Reading & Writing Updates

Currently have 4 books going at once (not counting the ones with dusty bookmarkers in them from goodness knows when). ‘Going at once’ meaning here that all four are beside the bed (mostly in the Kindle) and I’ll read some of one, then for whatever reason decide that another sounds more interesting at the moment, then move on to another. This is not my normal practice – I’ve got a lot on my mind these days, and so my concentration is not what it usually is.  It seems to be working out OK.

City of Corpses: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book Two (Moth & Cobweb 5) by [Wright, John C.]John C. Wright’s the City of Corpses: the further adventures of Ami, the Daughter of Danger reviewed here. Ami is trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on, what with her not knowing how, exactly, she came to have an invisible magic ring, a Batman-level outfit and gadgets and major ninja fighting chops, not to mention the legion of werewolves and other even worse monsters out to kill her. And who her beloved is whom she is supposed to save. She has a lot on her plate. So she has infiltrated the headquarters of the creatures out to get her. Sounds, um, Dangerous! Just getting into it. So far, so good.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy. The weird thing: this is my ‘light’ reading – I find it lots less stressful, somehow, than fiction. There’s not as much emotional investment, and when I’ve got a lot on my mind, such as now, it’s good to just dump info into my brain.

Machiavelli starts his History right around the timeframe covered by Lafferty’s Fall of Rome, and tells, in brief summary form,  the story of Stilicho and Olympius and the disaster of the Fall of Rome. His take is somewhat different in terms of motivations and results than either Lafferty or Belloc, in that he is trying to show a Roman Republic crushed and shattered by foreigners. Lafferty wants to show what a tragedy it was that Rome fell before Europe was sufficiently civilized and Christianized; Belloc want to emphasize that the Fall of Rome was not as complete a destruction of the Res Romana as all that with an eye to England especially. Machiavelli wants to restore the Roman Republic after a fashion. Therefore he emphasizes that the native Latins were conquered by foreign barbarians – a contention that Lafferty would dispute, as it is debateable – and Lafferty debates it – what constitutes a foreigner let alone a barbarian in the eyes of the Empire in the 5th century. Also not very far in.

Chesterton, The Everlasting Man. Rereading this for the Bay Area Chesterton Society reading group. It’s Chesterton, so it is awesome.

Sudden Rescue by Jon Mollison. A space adventure and love story with hard nosed space shipper/smuggler, a princess, evil alien AIs, a sassy ship AI, funky planets, dive bars, miners with attitude and a galactic war to be prevented. Some neat sci fi speculations. Most of the way through, will review when I get it done.

As far as writing goes, PulpRev issued a “very short call for very short stories” which somehow popped up on my radar – Twitter, maybe? – and, since the deadline and the stories needed were short, almost Flash Fiction level short, I said to myself, I did, what the heck? And fired off a 1,500 word adventure with “muscle and heart” in the Pulp tradition, meaning in this case a dude named Martin in a giant Mech and a scantily-clad beauty who manages a nanite army. Together, they fight crime! Or, in this case, a nasty alien-bureaucrat monster suffering from a megalomaniacal need to get Our Heroes. Things done blowed up good! It’s a freebee, but it was fun and only took a few hours to write. Let’s see if it gets used.

On the more ambitious story front, when I last looked through my pile of incomplete drafts for ones I should just finish, came across an Arthurian story I almost finished but chickened out on last year when SuperversiveSF  was calling for submissions for an anthology of Arthurian stories. As I approached the end, I started getting all these ‘this isn’t good/original/researched enough’ feelings, and it ground to a halt. I got the feeling (BTW: we have minds so that we may be freed from slavery to our feelings. Just FYI.) that I was a clueless interloper into a subject that had been worked over by much better writers than me, and that I was bound to fall far, far short of what the *real* writers of Arthurian-based fiction write.

A completely logical and reality-based concern.

Not.

