800 Years


As I’ve watched the world in general and the Middle East in particular go up in flames I’ve found myself thinking about the power of social media, and the weakness of the theory that democracy can be sprayed onto a culture and a people.  Or in the case of the Iraq war — delivered by the barrel of gun.

First social media.  Once upon a time the world was big.  How people lived in countries on the far side of the Earth wasn’t readily available.  In the States every family had that subscription to National Geographic where from our safe little houses we looked at “those quaint people with their quaint customs.”  

For people in the developing world they didn’t have a convenient window on life in America and Europe.  Then cell phones replaced the laborious task of wiring an entire country, and Facebook, and Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram became available to all, and suddenly we were all sharing our lives — everything from break ups to pictures of our new car or new baby, new house.  So it’s completely understandable why average people living in abject poverty would raise their heads, look at their (often) corrupt leaders and ask — “Why the hell is my life such shit and their lives are so much better?”

And so the Arab Spring began.

The tragedy is that there was no institutional structure to help these people in their struggles for political power, economic advancement, educational opportunities.  Because democracy is hard as are market based economies.

The braying statements that America is just special, blessed by god, truly exceptional is just nonsense.  Our ability to craft a democratic republic is because we had the good fortune to start our revolution near the culmination of hundreds of years of painful and halting development of the institutions and concepts that could support that democracy.

Many of these countries that are riven with strife and turmoil don’t have the institutions in place to support the needs and hopes of their citizens.  They haven’t had their Magna Carta (1215 a.d.) which gave us the first concept of Due Process.  (Yes, it was initially intended to only apply to the nobility, but the fact it existed allowed people to make the argument that its clauses should apply to all people. )

The concept of habeas corpus was present in common law and then enshrined in 1679.  The British Bill of Rights was passed in 1689 which established the right of freedom of speech in Parliament, and the requirement of regular elections.  The point being that we’ve had 800 years to develop these concepts and the institutions that support them.

Does it have to take centuries for these ideas to become embedded in a society?  Probably not especially with our modern information network, but before people can be secure in their persons and their property there will have to be court systems in place to adjudicate those rights, and political entities willing to enforce those laws in an even handed manner, and a way to remove those politicians who don’t abide by the laws.

And sadly for a lot of people that’s probably going to take longer then they would like.

Writer Woes

I’m having one of those days where I am questioning everything about this current novel.  I finished a book that is just one action event after another, and my book has none of that because it’s set in the first year at a military academy, and it’s establishing all the relationships and the world and setting up all these hooks that will pay off later.  The violence will take place on the sports field, and in a duel, and training exercises gone wrong, but the big kabooms can’t hit yet.

But then I became terrified that this would be boring.  And maybe I was doing it all wrong?  I’ve set trying to shoehorn in action, gun play, something even while knowing that’s the wrong approach.

Why are writers so damn insecure?

A Change In Perspective

I had an interesting experience on Tuesday.  I went to work in the morning, and started rereading the scene I had written the day before.  The scene had been fighting me, and I couldn’t figure out why.  As I reread I suddenly realized that this particular professor wasn’t giving a standard lecture.  He was reacting to a profound change that had occurred at this military academy, and that this was off the cuff.   I went back and just subtly changed the emphasis and the focus.  Most of the dialogue stayed exactly the same, but suddenly the scene came to life.

As I was writing I also realized that what I was doing was foreshadowing events that were going to happen in book 3.  That made me jump up out of my chair and do a happy dance.  I don’t think you can rely completely on your subconscious.  I think you have to plot, but damn within the cracks around the plot you can let your subconscious work, and it will probably help you deepen and intensify your writing.

The Amazing(ly Awful) Spiderman

I never thought I would write these words, but the Toby McGuire Spiderman 3 was a better movie than the current incarnation playing in the theaters now.  Not to say Spiderman 3 wasn’t an impressive shit sandwich, but The Amazing Spiderman with Andrew Garfield is so much worse and so horrible on so many levels.

Why did I see it?  I was taking a young relative who has crush on Andrew Garfield, and who am I to cast stones with my mad crush on Tom Hiddelston?  There is also the fact that for me this is homework.  I need to see what’s being done — or in this case done to the audience.

I’ll start by giving the faint praise I can muster — there was one scene early on that had Spidey quipping and joking as he rescued stolen uranium from a group of Russian mobsters.  Putting aside for the moment that Russian mobsters could probably buy all the weapons grade uranium they could possibly want back in Mother Russia for the cost of a few rubles and some vodka, it at least had the Peter Parker cocky, joking quality that is present in the comics.

There was a scene between Peter and Harry Osborn that felt very authentic.  Two boys at the cusp of manhood, uncomfortable with emotion, but happy to be reunited talking and joking in this awkward way where emotion is hidden under insults.  I had to put aside the fact they seemed not to have any contact for years, but at least the scene felt more real to may than any thing else in the film.

