2015/12/31

Tor Books: The Wind Does Not Respect a Fool

Kahless
Kahless the Unforgettable will allow Tor's obstinacy--and recount it as a warning to others,
It's been six months since public slanders against Tor Books' readers and authors by company employees Irene Gallo, Moshe Feder, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden incited a boycott against the publisher.

How is business at Tor these days?

Depends on your opinion of Tor--and legacy publishers in general. I'll provide a few relevant data points.

Tor's Lost Halo
Publishing tie-in novels to the immensely popular Halo series of video games has been one of Tor Books' major revenue streams. At the time of this writing, Halo: The Fall of Reach stands among Tor's top ten best sellers alongside books by Orson Scott Card and Robert Jordan.

But now, Tor can kiss all of the no doubt massive sales of future Halo books goodbye.

"On February 4, 2014, it was announced that 343 Industries had contracted Gallery Books as their new publishing partner, marking the end of the deal with Tor."
 We’ve had the luxury of working with amazing novelists and publishing partners in the past – and we’re excited to continue that tradition and growth with the announcement of our new novel publishing partner, Gallery Books – and we can’t wait to share the worlds and wonders we’ll build together.
-Frank O'Connor, 343 Industries 
I couldn't dig up the specific reason why 343 chose not to renew their Halo contract with Tor. Blaming the boycott would be ridiculous, since the contract expired in 2014--a year before the Gallo affair even happened.

Still, Tor promotes itself as the world's leading publisher of science fiction. If that's true, it's odd indeed that they'd lose the novel rights to the biggest SF franchise in gaming.

It's worth noting that Gallery Books is an imprint of Simon and Schuster, who also publish Star Trek novels. I've heard anecdotal accounts that they do a good job of it, too--making them the only competent Star Trek license holders.
We are thrilled to be working with 343 Industries and Microsoft on these upcoming Halo books, it’s a phenomenal brand that continues to grow and we look forward to continuing the ascent with them.
-Louise Burke, President of Gallery Books
Yep, Halo is a growing brand, and other than the books they've already published, Tor won't be seeing a dime of that growth.


Scaalziii!!!
scalzi
The Invisible Man likeness is apt, since Scalzi will be disappearing from Tor through 2016.
Earlier this year, SF author John Scalzi made waves in the trad publishing establishment when he announced the $3.4 million contract he'd signed with Tor. According to the deal, Tor will publish thirteen new Scalzi books over the next ten years.

Everything is coming up Milhouse for Tor's newly minted superstar--with the notable exception of this Very Important News.
So, here’s the Very Important News about my 2016 novel release:
Currently, there isn’t one. Not a new one, anyway.
Which isn’t to say I’m not writing a novel in 2016. In fact, I’m writing two(!). Merely that Tor has decided to wait until 2017 to release the next new one.
Now, I've been studying the publishing business for several years (and recently got into it myself), but a publisher delaying the release of a book--and one by a major league author, no less--by a whole year contradicts every industry rule I've seen.

Almost every publisher expects their authors to publish a book per year. And honestly, I think that's too slow. Regardless, there are many good reasons why releasing at least one book each year by a particular author is enshrined in the publishing status quo (and more is better).

  • A given piece of pop entertainment can only hold the public's attention for about six months.
  • The highest earning authors actually publish 3-5 books per year.
  • Most trad-published authors must release more titles than indie authors to earn the same amount of money.
  • A publisher's most valuable commodity isn't an author's books; it's his brand. A brand that's out of the public eye is a brand that's not growing.

How to explain Tor putting Scalzi's brand on hold? According to the author:
Why the wait? Among other things, because Tor just dropped a ton of money on me so we want to make sure we debut this next novel, the first in the new contract, just right. I’m on board with this plan — note the “we” in that last sentence — since (again, among other things) I actually want to try to earn out the silly large chunks of money Tor has dropped on me. I also don’t mind the extra time it gives me to write/tweak the novels I’m currently working on.
This explanation makes no sense. In particular, citing the need to earn out an advance is a total non-sequitur. A book advance is essentially a loan to be repaid with future royalties from that specific book. The only way to earn out the advance is to sell copies of the book; therefore the sooner you release a book, the sooner you start earning back the advance.