Upon rereading it – it seemed pretty darn OK.  I even read the first 3rd or so to my kids, and when I had to stop, I looked up and the story had totally hooked them. They wanted to know how it ended! AHHHH! So: when we get back from Idaho (we’re going to look at the eclipse, leaving Thursday) I’ll have to finish this one up.

One other story is too close to stop, although to be frank I’m not sure I’ve got enough drama in it to make anybody care. The sci fi conceits are OK, and I like the characters, so maybe a little thought-smithing before any more wordsmithing? Or just finish and be done with it?

Then, it’s back to the pile.

 

Update: Reading, Writing, Futzing Around

Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.

And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!

Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:

A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.

Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.

Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.

Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.

This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.

By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.

And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.

B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.

General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.

C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.

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While beautiful after a fashion, this whole thing here is frankly insane. Spent hours trying to get it level enough so that the planned wooden butcher block would be level-ish and sturdy enough – and I just couldn’t see it working. Don’t know if any of you have this experience, but at least on projects like this, I’ll get a nagging feeling that it won’t work that eventually stops me cold. Got there on this.  Had to change course. Not getting any dubious vibes on plan D? E? where are we? Yet, anyway. 

Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.

It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.

The Everlasting Man: Bay Area Chesterton Society Reading Group

My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.

Reading groups of the local instantiations of the American Chesterton Society have often, I’m told, focused on shorter works, as they are trying to have a discussion over dinner involving people of quite varied ages and backgrounds. So Fr. Brown Mysteries and selections from this awesome and highly recommended collection of essays and similar shorter readings have most often been the works under discussion.

However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.

July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here.  In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).

As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.

Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.”  Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.

So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.

Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:

Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”.[1] Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations[2] and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.[3] The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”,[4] Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”.[5] As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.

Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:

Wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Fabians, like Gramsci and Alinsky and all their spawn, believe in doing whatever it takes to promote the agenda. Truth be damned in the name of Progress.

To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.

In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregis and Lamentabili sane exitu in 1907, and his Oath in 1910.

This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in  In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.

The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting.  A real philosopher must consider Becoming.  What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.

Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment.  He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)

In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get.  Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.

Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.

Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.

Chesterton’s goal:

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.

Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.

Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”

  1. What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do!  Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.

Speaking of That Hideous Strength…

A trenchant comment by Marcel had me looking up the use of ‘rum do’ in that wonderful book (it occurs in that exact form exactly once).  Lewis imagines the tramp judging the indignities of being bathed, dressed as a don and dragged around the Institute while Merlin puts incomprehensible words in his mouth as “‘a rum do'”— the rummest do that had ever befallen him.”

Searching for which brought me to the final dinner scene at the Institute, and, having just discussed the Orwellian use of Newspeak as shibboleths, it seems to me meet and just to take a another look at the opening few paragraphs of that epic scene:

Chapter 16
Banquet at Belbury

IT WAS WITH GREAT PLEASURE that Mark found himself once more dressing for dinner and what seemed likely to be an excellent dinner. He got a seat with Filostrato on his right and a rather inconspicuous newcomer on his left. Even Filostrato seemed human and friendly compared with the two initiates, and to the newcomer his heart positively warmed. He noticed with surprise that the tramp sat at the high table between Jules and Wither, but did not often look in that direction, for the tramp, catching his eye, had imprudently raised his glass and winked at him. The strange priest stood patiently behind the tramp’s chair. For the rest, nothing of importance happened until the King’s health had been drunk and Jules rose to make his speech.