Because the movie as a whole was so terrible I was sure that the writers would have Gwen set aside her own dreams of Oxford to be with Peter because he loves her and needs her.  At least they didn’t do that.  Instead he offers to follow her to England so they can be together, but she can still pursue her goals.  Probably one of the reasons I feared the woman-as-helpmate outcome was the fact that Gwen never just “said the words” in the famous advice from my old Star Trek boss.  I wanted her to tell him straight up that her goals were as important as his, and he didn’t get to blackmail her with his need.

Now the awfulness.  

Try as I might I just don’t like Garfield in this role.  He seems manipulative in every one of his relationships from Aunt May to Gwen to Harry to poor old Max.  I have no sense of his life as Peter Parker.  Unlike the terrific Rami Spiderman 2 there are no scenes of Peter applying for college or being in classes, or helping out his aunt.  There’s fighting crime and throwing temper tantrums.

I’m struggling to figure out how to dissect this mess.  I guess I’ll start with just some summery.  

There is a teaser that I guess was supposed to cue me as to which of the multiplicity of plots I was supposed to give a damn about.  It’s Mommy and Daddy Parker getting croaked on an airplane and doing uploady computer stuff.  Then the movie starts with Spiderman doing his derring do. 

Then a bunch of unrelated things happen and villains appear.   There was a brief moment of hope that Max the down trodden engineer would have an honest and recognizable human emotion, but no.  Instead he is presented as a nut who goes from loneliness and sadness to rage without any indication that murderous anger was in his nature.  His obsession with Spiderman was creepy and for me unbelievable.  And there are so many subplots that are thrown in that go nowhere and are frankly stupid.  There’s the fact his plans for this power grid were stolen.  Okay, I get it OsCorp is evil, but they also shouldn’t be stupid.  You have a guy this smart you give him his own division.  You don’t steal his designs.  You pay him well and keep him inside the tent.  Then at points he’s almost treated like high tech janitor.  Which is he?  Scut worker or engineer?  I felt sorry for Jamie Foxx stuck in this movie.

And then there’s Harry.  Oh god, how many subplots did we have to lard onto this movie?  There’s the C runner of a boy rejected and isolated from his father that’s suppose to echo to Peter’s rage over his father’s abandonment, but I don’t know why it’s there.  They never discuss their daddy issues.  There’s the strange genetic disease that took sixty-two year to kill daddy, but is croaking the kid at twenty.  There’s the struggle for control of the corporation.  There’s his obsession with Spiderman, and the rather unsupported belief that Spidey’s blood will save him.  That’s some leap of logic.  There’s discovering all the secret projects at OsCorp where he gets the Green Goblin suit.  Really, OsCorp is going to be the evil nexus for all the villains in the Spiderman universe?  

Harry also goes nuts really quickly which means that both villains become cartoons almost as soon as they appear.  There is absolutely none of the beautiful nuance that Alfred Molina brought to the role of Doc Ock.

I think the studio realized this movie wasn’t working so in a desperate attempt to gin up some kind of emotional reaction they just kept throwing in more jeopardy.  Max aka Electro causes a citywide blackout and then we have two jumbo jets about to collide in the airspace over New York.  When that happened I had to control my strong desire to either curse or giggle.  Probably giggle.  I didn’t want to spoil my companions enjoyment of the movie by making my contempt quite so plain.

And let’s not forget the cliched Nazi… er German doctor who is experimenting on Electro in some creepy building like an abandoned asylum.  Because of course OsCorp would have its secret projects in such a setting.

There’s more false jeopardy when Gwen decides to investigate Max and she gets chased by evil security guards.

Let’s not forget the whole subplot about what happened to Peter’s daddy (apparently mommy didn’t matter too much).  It isn’t until he throws another petulant temper tantrum and throws some of daddy’s possessions across the room that he discover the old fashioned subway tokens hidden in the back of a calculator.  Peter is supposed to be smart.  In all these years it never occurred to him to open the back of the calculator?  The minute I saw the objects from the briefcase I knew there was something hidden inside.

Now we come to the absolute shit cherry on the top for me.  The secret superhero base that dad constructed out of his spare coffee and lunch money that no one in the transit division ever noticed being built.  If Peter had just found the abandoned station, and a small box with a computer inside I would have thought it was silly, but not moronic.  Then the tracks opened and a subway car filled with a high tech lab pops up like a figure in a jack-in-the-box, and I knew this movie was truly worse than Spiderman 3.

We wind down to a final climactic battle with both bad guys.  Gwen dies.  Yawn.  Aunt May says something moving.  Peter puts back on the suit.  Little kid (awwwww) faces down the Rhino — who of course is the crazy Russian from the opening sequence.  Spidey arrives to save the day.

Finally it was over.  I kept thinking it was never going to end.  Two hours and twenty minutes which felt like two years.  God only knows how many millions of dollars, and this is what we got.  Audiences deserve better.  My advice to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier or X-Men Days of Future Past for a superhero fix.  If you haven’t seen this film — Don’t.

It Gets Crazier

So good ole’ Louie Gohmert, Congressman from Texas took it upon himself to school pastor Barry Lynn who is the executive head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.  At one point in the exchange Gohmert said the following:

“Do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to Hell, consistent with Christian beliefs?”

When Lynn demurred that policy forcing beliefs on others was perhaps not wise Gohmert went on to add – “So, you do not believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Why is this man in Congress?

