curiously flat and lopsided, and sometimes angry at men and the world in general.

It isn’t fair, of course, that women have these life cycles, or that we have to adapt to being at least three people in a lifetime.  But “fair” is a kindergarten thing.  Life isn’t fair, no one is like anyone else, and men and women have different challenges, but they both have challenges.  It took a sort of crazy naivete to view office life as easy and devoid of challenges or “freeing.”  It takes the same sort of naivete to view running a house and raising children as the hallmark of stupidity or backwardness.

A role is just that: a role.  A stereotype in people’s heads, that has certain characteristics attached.  You can play to the role or against the role.  Or you can take the role, as assigned, and play it as YOU.  Personalize it, improve on it, make the role yours.

You don’t need to steal someone’s role to be extraordinary.  Extraordinary is in the performance, not the role.

Understand what is required, what is optional, and what you really need or want to do.

Then stop fighting the role, or embracing the stereotype.  Instead, get out there, on stage, and steal the scene.

Break a leg.




So many aspects of language can overlap with science fiction and fantasy that it’s hard to know where to start. Even if you have absolutely no desire to be J.R.R. Tolkien and design your own language, you can’t get away from all issues. Take characters. Characters generally have to have names. And as soon as they have names, you’re setting up expectations about the kind of world they live in. So let’s think about that for a bit.

For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” (Mark 5:8-9)

 Names have power.  You know that; everyone knows it at some level.  It’s why characters in the Harry Potter books talk about “He who must not be named,” why some people  refer to “the Little People,” or “the Good People,” why other people torture language with phrases like “manmade disaster” or “workplace violence.”  Ever since Isis gained power over the sun god Ra by learning his true name, humans have respected the power of names. From pre-industrial tribes who give children a secret name, to the Yoruba who believe that all things can be commanded by those who know their true names, to Rumpelstiltskin, the knowledge and use of names is magic. Medieval Jews sought to invoke angels by using their true names, while  Christians expelled demons by forcing the possessed to give up either the name of the demon or that of a saint feared by the demon.

And don’t forget Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God.”

At some point in the writing of your novel, your characters need names. Sometimes they’ll speak up and tell you their names, which may save effort or may require you to argue with them. (“You can’t be named Faure! I’ve already got a Fabre. Do you want to go through the whole book being thought of as ‘that guy who isn’t Fabre’?”)  At other times you may get as far as a five-page synopsis before finding that you can no longer simply refer to these people as X, Y, the café owner, and the dissident professor. I can’t think much about my characters until they have names.  I don’t know what pantsers do about this; maybe Sarah can tell us. I do find life is less complicated if I have captured the central idea of a book and know the roles the main characters play before I start naming them.  And I like to think about names for all the main characters at once, for reasons I’ll go into below.

What names tell a reader about the author’s world

If the first pages of a book introduce you to Tom, Dick, and Harry, you know that either you’re in a present-time or near-future world, or the author wasn’t willing to do the work of finding names that fit the world’s cultural context. If you meet Thomas, Dickon and Heriot, you may expect a medieval or early-Renaissance culture. Tomas, Dietrich and Henri suggest a multi-cultural society with strong European roots. V’t’om, K’Detri’k and and H’ri suggest that you’ve wandered into one of those fantasy novels with three maps and five pages of instructions on how to pronounce everything, and I would suggest that you put the book down and back away slowly, because the author is signaling that he is more interested in the spiffy language and kinship structure he’s invented than in entertaining you.

But my characters all speak Galactic, so they can talk to each other and I don’t have to think about all this. Tom, Dick and Harry will work just fine.

Will they? Sure, if  you assume “Galactic” is code for “English” and that English hasn’t changed at all in the however-many-centuries have passed between the present time and the time of interstellar travel and the spread of “Galactic.”

This is not a good assumption to make. You don’t have to work out a complete description of the language change, and you certainly shouldn’t inflict it upon your reader, but the names should at least indicate that some time has passed since the present day. Tom, Dik and Hari don’t actually reflect language change, just some reform of our current spelling system, but at least they tell the reader that we’re not in 21st-century America any more.*

If you want names that aren’t related to English, obscure – or even not-so-obscure – languages can be a great resort. By the time you’ve met Aral, Piotre, Ivan, and Pierre, and come across a couple of references to “Greekies,” you know that Lois Bujold’s Barrayar contains at least three ethnic groups, with those of Russian origins probably in the majority. And if the language is obscure enough, you don’t even have to use names; common words work just as well.  It’s easy to find vocabulary lists or even full dictionaries for obscure languages on the Internet; you’re seldom more than two clicks away from a generous list of words to choose from.**

Help the reader tell your characters apart

 This is one reason for thinking about a group of characters together. Our friends Tom, Dick and Harry above weren’t chosen at random. They all start with different letters; they use different vowel; two are monosyllabic and one has two syllables. This is called being considerate to  your reader.***.

