Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Moment with Tanith Lee, for Description

This is about as good an opening as you could ask for, the one to her outstanding novella Companions on the Road.  Can she set the scene, or what?

The night they took Avillis was a night of blood, and blood-red flame.

It was the last city this side of the Great River, the end of the King's long autumn campaign.  The trees were already stripped black and bare as old bones…

There's more, of course, but that will do.  What follows is suspense slowly growing to dread.  It's been a favorite of mine for almost half a century, one I still haven't read to death, and keep re-reading every few years.

Now, I've talked in previous entries on description about having verbs do the work instead of adjectives.  You can see above that she does both.  There are two good points to make about my advice and these opening sentences.  One is that avoiding adjectives is a good idea when you're still getting good at writing, rather than relying on them too much.  The other is that Tanith Lee, even with this early work, had already gotten very, very good.

Because here's the thing.  Along with giving a very vivid word-picture, she also includes a lot of what I call thematic wording, where the dread and suspense are being introduced, or at least hinted at, right from the start.  Look at the words I've italicized:

The night they took Avillis was a night of blood, and blood-red flame.

It was the last city this side of the Great River, the end of the King's long autumn campaign.  The trees were already stripped black and bare as old bones

The fear of death, the desolation, the isolation, everything that comes after comes as no surprise to readers.  All those words set the stage for them.  Momentous.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Dark Future III: Weaponized Media

The Internet Research Agency building

Previously: Postwar Realities

In writing about how science fiction has stopped showing the future as all that rosy, I've gone back to the origins of the genre, but mostly talked about developments in the 1970s.  That was half a century ago, yet dark futures are still the popular settings.  Why?

Obviously it's much more difficult today to feel optimistic when society is so riven with divisions, and freedoms are threatened.  Political polarization, but also so many divergent viewpoints, so often uninterested in paying attention to any others.  There's less sense that we're all pulling together, more that we're a house divided.  And you know where that leads.

There are a number of reasons why and how we got this way.  A simple fact is that it's a lot easier for various viewpoints to be heard today, with the plethora of communications channels anyone can use.  Another is that many US states don't allow independents to vote in primaries, which makes it easier for radical and even fringe candidates to be the only candidates.

And I've written before about one of the consequences of Bill Clinton's approach to his own impeachment, one that has lasted.

But let's also keep in mind that, for all that the US likes to think it's special and great, its enemies aren't stupid.  They've seen all those methods of reaching the masses that are available.  They know those channels are open to everyone, whether inclined to the US or opposed.

There is no question that US adversaries are doing what they can to foment and foster division.  Anything that weakens us strengthens them.  They'd be fools not to take advantage of this vulnerability.

So just keep in mind that, yes, those algorithms that encourage engagement, rather than thoughtful reflection, can be used to foster more than clicks and views.  Some of the content out there is designed to radicalize you in whatever your preexisting perspective is.

Consider disengaging, or at least backing away a bit.  Every social media network wants your attention.  But you're better off to cultivate objective sources, and a number of them.  The wider your point of view, the more you can see.  Including any tinge of rose.

Friday, July 1, 2022

I'm Assuredly All Too Pleased with This

I made all the covers of my (free) ebooks into a gif.

It makes me smile every time I look at it, so I decided to share it.

It's okay if you aren't so pleased.  I know this is special mostly to me.  But here it is, in case it makes you happy too.

Edit: If you'd rather look at them all together at once, here you go:

 And if you're not interested in them at all, well, I've got 1,100 other entries...

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Obligation and Duty

"England expects that every man will do his duty"—signal sent by Admiral Nelson before the Battle of Trafalgar

I've known some people with no sense of obligation.  They'd ask for a favor, you'd do it, and they'd just want another.  They wouldn't reciprocate.  Doing so wouldn't even occur to them.  They saw no reason why everyone else shouldn't be helping them.