It's been speculated that Tor has demanded major rewrites on the first manuscript that Scalzi has submitted under his new contract. I think that scenario unlikely considering the time frame involved. Authors are routinely ordered to make massive revisions in six to eight weeks. Had Tor delayed the release by as much as six months, the rewrite theory may have been plausible.

One way I can see a Big Five publisher pushing back one of its biggest author's titles by a whole year is if they found the submitted work wholly unsatisfactory, requiring that an entirely new book be written.

This development could have something to do with the boycott. Scalzi was first signed, and later anointed Tor's next big thing, by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. There's not enough publicly available information to determine if the science fiction manager's disgraceful behavior and the resulting customer backlash has imperiled his position in the company, but it's certainly possible.

Of course, had an officer of a sane and customer-centered company behaved in a similar way, his position would be more than imperiled.


The flipping of the book industry script
According to Author Earnings, legacy publishing just had one of the worst eighteen month sales periods in recent history.

Between February, 2014 and September, 2015, the 1200 members of the AAP (including Tor) saw their share of the eBook market reduced:
  • from 45% of all Kindle books sold down to 32%
  • from 64% of Kindle publisher gross $ revenue down to 50%
  • from 48% of all Kindle author net $ earnings down to 32%

author earnings

In fact, the Amazon eBook market has turned upside down.
Today, traditionally-published authors are barely earning 40% of all Kindle ebook royalties paid, while self-published indie authors and those published by Amazon’s imprints are taking home almost 60%.
Meanwhile, reports that all eBook sales are in decline are, well...lies. Amazon themselves say that eBook sales are still growing.

That means readers are fleeing legacy publishers for indie authors and small publishers who give them the entertainment they want and don't call their customers neo-Nazis.

Again, ascribing Tor's plummeting eBook sales to the boycott would be presumptive. The proximate cause of trad publishers' sagging sales is their recent increase in eBook prices following Hachette's Pyrrhic victory over Amazon.

The Big Five sought to protect the paper book market they dominate by making eBooks unreasonably expensive. Once again mistaking their own declining eBook sales for a universal downturn, they've ceded dominance in the healthy Kindle market.

Though the Tor boycott didn't cause trad publishing's dismal state of affairs, it certainly hasn't helped them. As I've said before, boycotts like this shouldn't pursue the quixotic goal of running a billion dollar company out of business.

The point of boycotting Tor, as I see it, is twofold: first, to test the company's responsiveness to its customers; and second, to disentangle oneself form cooperation with the offending company if it obstinately refuses to mend its evil ways.

Tor partisans have gleefully asserted that the boycott has been ineffective. On the contrary, it's greasing the garbage chute that the former biggest sci-fi publisher in the world is already sliding down.

2015/12/29

Nethereal Suggested for Sad Puppies 4 and Praise for Daddy Warpig

Sad Puppies 4

We're five days into the Christmas season, and my regular social media haunts are brimming with encouraging; you might even say humbling, developments.

Distant Hugo Rumblings
It was recently brought to my attention that my debut novel Nethereal has been recommended for inclusion on the Sad Puppies 4 reading list.

For the shrinking number of SF fans who aren't aware, Sad Puppies 4: The Embiggening is an all-inclusive effort, led by author Kate Paulk, to assemble a recommended reading list of 2015's best sci-fi and fantasy works in preparation for next year's Hugo awards.

SP4's organizers have gone to great lengths to assure the public that they are not putting together a slate of prospective nominees. Instead, they are essentially conducting a poll to determine which books, films, related works, etc. are deemed worthy of consideration by the fans. With nearly a million new books published each year, SP4 aims to make likely Hugo voters aware of works they might otherwise have missed, and to help establish a broad-based consensus regarding nominations.

There is no fee or political litmus test to make suggestions. Anyone can participate (even George R. R. Martin, himself a vocal critic of Sad Puppies 3, has voiced his support). That is the rationale behind SP4's subtitle "The Embiggening". The bigger the number of fans who make their preferences known, the better.