For another example, think about the English names for numbers 1-10. Apart from “five” and “nine” no two number names use the same vowel sound.**** Military people and, I think, air traffic controllers, who are seriously interested in accurate transmission of spoken numbers, have adopted the convention of pronouncing “nine,” as “nin-er” to avoid that possible confusion. In fact, most languages make the names for these numbers as orthogonal to one another as possible. (Just don’t try this with German, which starts off with “ein, zwei, drei.”)

Titles, kinship structures, and other little traps

  If you’re using the traditional English first name-last name structure, don’t have a given character refer to Tom Fairfax as “Tom” in one paragraph and “Fairfax” in the next. Remember, any time the reader has to flip back to figure out that Tom and Fairfax are actually the same person, you’ve pulled him out of the story. If, in the culture of your book, the only difference is that a wife doesn’t take her husband’s last name, it’s polite to make that clear up front so the reader won’t assume that Guinevere Leodegrance is living in sin with Arthur Pendragon.

If you’re using very different naming conventions, especially those based on different kinship structures, try to get the structure and conventions clear to your reader up front, so they won’t be confused when Signy Ketilsdottir turns out to be Bjorn Ketilson’s sister, or Simon Deveraux, Marquess of Glastonbury is addressed variously as “My Lord,” “Lord Glastonbury,” “Glastonbury,” or “Deveraux.” If the kinship rules are so complicated that you have to spell them out in an appendix… consider simplifying them.

And that’s all I have to say about naming people. If you’ve got more ideas, let me know in the comments. And if Sarah lets me visit again, maybe we can talk about place names and the names of things, First Contact stories, the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, and other intriguing crossroads where language meets fiction.

*However, you may have just evoked Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, so you might want to use, oh, Humfri or Henrik for your third name here.

** Back in the days when we inscribed our manuscripts on wax tablets and shipped them to New York packaged in dry ice, I had a bookshelf dedicated to dictionaries of obscure languages.

*** This is a general principle for fiction, not just for science fiction and fantasy. Historical novels can be tricky because you’re stuck with the actual names of any characters who are known to history. The twelfth century is particularly dicey because a quick reading of chronicles suggests that everybody was named William unless they happened to be female, in which case they were referred to as Maud/Matilda interchangeably. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve written a scene with just three characters, all of whom are known to history as William.

**** Which is why, in the seventies, I snickered every time somebody announced, “I’ve made a breakthrough in automatic speech recognition! I tested it on the numbers one through ten, now all I have to do is adapt it to a wider vocabulary.” There were a lot of people who didn’t realize they were building vowel recognition systems.

The Rag Time Kid

I wasn’t yet married to my husband when I found out his favorite kind of music to play was ragtime.

Eventually I could afford to buy Dan a piano (he used to play whenever we were near a piano.  In hotel lobbies, in piano stores, at friends’ homes.  He missed it desperately. ) He had a synthesizer, but it’s not the same. I bought him a piano with the first paycheck from my translating job.  It was … Those of you who have read the third Furniture Refinishing Mysteries know EXACTLY what it looked like.  It was old, it needed new felts, and there was a mouse nest in it.  BUT it had a solid soundboard.  I French-polished the outside, he took apart and rebuilt the inside.  I think it cost us $150, and it held us till we bought the current player piano for $500 26 years ago.  We don’t buy more expensive because it’s a nice little piano and we’re broke.  Eventually I want to get him his baby grand.  Not this year.

Anyway, he got some of his old music books back from his parents’ house, and he bought some new ones and – forgive me, I almost grew up in another planet – I realized Scott Joplin was black.

I didn’t think anything of it, of course, I just thought “oh, I didn’t know that.”

Anyway, if you come by our house, of a Sunday afternoon, you’re likely to hear Dan rocking the house with Ragtime.  (If it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon you’ll find me on the sofa nearby, crocheting.)

So I was vaguely amused when I read a mystery called The Rag Time Kid.  It’s a great mystery, don’t get me wrong.  It captures rather awful times without beating you over the head with them, being maudlin or preaching.  The racial tension inherent in the end of the civil war is portrayed clearly and without all this “preaching to our ancestors” which I despise. And it really is very good.  One of the things about it is the … I don’t know how to put it… different rhythms in the speech of the black characters.  You can see a distinctive culture, originating with people who were born slaves, and their kids who were free.  Scott Joplin is one of those characters, partly built from eye witnesses who knew him.