For the first few minutes, anyone glancing down the long tables would have seen what we always see on such occasions. There were the placid faces of elderly bons viveurs whom food and wine had placed in a contentment which no amount of speeches could violate. There were the patient faces of responsible but serious diners, who had long since learned how to pursue their own thoughts, while attending to the speech just enough to respond wherever a laugh or a low rumble of serious assent was obligatory. There was the usual fidgety expression on the faces of young men unappreciative of port and hungry for tobacco. There was bright over-elaborate attention on the powdered faces of women who knew their duty to society. But if you have gone on looking down the tables you would presently have seen a change. You would have seen face after face look up and turn in the direction of the speaker. You would have seen first curiosity, then fixed attention, then incredulity. Finally you would have noticed that the room was utterly silent, without a cough or a creak, that every eye was fixed on Jules, and soon every mouth opened in something between fascination and horror.

To different members of the audience the change came differently. To Frost it began at the moment when he heard Jules end a sentence with the words, “as gross an anachronism as to trust to Calvary for salvation in modern war.” Cavalry, thought Frost almost aloud. Why couldn’t the fool mind what he was saying? The blunder irritated him extremely. Perhaps — but hullo! what was this? Had his hearing gone wrong? For Jules seemed to be saying that  the future density of mankind depended on the implosion of the horses of Nature. “He’s drunk,” thought Frost. Then, crystal clear in articulation, beyond all possibility of mistake, came, “The madrigore of verjuice must be talthibianised.”

Wither was slower to notice what was happening. He had never expected the speech to have any meaning as a whole and for a long time the familiar catch-words rolled on in a manner which did not disturb the expectation of his ear. He thought, indeed, that Jules was sailing very near the wind, that a very small false step would deprive both the speaker and the audience of the power even to pretend that he was saying anything in particular. But as long as that border was not crossed, he rather admired the speech; it was in his own line. Then he thought, “Come! That’s going too far. Even they must see that you can’t talk about accepting the challenge of the past by throwing down the gauntlet of the future.” He looked cautiously down the room. All was well. But it wouldn’t be if Jules didn’t sit down pretty soon. In that last sentence there were surely words he didn’t know. What the deuce did he mean by aholibate? He looked down the room again. They were attending too much, always a bad sign. Then came the sentence, “The surrogates esemplanted in a continual of porous variations.”

Lewis imagines the day when Truth has had enough, and takes from the speakers of lies even what little meaning their words-as-weapons still had. In the erudite Babel that ensues, everyone hears individual words that they may understand, but all meaning has now been stripped away in audible fact as it has always been absent in practice, power being the only animating principle behind what had been allowed to pass as thought. From the inside, infuriating and ultimately terrifying; from the outside, hilarious.

The Institute was a power play, a much more sophisticated and superficially polite power play than what we see in our universities today.  The one problem from the point of view of the nested Inner Circles – it’s not their power that is in play. At its heart lies a power with no interest in the desires of the players. It wishes only death and destruction in total, not just the realization of the various revenge fantasies that drive the members.

If only such a drama as the Banquet at Belbury were to take place in our modern universities! I am not eager for the deaths of our enemies, but wouldn’t mind seeing their nests vacated and burned to the ground. Figuratively, of course, after Lewis.

Probably need to reread that book again soon.

Sunday Musings: The Point of 1984

Like others, I too have wondered if anyone has actually read 1984. Two answers: 1st, no, not many people have read 1984; and 2nd, nothing in the experience of a conventionally educated American prepares him to understand it even if he did go through the motions of looking at the text. All required  readings are accompanied by specific questions at the back of the book, the acceptable answers to which are in teacher’s copy. If it were not so, how could you test on the text?

So, no: as Briggs points out, some small fraction of people are insane, and so truly believe men can be women if they say so 2 + 2 = 5. A much larger fraction have learned the survival value of group cohesion in school, and so just want to know the answer teacher wants. On the one hand, such folks won’t give much of a thought to whether or not what teacher wants to hear is true (“Truth? What is that?” as was famously quipped); on the other hand, anyone who dares dispute the claim is attacking the order carefully established through 12 or more years of schooling.

