Worlds Worth Fighting For
April 7, 2014
Indie author Ryan Toxopeus got roped into a blogging chain in which you’re supposed to blog about writing on Monday, and tag some other poor bastard(s) to continue the chain. Last week, he tagged me. I was thinking of doing one about Romanticism in speculative fiction, but I feared getting sidetracked by the need to explain Romanticism to people who don’t geek out over literature and art. I’m not qualified for that, nor do I get paid enough. Instead, I’m going to give you the straight dope about why I write in this genre: I don’t like the real world, and I don’t know how to fix it. I wanted to share a vision of a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for, with those who would rather work on fixing the real world than imagine a better one.
Some of you might have read the last paragraph and thought, “Hey, that sounds like a Genesis song from the 80s.” You’re right. I share my father’s opinion concerning Genesis, and they were better before they went commercial and Peter Gabriel left the band, but I retain a certain affection for their “Land of Confusion” single. Like Queensryche’s 1988 concept album, Operation Mindcrime, it still seems relevant.
Misplaced remnants of youthful idealism aside, I have other reasons for writing speculative fiction. I freely admit I could have stripped all the weird stuff out of Without Bloodshed. Morgan Stormrider might have been a FBI man with a different name. I could have made Naomi Bradleigh a MI-6 agent (and most likely a pale brunette like her namesake). I could have made the Phoenix Society a conventional NGO fronting for a drug cartel, human trafficking, or illegal arms sales. Morgan, Naomi, and their friends could have chosen to work outside the law and outside their respective chains of command to stop the Phoenix Society.
I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to write a straight thriller. That wasn’t big enough for me. I wanted to take a crack at big ideas, big themes, and big stakes. To be crude: I wanted to write an epic without having to dick around with iambic pentameter and dactylic hexameter.
Furthermore, I wanted to write a human epic, one that pits all of humanity against a threat that forces them to reconsider their understanding of the world and their place in it while focusing on specific characters. I wanted to take a crack at exploring what it means to be human in an age where it seems likely we will create artificial intelligence and artificial life. I wanted my characters to be able to work within their society, instead of stepping outside it and pushing the same old “suspicion of authority” meme.
I had to get out of the real world and create one of my own, one where the threats my characters face are not mere men, or institutions created by human hands, but powers beyond human capability and intellects alien to our own. I wanted to write about androids unaware of their nature fighting demons from outer space. I wanted to write about libertarian knights in black carbon-fiber armor astride nuclear-powered motorcycles.
I want to write stories that are bigger than life and louder than heavy metal. I want to write about a world that doesn’t suck,with people who aren’t dull non-entities of interest only to their friends and family. This is why I write speculative fiction. Now it’s somebody else’s turn. Michael Shean, Lynda Williams, and Charity Bradford: by these names I summon thee!
Matthew Cox – Virtual Immortality
April 7, 2014
After reading Matthew Cox’s excellent preternatural police procedural debut Division Zero, I’m happy to help him announce his next book. I don’t have a release date yet, but I’ll post that as soon as I get it. In the meantime, I’ve got jacket copy and a cover for you. For some reason the model reminds me of Rachael from Blade Runner. Knowing Matthew Cox, that was intentional.
Nina Duchenne walked away from a perfect life of wealth and ease to pursue a noble idea. Unfortunately, her hope of becoming a forensic investigator drowned in two years of mandatory street patrol. After one tragic night shatters her dream, she finds herself questioning the very nature of what it means to be alive.
Joey Dillon lives at the edge of a perpetual adrenaline rush. A self-styled cyber cowboy that chases thrills wherever he can find them, he is unconcerned with what will happen twenty minutes into the future. Lured into a dangerous region of cyberspace, he soon has the government of Mars trying to kill him. After fleeing to Earth, he takes refuge in places society has forgotten.
When two international agents threaten the security of West City, Nina gets command of the operation to stop them. Joey just wants to find his next meal. Voices from beyond the grave distract Nina from her pursuit, and send Joey on a mission to find out who is responsible. His suspicions lie grounded in reality while she hopes for something science cannot explain.
The spies prove more elusive than expected, convincing her they have help from a master hacker. Joey falls square in her sights with the fate of the entire West City, as well as Nina’s humanity, at risk.
Matthew Cox can be found on his website at matthewcoxbooks.com, and on Google+.Virtual Immortality will be published by Curiosity Quills Press.