With major league authors like Jim Butcher, Anne Leckie, and Larry Correia represented, imagine my surprise when I learned that my obscure space opera has been suggested for a Best Novel nomination, and that my name has been mentioned among far more prominent names for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

As a member in good standing of World Con, I fully support SP4's efforts to expand the voting membership to reflect the astronomical growth of sci-fi fandom. They say it's an honor just to be nominated. Since a nomination is, at best, highly unlikely, I'll restrict myself to saying that I'm honored and humbled that a non-zero number of readers find my book award-worthy.

By all means, judge the work for yourself.

Of course, when I've whittled down my to-be-read pile a little more, I plan to join in and offer some recommendations of my own.



Geek Gab Star Wars Episode Reactions
Speaking of the Hugos, six-time Hugo nominee John C. Wright lavishes praise on Geek Gab emcee Daddy Warpig for our recent review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Daddy Warpig suggests a much cleverer use of the characters: Leia, obsessed with finding Luke in order to straighten out her criminal mastermind son, enters the galactic underworld as once she did before (when she infiltrated Jabba the Hutt) and has grown bitter and cynical with time, and SHE is the smuggler. Meanwhile, respected war hero Han Solo is now weighed down by a desk job, and debating tax policy in the Senate.
But for my money, DW's highest accolade came from one of Mr. Wright's readers:

Geek Gab - Red Letter Media

Keep it up, Daddy Warpig! If you're drawing favorable comparisons to the guys who wrote the book on Star Wars reviews, you're doing something right.

2015/12/26

Creed (2015)

Creed 2015

I'm glad that Daddy Warpig and Red Letter Media made me aware of this hidden gem. Otherwise I would have missed it amid the hype surrounding other Christmas season movie releases.

For the sake of those who haven't seen the movie yet, I'll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.

Synopsis
Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson--a man who survived the rough and tumble foster care system of his childhood to become a productive member of society. Yet Johnson has a secret: his violent formative years have left their mark. In his time off from corporate America, he lives a double life as an amateur brawler in the underground boxing venues of Mexico.

What drives Adonis Johnson to risk his social position--and yes, his life--in the ring? The movie's name reveals the answer. Adonis is actually the title character; the son of Apollo Creed. Adopted by the widow whom Apollo cuckolded, Adonis fights not to honor his late father, but to defeat him.

Johnson's unresolved anger at his father is artfully expressed through the visual language of film when Adonis stands against a screen where Apollo's classic bout with Rocky Balboa is projected and begins to shadow box--not as his father, but as Rocky.

This double life finally collapses when Johnson quits his white collar job and moves to Philadelphia, intent on becoming a professional boxer. There, he seeks training from the only man who can help him exorcise his father's ghost: the long-retired Rocky himself.

Analysis
Having greatly enjoyed its predecessor, 2006's Rocky Balboa, I had high hopes for Creed but tried to keep my expectations reasonable. After all, it's been almost a decade since the last installment in this series. What if Stallone had lost it? What if the new lead couldn't handle the role? What if the director wasn't up to the challenge?

I'm happy to report that Creed fulfills its potential on all levels. Sylvester Stallone is still a great actor who has only gained quiet gravitas with age. He easily slips into the role of trainer once held by the venerable Micky (Burgess Meredith).

Michael B. Jordan capably portrays a hungry young athlete who is equally driven and haunted by his father's greatness. His Adonis Creed is perhaps even more complex than Rocky--dedicated, yet temperamental; affectionate, yet sometimes selfish. Jordan succeeds in making this imperfect character endearing. The audience is firmly in his corner from the start.

Praise is also due to Creed's director, Ryan Coogler. His expert understanding of every element that makes a Rocky movie--or any sports movie, for that matter--work is on full display. From the gritty fight cinematography that remains intelligible for all its high energy, to his bold (in today's cinematic climate) choice to ease off the accelerator in order to properly develop characters, Coogler shows that he cares about the subject matter and the medium.

Word is that Coogler has been tapped by Marvel to direct Black Panther. If this rumor is true, we're likely in for a treat.

Special nods to the fans
Ever wonder who won the final, secret fight between Rocky and Apollo? Creed delivers the answer! Coogler also takes the lessons of the first Rocky to heart in his direction of this film's main conflict.

The only problem I have with Creed is minor, and it is itself a compliment to the film. Taking more time for characterization means that many of the boxing matches had to be truncated. I wanted to see more of the fights!