Well, I believe I will counter Congressman Gohmert with Mark Twain.

“Man is a Religious Animal.  He is the only Religious Animal.  he is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them.  He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.  he has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven….”

What’s Really Hard

I’ve discovered something about writing today.  I’ve discovered what’s really hard.  Especially when you are not in a contemporary setting, but instead creating a future world.  If you’re writing a historical you can  research and there are answers to tiny niggling questions.  You don’t get to do that in your own future history.  You have to make it up whole cloth, and damn it slows you down.

I’m working on my space opera and the first book is set at the League’s military academy, The High Ground.  I had to decide the who would serve as drill sergeants — third year students?  Enlisted spacers?  It was silly but it had me pacing for some period of time while I analyzed all the ramifications and made the decision.  And there are just going to be more of these as I go forward.  Since this is the first book in the series I have a lot of these kind of decisions to make.  I’m hoping that once they are made and the societal and military structure is in place it will get easier.

Or maybe not.  Writing is hard.  That’s the bottom line.  I love it, but it’s hard.

Annoying Article

So, I ran across this pompous, annoying, infuriating, fug-headed article on Slate.  The title alone should tell you all you need to know – against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.html.

Among her many complaints is that YA books give readers a “satisfying” ending — as if that is a bad thing!  Happy, sad or somewhere in-between I think the failure to deliver a satisfying ending to “stick the landing” if you will is a near crime on the part of an author in whatever genre they work.  People have paid their hard earned money for my books.  The least I can do is not have them going Whaaaaaat? at the end.

As many of you know I have generated a lot of words about “happy endings” and how they have a place in literature too, and I reject the idea that only a completely horrible, downer ending can be considered “serious”.   That doesn’t mean there will be loss and even death in the course of a story, but I think the kernel of joy and hope should exist even in the face of the death of a beloved character.

More Mitzveh Opportunities

And while we’re on the subject of good deeds — I hope folks remember that if you make a donation to a range of charities that are listed on my website under the title Doing Good I will send you a signed copy of any book of your choice.  That includes Wild Card books signed by George as well as a lot of other writers, my Edge books, and the Phillipa Bornikova urban fantasy books.

Do A Mitzveh

My dear friend George R.R. Martin is backing a little world changing action on behalf of the NM Wolf Sanctuary and the Food Depot here in northern NM.  It’s like a kickstarter on a sight called Prizeo.  If you make a donation you are entered for the grand prize — a trip to NM for you and a friend, a day with George, and a helicopter ride out to the sanctuary to meet the wolves.  The site going great guns so if you want to do something for hungry wolves and hungry humans drop over and drop a few bucks.  You can find the site here – GRRM/Wolves and Other Good Deeds.

Andre Norton

So a new fight has erupted in science fiction over the fact there have only been 4 women given the Grand Master award by SFWA.  One should keep in mind that there have only been 30  given thus far.  You can find a list here Grand Masters.  (Apologies for it being a Wiki entry, the entry over at the SFWA site is out of date.)    In addition the recipient has to be alive to receive it and have had a major impact on the field.  When this award was first instituted it was understandable that the SFWA presidents wanted to honor writers in our field who were elderly when the award began in 1975.  It was natural that the first awards would go to Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, Williamson.  Also, SFWA was a bit of a boys club back in the day.  I expect we will see more women being awarded this honor in the future.  The point of all this is that the kurfluffle inspired me to pull out one of my old paperback novels by Andre Norton who was made a Grand Master in 1984.  This particular book was CATSEYE.

Norton is very dear to my heart.  My journey into science fiction began with Burroughs, next I discovered Norton and then the Heinlein juveniles.  So rather than think about this latest tempest in a tea pot I sat down to recapture a bit of my childhood.  The first thing I noted was how slim was the volume.  189 pages for a paperback.  Next was her ability to immerse me immediately in the sense of loss and longing of the protagonist — a young man who had lost his world, lost his family, lost all status and was fighting to regain at least a modicum of respect.  Yes the technology as described seems quaint by todays standards, but it didn’t matter.  Once again I was swept away exploring the underground city built and abandoned by aliens centuries before.  My companions were  two foxes, two cats and a kinkajou, and I loved it.  So often Norton wrote about the outsider which spoke strongly to me.  I was a nerd before the word was coined, a geek before it was cool.  I was the outsider — a fairly brainy girl who loved science fiction and hated dolls.  Who dreamed of having adventures on distant planets.

Her other gift was an ability to rocket a story along (pardon me, I couldn’t resist).  I sometimes think that in our effort to win respect and legitimacy from the literary types (which we never will) we forget the core strength of science fiction — actually of any genre book whether it be S.F., mystery or romance — that we tell rollicking good stories.  We’re not afraid of plot and action.

So I guess I should thank the latest furor.  It got me back reading Norton, and I think it’s time to re-read a few more of her books — The Time Trader series, Witch World.  She was a great writer.  A Grand Master.  And well worth a read even today.  Now that I think about it Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast (both Heinlein books) are also beckoning.


Who knows most, doubts most. — Robert Browning (1812-1889)


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