These people will act as crazy as the true believers when challenged, since their place in the world has been established by that same schooling that tells what the right answer is. The final irony: this exact same education has rendered them all but incapable of seeing that this reaction is what they are doing. (Example, for the thrill-seeker: try to have a rational discussion with a Marxist in which you challenge Marxism – watch the shields go up and the photon torpedoes brought online. It’s not the arguments that are being defended against – it’s the very concept of a challenge. Your interlocutor won’t even notice he’s doing it.)

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“For Heaven’s sake, did anybody not read 1984? What the purpose of torturing Winston to say 2 + 2 = 5? That the Party really believed that mathematical fiction? No! It was to subjugate and for no other reason.” William Briggs 

The use of nonsense as dogma is less critical than its use as a shibboleth – it matters much more that you say whatever everybody in the group says than what particular thing it is that you say. If you say, for example, that gender is a social construct, it’s very clear that you are a member in good standing, and, if you say there are only 2 sexes and gender is a term of grammatical art, you are excluded just as decisively.

Just as the Ministry of Truth regularly changes the shibboleths – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia! – to see who is really on board, we have politicians with their fingers in the air, declaring against, say, gay marriage right up until they declare for it.

And it’s totally out of line to notice, or to call liar. To do that is, again, proof you’re not of the tribe. That’s a price few will pay.

The schools are where this experiment is being run. I’m struck by how many dystopias include the idea that our evil overlords are experimenting on us, killing some and bending others to their wills. We are trying to resist and escape, but cannot! Why does such an idea lurk in our minds, such that it apparently rings true enough to a huge enough percentage of people to sell a lot of movie tickets and YA novels? Where, in the real world, would a cognate to such behavior be found? Dragons and sea monsters, sure, even werewolves and vampires seem like extensions of some at least marginally imaginable fear. But organizations torturing us into puppet-hood, and maybe killing us? What? Then there’s zombies, undead and lusting for brains…. Where do such ideas come from?

Then there are those who understand the latest insanity is, in fact, insane, but are unwilling to pay the price of open opposition, hoping, I suppose, that the problem will go away on its own. Finally, there are those who know exactly what they’re doing. This last group may to some degree believe this or that shibboleth, but that’s not the important part – it’s doing whatever they need to do to bring down the beast, as they see it, truth be damned! I think Alinsky and his ilk fall into this camp, as do all real Communists and some of their more self-involved useful idiots – that’s the impression I get from some feminists leaders, that they want to destroy the patriarchy more than they care about if what they say is true, let alone results in the happiness of any real women.

It’s a mess out there. As mentioned in an earlier post, things are so good in general that it’s possible to promote such anti-reality, anti-survival nonsense – and yet live. I think of the imaginary Merlin from That Hideous Strength, who was prepared to simply kill Mrs Studduck for the crime of not having the baby she was destined to have, or of real-life Charlemagne, who would have dealt with people promoting such nonsense promptly – maybe send them off to a monastery for the rest of their lives, he was merciful that way – and never given it a second thought.  But even these musings miss the point: people promoting such ideas as are common today would have been locked up, at best, by their own families or lords.

Here and now, we can afford (!) to let them run loose, evidently.

 

Update: Writing, Reading, etc.

Finally got back into the writing groove, and finished a story. No, seriously, I, decorated member of the Procrastination & Self-Defeat Hall of Fame, finished something. It’s a trifle, really, under 3,000 words, but it’s done. Will let it sit a couple days, make a single clean-up/formatting pass, and then send it off to an appropriate publisher. THEN, I’ll read it to the family.

Time to start my collection of rejection slips.

Next up are two more stories that are almost done as well. The first is a bit more ambitious, maybe 7-8,000 words worth. Got maybe another 1,000 to 1,500 words to go.

The first two stories were begun in the last few months. The third story has been rattling around for 20 years. I’ve actually written it twice already – the draft I’m now on is #3. So, instead of continuing to rethink and over-think it, I’ll follow Heinlein’s advice and just do it.

The second one will probably take a few days; the last I can probably finish in one sitting.