Meet the Cast of Starbreaker
April 4, 2014
Meet some of the cast of my Romantic heavy metal science fantasy series, Starbreaker, starting in part one: Without Bloodshed. All artwork is by Harvey Bunda.
Ashtoreth doesn’t have to remember the days when men knelt before her and called her a goddess, because some still do. Is she an ally to our heroes, or an enemy? Perhaps she has her own agenda.
Christabel Crowley blazed as the star violinist of neo-Romantic heavy metal act Crowley’s Thoth until a brutal murder stilled her song, but is her tale truly over?
Claire Ashecroft might act like an oversexed otaku, but few can match her ability to sweet-talk an AI, charm her way into a secured location, or wage electronic warfare on her friends’ behalf.
Desdinova‘s gravely digs may surely prove a sight, but this surgical wizard in grey carries secrets that might shatter the Phoenix Society.
Edmund Cohen is a man of few virtues, among them self-awareness; loyalty to friends who stand by him despite his drinking, drugging, and whoring; and deadly aim with a Dragunov.
Imaginos became a demon to fight demons. What sort of man becomes what he despises for the good of his people? Is such a man truly a villain? Could a man with thousands of megadeaths to his name be a hero? Either way, he proves you can’t trust a white-haired bishounen.
Morgan Stormrider never doubted his work as one of the Phoenix Society’s Adversaries until a duel with a rival in Shenzhen cracked his faith. He wants nothing more than to put aside his sword and dedicate himself to music, but learning the truth about the Phoenix Society did not set him free.
Naomi Bradleigh never looked back when she resigned her commission with the Phoenix Society and launched a musical career that led her to form Crowley’s Thoth with Morgan Stormrider and Christabel Crowley. When a dirty cop tries to frame Naomi for Crowley’s murder, she takes up her sword anew and fights beside Morgan.
Thagirion is the eldest of the Disciples of the Watch, and sworn to keep the Starbreaker from the wrong hands. She is the only one Imaginos acknowledges as his equal. What will happen when she decides Imaginos can no longer be trusted with the one weapon capable of killing gods?
This is where heavy metal, science fiction, and fantasy collide.
Am I Good Enough? | PDXX Collective
April 3, 2014
I’m not good enough. I’ve never been good enough. I never will be good enough. But I did it anyway, and I’m going to keep doing it. Why? Because fuck you is why.
Am I Good Enough? | PDXX Collective.
Boomsticks | (Love – Truth) = Hate
April 3, 2014
Wordy Newb replied to my post about the Boomstick Test in Boomsticks | (Love – Truth) = Hate.
I’m particularly gratified by the following, which comes at the end of his post.
But let me extend some well-deserved kindness: the post I previously quoted was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who (like me) has aspirations to write science fiction or fantasy. I simply found the quote in question to be an excellent illustration of the concept that anything apparently magical or supernatural can be cast as scientific (or vice versa).
He himself made that point, on purpose, and I do not believe I misrepresented him. However, he himself defined the word ‘supernatural’ quite well, and stands above my fictional J. Random Atheist in terms of clarity of thought. I wronged him and those of his caliber by not making that clear.
Keep Your Enemies Closer
April 3, 2014
I decided on a whim to put a rough cut of my most recent scene for The Blackened Phoenix on Wattpad, to see if I can’t pick up a bit of an audience there. You can have a look if you like. This is from Chapter Four: “Keep Your Enemies Closer”.
Blackened Phoenix Progress Report
April 2, 2014
I really need to be better about reporting my progress on my books as I write them. I’m sure I have a few fans who would be interested in knowing I don’t spend all my time outside of work being a Sunbro and playing Dark Souls II.
So, here’s the current word count: 17713, with approximately 800 written today at lunch. One of these days I’ll write a shell script that generates time-stamped draft files and compares word counts by day so I can get a delta every time I run it.
The most recently completed scene is scene one of chapter four, “Keep Your Enemies Closer”. Munakata Tetsuo just paid Alexander Liebenthal a visit in his room at the Sonamura Psychiatric Hospital in Honolulu, and persuaded him to shut up and keep his head down.
Profanity in Speculative Fiction
April 1, 2014
I’m stuck for a better topic today, and I don’t want to skip posting on the first day of the month, so we’re going to talk about the use of profanity in speculative fiction. It’s an argument we’re not going to see settled before the sun goes red giant and swallows the earth in nuclear fire, and I’m in the right sort of mood to write on the subject tonight. If you have opinions of your own, share ‘em in the comments.