He was, of course, European trained, and his “new style” fused the best of both cultures.  (Not that slave culture didn’t have European influences.  Someone discovered in the blues certain musical traces of Portuguese music.  At least that’s what I read.  I think they’re wrong.  I think it was Irish music.  There are startling similarities. But Scott Joplin was CLASSICALLY trained.)

Much was made of the fact Mr. Joplin was “very dark” something that mattered a lot in those times.  The Ragtime Kid’s main character is a young white man who loves Ragtime.  He’s routinely upbraided by white racists for “Playing that N*gger Music.”

I branched out from the book, as of course, I do, by reading up on the time, and apparently racists really objected to white people taking any part of black culture.  Their fear, you see, is that it would corrupt white youth.  That savage (mostly rooted in European traditions) music played by people with a permanent tan.

It was nonsense of course, as from the beginning some of the best performers were white kids who became struck with the music.  And weren’t racists and didn’t care what someone so wholly unconnected to their art had to say about their way of expressing their passion.

Mr. Joplin, to his credit was as delightfully unconcerned with the color of the people who wanted to play his music as he was with the color of the skin of the man who taught him music (German.) I confess I felt a great sympathy with that character because he was so REAL and so much like my music-struck husband.  (Writing Real is, I think, my next series for Mad Genius Club.)

Geniuses are like that.  Their passion and what is in their heads is far more important than the prejudices of the world.  Which is why geniuses can accomplish things above and beyond the normal run of humans.  (Not do, not always, but they CAN.)

The bright old things at New Republic, those ossified remains of the great progressive revolution that never came,  aren’t geniuses.  In fact, they might be the ANTITHESIS of geniuses.  They are the blinkered racists asking why we need that n*gger music, only because they suffer from the prejudices and narrow mindedness of their upbringing, they are anti-white racists.  They don’t understand why we need any of those honkies writing.

What the color of the author’s skin has to do with what they write is beyond me.  No, we don’t need another stereotypical “the angst of white suburban life” novel.  But then we don’t need another stereotypical “The rage down at the hood” black novel.  And we don’t need another “I can tan so everyone hates me and thinks I’m a wet back Latino novel.”  (To quote younger kid “At least the myths about black people are that they’re well endowed and gifted in sports and music.  The myths people bring up when seeing me are that I’m lazy and an excellent swimmer.  And I can’t even swim.”)

We don’t need any stereotypical novels, in fact.  I confess I never saw the point of mainstream, though I’m not promising to NEVER write some.  However I presume there is genius in those (and the rest make good beach filler reading.  I read an awful lot of them, abandoned behind by American tourists in Portuguese hotel lobbies.  To save on weight back, of course.  The kind ones didn’t put them in trash but on top of it.)  And that a genius will transcend the setting and the stereotypes.

So even as I say “We don’t need.” I have to admit “maybe we need.”  “Maybe it would rock my world.” Maybe.  I’m open minded enough and imaginative enough not to dictate to other people what they can and can’t create.

The other reason I don’t dictate is because – Hey, New Republic, don’t look now – we have indie. Which means your opinions are not only racist and idiotic, and proof that you are a sclerotic elite who has never had a new idea, but also irrelevant.  White people, black people and for all I care blue polka dotted people will write whatever they want, and find their audience or not according to talent and luck.  You, dear New Republic, are a very old fossil.  Someday people will look at issues in a museum and wonder why we even.  BUT other people – creative people, some of them geniuses – will still be writing whatever the heck they want.

According to the State department I’m Latina.  I feel in love with Shakespeare (at first in Portuguese) at around eleven.  I’ve written more novels in Tudor England than in the modern world. I make my living in the English language which I learned at fourteen.

And my (at least on sight) very white husband loves ragtime, writes characters of all colors, and reads Roman History.

You go on, you “daring minds” you, making all kinds of proscriptions about what people can and can’t write, and what people should write or play or draw, based on the strict color lines of the old racists.

We, real creatives, will go on ignoring you.  And laughing while we do so.

The Hoyt household has been proudly appropriating culture and creating new stuff from the bits and pieces since 1985.  It’s a tradition I hope the kids will continue.


More Sunday Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

*Inexplicably I can’t find the Ambulatory Molusc’s post.  Actually this might not be inexplicable, as since about Wednesday our household has been in a tail spin.  We won’t bore you with details of our grief, but I think we’ve reached a point we can function again.  And while I normally use Sunday for indie work and sometimes even a few hours off, today I need to work, to compensate for the days I missed.  So, I’ll be by  now and then. – 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 unlikely.