Next up: I’ve three other stories that are not so close to being finished, one of which has this elaborate tense moment/flashback/even more tense moment/flashback/really tense moment/flashback/climax structure that may frankly be out of my league to pull off. Plus, if I recall (been a while since I looked at it) it’s chock full of info-dumps. Not sure if I can work it, but, again, taking Heinlein’s advice, I should just finish it and send it out. Who knows?

The second is only maybe 1/2 done, and, If I recall, ran aground on technical issues – I couldn’t see why, exactly, events would unfold as I wanted them to, given the underlying tech. Bradbury would just write the hell out of that sucker, and it would be so good that you’d not even notice that it didn’t make much sense until long after you’d wiped the satisfied tears from your eyes. If it were pure stand-alone story, I’d just hold my nose and finish it. But it’s part of the TNTSNBN* Universe, and so I want to work it out so that it makes sense, rather than having to orphan it. Heinlein would say: Just Finish It! I should not be a schmuck and listen!

The third is an attempt at humor (actually, several of these stories are funny at least to me!) that projects a cowboy attitude into space – Mike Flynn, among others, has already done this (and Flynn’s efforts should make a fellah like me saddle up and get out of Dodge, if’n I had any horse sense.) But really, if you’re imagining what kind of culture would develop or be required in space, you’re kind of limited, at least in the early going, to maritime and frontier – those are basically the types of people you’ll attract, and the culture will likely reflect what we’ve seen on earth. Cowboys in space is not really far-fetched, but almost inevitable. It’s really just a matter of degree – do you want to play it for laughs, or make it less obvious and play it straight? (And those aren’t really mutually exclusive options.) The only other is sort of barbarian migration, but that conflicts with the high tech ideas – at least, ships and cowboys were on the cutting edges of the tech of their day (think: marine chronometers and six shooters).  Maybe this one gets skipped? Is that Heinlein I hear tsk-tsking?

After triaging those 3, think I’ll start some new ones. I’ve started a folder of story ideas, many just a phrase, some a sentence or two. I’ll pick one and write it next, eschewing the tendency to think too hard about it – just gotta do it. I’m afraid my mind runs toward thinking tech/nature/politics before thinking people (Asimov, anyone? If only I were that good!) such that my characters, to me, seem a little thin. I hoping I’m wrong. The solution is to just keep cracking and hope for useful feedback.

Then, once I’ve steeled myself with ample rejection notices and, one hopes, gotten an item or two published, I’ll plunge back into TNTSNBN.* I’ve got maybe a dozen or two pages of useful introductory materials/scene setting/character introduction written, plus many pages of notes and research, and stray drafts of key scenes, written so I could focus on where the story is going.  Family trees, backstories, charts and graphs figuring top speeds and acceleration and relativistic effects, doodles of what the ships look like, descriptions of the key tech, whole planetary systems mapped out and named, screen grabs and web pages – yea, gotta stop and write the darn thing.

Finally, probably after I retire (7 years, but who’s counting?) I’ll write a book or two on education history.

Reading? Well, the pile is not getting any shorter. Have 80 pages of an early Heinlein novel to finish. We’ll be starting The Everlasting Man for the Bay Area Chesterton Society reading groups starting in July, so I’ll be rereading that.

Aaaand, this weekend all our kids are in town! Woohoo! Older Daughter and Middle Son are driving up from SoCal; Younger Daughter and the Caboose are here already! The hammock I ordered has arrived, the weather is supposed to be near-perfect this weekend, and the lemon tree still hangs heavy with lemonade-in-potentia. The shield (item E) needs to be finished, the half-finished brick oven cries for attention, and there’s a dude about 20 miles away trying to get somebody to take 1,900 paver bricks off his hands – that are still in the ground. I could use them, except I might be dead by the time I dig ’em all up.

I’m real busy, but happy about it!

* The Novel That Shall Not Be Named

Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!