First, what’s profanity? Googling “define: profanity” yields the following: “blasphemous or obscene language.” Blasphemy usually involves swearing by gods or parts of their bodies, but only matters if you’re religious and your god or gods are involved. Obscenity, at least in English, usually pertains to sex or excretion — hence the seven words you’re not supposed to say on American broadcast TV: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. ‘Cock’ and ‘pussy’ are usually dicey, as well.
Here’s the late George Carlin on the seven dirty words:
Fantasy authors like Joe Abercrombie and N. K. Jemisin use different approaches to profanity in their work. Abercrombie uses modern English profanity without apology. Jemisin takes a more nuanced approach, inventing profanities to fit her invented world’s culture. Her approach is one also used by Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, and C. S. Friedman.
I think both are valid approaches for different reasons. Abercrombie writes about harsh, crude people doing harsh, crude things. One of his protagonists is the most sympathetically written torturer since Severian. He uses modern English everywhere else in his work; it wouldn’t make sense to hold back from the use of modern English in his dialogue. I can’t comment on Jemisin’s work in detail because I haven’t read her work yet (a deficiency I mean to correct), so I’ll refer you again to her blog, where she speaks for herself.
Jo Walton also recently reposted an old on the subject for the Tor blog; her post is called “Knights Who Say ‘Fuck’”. According to her, explicit profanity in speculative fiction didn’t really become acceptable until the 80s, presumably when editors employed by publishers collectively said, “Fuck it. I don’t get paid enough for this shit”, and stopped replacing every usage of profanity with euphenisms like ‘swore quietly’ or swore at length’.
We also have authors like Matthew D. Ryan, who dislikes profanity in fantasy literature. Because I disagree with him, I’ll reproduce the thrust of his argument in his own words, instead of injecting bias by attempting to paraphrase:
…there is a distinction between normal literature and fantasy literature. Normal literature is generally geared toward adults. Fantasy literature is generally geared toward adolescents and young adults. There are exceptions, of course—and many adults (I am one of them) enjoy fantasy literature throughout their lifetimes—but the primary audience of fantasy literature is a younger one. And I think it should be written with that in mind. To that end, I think the story should be relatively free of the most abrasive forms of profanity.
Just so you understand my viewpoint, I was conversant in the use of most of the Seven Dirty Words before my first day of kindergarten. I learned them from my parents, who would use them when frustrated. As a result, I immediately flash to this line:
I admit this is an emotional reaction. It’s equally irrational to assume that the use of profanity automatically makes a work better.
Despite this, I cringe at any argument that suggests profanity is inappropriate in fantasy because Tolkien made Gandalf’s parting words in Moria “Fly, you fools.” instead of “Get the fuck outta here!”. Given the mythic style and setting Tolkien used, modern language of any sort — especially modern profanity — would have broken the entire story. No doubt he would have shuddered at the use of dwarf-tossing jokes in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Two Towers, and I suspect his son did so in his stead.
I don’t buy the argument from Tolkien, because I am not Tolkien, and have no interest in writing like him. If I’m going to find my way, I have to write my characters as I understand them. In many cases, that means using language others might find objectionable. Nor do I write primarily for younger audiences. Without Bloodshed is not a young adult novel. It isn’t even new adult. The youngest character is twenty-five and she’s responsible for most of the novel’s profanity. Meet Claire Ashecroft.
Claire’s one of the good guys for many reasons. She’s a loyal, trustworthy friend. She’s honest and respectful with her lovers, of which she has a great many. She refrains from abusing her skills as a cracker. However, Claire is not a “nice girl”. She is both liberal and inventive in her use of profanity. To tone her down by replacing what she says with inoffensive euphemisms would be a disservice to her character, and to the reader.
Because I write about characters like Claire, and because I write in a secondary world that only resembles our own, I mix modern English profanity with invented blasphemies.
Claire shrugged. Sorry, Mal, but I got you by the balls. I’m just going to give ‘em one last squeeze. “Just tell me one thing more. Was Edmund Cohen drunk when he filed his request?”