I can see the viewpoint even if I don't share it.  Nobody promised anything.  Life's hard enough without volunteering badly needed effort to someone else's problem.  Life's hard enough that help is always welcome.

The only thing is, it's a viewpoint that only leads to problems.  For one, pretty soon no one will offer any help, no matter how badly it's needed.  For another, it leads to a pointless existence.

Look, let's face it, we all get born, live, then die.  The end.  That's every life summed up.  And when expressed that way, it looks pretty bleak.  Life's hard enough, who needs bleak?

So however much time we've got, it's a waste not to do something with it.  And, whatever is done, if it doesn't impact someone else—if it doesn't improve things for someone else—there's no point.  When we die, if we've only been helping ourselves to what we want, well, it all dies with us.  Pointless.

Which is why a sense of duty is so valuable.  Parents, teachers, whoever, there's always someone who gives us a hand at some point.  Someone gives us a leg up.  Feeling a duty to pay that forward makes for a worthwhile life.  We make the world better.  It doesn't all die with us.

Obviously, though, it can be taken too far.  Almost my whole working life I was thrilled to fulfill a duty to others, to help keep them safe and free.

But when the time came, I retired without a second thought.  Left that duty behind.  More than thirty years, it was time to hand that on to someone else.

So help others, but don't overdo.  Obligation is good, pointlessness is bad, but you don't have to go crazy about it.

Just make sure you don't leave obligations unfilled, but your life is fulfilled.  And who knows?  Maybe when you reach the Pearly Gates, Admiral Nelson will shake your hand.  You could do worse.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Supreme Court vs. the Will of the People

This being a democracy, the majority is supposed to rule.  So when, for example, polls show that 75% of the country supports an existing ruling, the Supreme Court has no business overturning it.  Do they?

Yes.  And no.

Let me pick a couple of related, unpopular cases (which I've summed up in the past).

One is the infamous Dred Scott decision.  In language I would consider much more intemperate that a court should use, that Supreme Court majority opinion referred to people of African origin as "an inferior class of beings."  That went over so well that we ended up with a civil war and three constitutional amendments to stop such nonsense.

Only the second case showed it would take a lot of stopping.  Plessy vs. Ferguson resulted in the court declaring that one of those amendments, the Fourteenth, was only meant to enforce racial equality, not erase racial distinctions.  It went on to declare segregation constitutional, and let Jim Crow laws stand.  It's considered another of the most atrocious decisions.

Even though, racism being even more prevalent then than now, I have little doubt that a majority was okay with them,* particularly Plessy.  (Note to oppressors: Pick a gender, skin color, etc., then deny those people educations and opportunities.  Voila, many people will find them inferior.  The fact that the oppressed were given no chance to demonstrate equality will not generally register.)

*Just among abolitionists, some opposed slavery as morally wrong.  Some opposed it because of the way it was splitting the north and south.  Some opposed it for what it was doing to the slaves.  Some opposed it for what it was doing to the slave owners.  And so on.  How many of the population then thought blacks and whites should be treated equally?  I doubt a majority.

So, that's two.  Here's two more, on the other side:

Loving vs. Virginia struck down state laws against being allowed to choose a spouse from another race.  Roe vs. Wade, as we all know, made state laws against a woman's choice to terminate a pregnancy unconstitutional.

Those last two verdicts are well-regarded, and certainly a majority supports them.  Dred Scott and Plessy, on the other hand, probably were the will of a majority at the time, but are rightly condemned today.

What's the difference?

The difference is that the United States was founded on freedom: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We hold those truths to be self-evident, we said so.

So when the Supreme Court puts forth an unpopular verdict that affirms freedoms, then despite unpopularity those verdicts last at least for decades, and remain well-regarded even longer.  When the court takes freedom of choice away, that court is consigned to ignominy.

Because the majority in this democracy may not agree on an issue, but freedom is the foundation our forefathers made.  Build up from it, and you build something lasting.  Take away from that foundation, and watch our constitutional edifice totter.  Sometimes fracture.