“I lack firm data concerning Cohen’s sobriety. However, his request was verbal, and filed from his home. Analysis of speech patterns and vocal cues suggests a 99.999% probability of inebriation. Further analysis of Cohen’s vocalizations suggests the presence of a female companion, but she did not speak while Cohen recorded his request, making the presence of a companion impossible to confirm. Furthermore, no Witness Protocol data is available for Edmund Cohen from last night.”
“Lilith’s luscious labia, no bloody wonder you want to keep it all a secret.” She ran her hands through her tangled hair, snarling as she pulled a knot apart. “Which one of the Sephiroth handled Edmund’s request?”
Of course. He never thinks these things through. “I want to talk to him, and I don’t give a single little fucking shit about your protocols or his feelings.” She stopped, and breathed for a moment as she considered her options should Malkuth refuse her.
“What if I refuse?”
“We’re friends, Malkuth. I hope you won’t refuse.”
Could I have written this exchange, and the rest of Without Bloodshed without profanity? Yes. It would have been different, and not necessarily better. Language matters. That isn’t a reason to refrain from using profanity. Sometimes it’s a reason to do so.
The Boomstick Test
March 31, 2014
For some reason I doubt that Wordy Newb at (Love – Truth) = Hate was being kind when he quoted my post on the preternatural and supernatural in science fiction and fantasy, but I’ll take it. I read “The Stargate Fallacy” a couple of times today, and I’m not quite sure if he didn’t get what I was writing, or if I was unclear. Here’s the short version of his post: he thinks atheists mentally re-index things he considers supernatural as natural to avoid admitting the existence of the supernatural. Here’s my answer, and a Bechdel-style test you can use in your own writing if you care: if your talking purple unicorn can’t survive a face-full of boomstick, it’s not supernatural.
For those of you who haven’t seen Army of Darkness, here’s the relevant clip.
Now for the long version. First, let’s see what Wordy Newb actually says in his post:
Now, if you ask J [Random Atheist] whether he believes in unicorns, he will tell you he does not.
If you ask him why, he will tell you he doesn’t believe in supernatural things.
If you happen upon a unicorn and show it to him, he will first suspect it to be a hoax (for that matter, so would you).
If the unicorn is confirmed to be real, he will say, “Ah, I see that unicorns are not supernatural after all!”
This is the heart of the Stargate Fallacy.
The atheist seems to claim (and indeed believes) that there are two categories of things: natural and supernatural. One contains stuff that actually exists, and one contains stuff that people made up. Therefore it is quite sensible to disbelieve in the supernatural. He claims (and indeed believes) that the categories are quite easy to define, but if you press him, you will find that the definition amounts to this: ”Things I do not believe to be real.”
Um, no. As a real live all-American atheist, I don’t define the supernatural as “things I don’t believe to be real”. The word “supernatural” already has a perfectly good definition, which I belabored a couple of weeks ago. To recap, preternatural phenomena are unusual and extraordinary, but still within nature, and can be understood by humans using reason and science. Supernatural phenomena are not only beyond human understanding, but they always will be.
If you’ll pardon the digression, I’ll also paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, since I come from a Roman Catholic background rather than a Missouri Synod Lutheran one: weird shit caused by beings created by God is preternatural. Weird shit caused by God Himself is supernatural.
Digressions and pedantry aside, I don’t use the word “supernatural” to categorize things I don’t believe are real, like talking purple unicorns and honest politicians. Instead, I reject the very existence of the supernatural. I don’t think there is anything within our universe that we cannot subject to human inquiry and understand through the application of reason and science — including talking purple unicorns.
Now let’s talk about Stargate. I know the Wordy Newb is referring to the TV series, but I haven’t seen any of that. I’m going to refer to the movie whose worldwide commercial success made the TV spin-offs possible.
The movie’s primary conflict involves a being venerated by humans on a planet on the other end of a Stargate unearthed in Egypt as the sun god Ra. Though the people on the other end of the Stargate think Ra and the soldiers he uses to oppress them are gods, they’re just primitive screwheads compared to the explorers from Earth, primarily a US Air Force contingent escorting the protagonist who figured out how to open the Stargate.
The explorers demonstrate to the primitive screwheads that their gods are nothing of the sort by killing them. Ra fares no better, though his end is far more spectacular. It turns out he can’t survive having a thermonuclear device initiate in his face. Hence the Boomstick Test: if a god or any other “supernatural” entity can be defeated using human technology, it isn’t supernatural. It’s just weird shit we don’t fully understand yet — like Gozer.
Featured image credit: SJ Graphics.