All in all, Creed is a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise that promises to keep the series headed in a lively and interesting direction.

2015/12/24

Return of the Amazon Zombie Memes

zombie hunting

Legacy publishers just refuse to let those zombie memes die! Whether it's claiming that Amazon is a monopoly or that all eBook sales are declining, champions of the publishing status quo keep regurgitating patent falsehoods no matter how many times they're refuted.

You really can't blame them. How else can the Big Five trick aspiring authors into signing draconian, unconscionable contracts? Why, without their zombie memes, big publishers might have to raise royalties, drop non-compete clauses, or price eBooks reasonably to attract and keep authors!

And we can't have that.

Another propaganda piece rife with legacy pub zombie memes recently came to my attention. The article is by Berrett-Koehler Publishers and bears the equivocally-worded-to-sound-more-frightening title "10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing".

Let's carefully search each of these "truths" for hidden zombie memes, shall we?

BK's quotes appear below in italics; mine in bold.

1. The number of books being published every year has exploded. According to the latest Bowker Report (October 9, 2013), over 391,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2012, which is an amazing increase of 422 percent since 2007. The number of non-self-published books issued annually has also climbed over the same period to approximately 300,000 in 2012. The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 400,000 since 2007, to approximately 700,000 annually. And since 2007, nearly 10 million previously published books have been reissued by companies that reprint public domain works. Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely oversaturated.

I won't deny the Bowker Report numbers. I will point out that jumping from those numbers to concluding that the market is oversaturated rests on the unstated premise that publishing--and eBook publishing in particular--is a zero sum game.

It's not hard to believe that there are around 400,000 new self-published books each year. Hell, those numbers are from 2013. Let's think big and say they're up to one million now. Ebooks aren't like cars or even toasters--things each customer only needs one of. As Joe Konrath explains:
Ebook sales aren't a zero sum game. A sale of one ebook doesn't preclude the sale of another, because this is a burgeoning global market with hundreds of new customers introduced daily, and people naturally horde [sic] more than they need. 

2. Book industry sales are declining, despite the explosion of books published. Adult nonfiction print unit book sales peaked in 2007 and have declined each year since then, according to BookScan (Publishers Weekly, January 6, 2014, and previous reports). Similarly, bookstore sales peaked in 2007 and have fallen each year since then, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2014, and previous reports).

Nice try. Note the weasel word "book industry", and how the following phrase "explosion of books published" implies that self-published books mentioned in the previous paragraph are included. The result is that the reader thinks that ALL book sales are declining.

Which, as Fortune demonstrates, is bullshit.
According to the figures from Author Earnings — which are based in part on regular samples of Amazon sales data — what’s really been happening is that the market share of established publishers has been declining, while sales of independently published e-books have been growing.

Do I think that legacy publishers are outright lying? Not necessarily. After all, the "Book Industry" has bee synonymous with them for so long that ignoring indie authors is second nature.


3. Despite the growth of e-book sales, overall book sales are still shrinking. After skyrocketing from 2008 to 2012, e-book sales leveled off in 2013. Unfortunately, the decline of print sales outpaced the growth of e-book sales, even from 2008 to 2012. According to BookStats data reported by the Association of American Publishers (May 15, 2013), revenues in the entire U.S. book publishing marketplace fell again in 2012, to $27.1 billion. The total book publishing pie is not growing—the peak was hit in 2007—yet it is being divided among ever more hundreds of thousands of digital and print books.

There it is again. That's it. I hereby declare that equating the entire Book Industry with the membership of the AAP is now an official zombie meme.

Here's the real story.
In nearly all media coverage of the AAP’s declining ebook revenue, their sales — the sales of just 1,200 traditional publishers — are being conflated with the overall sales of the entire US ebook market. The substitution is so automatic, that most of the journalists breathlessly repeating stories about a ‘shrinking US ebook market’ are completely oblivious to the difference.
Again, the overall book market isn't shrinking. The legacy publishing market is shrinking, and indie is picking up the slack.


4. Average book sales are shockingly small—and falling fast. Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 225 million books were sold in 2013 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 6, 2014). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. And very few titles are big sellers. Only 62 of 1,000 business books released in 2009 sold more than 5,000 copies, according to an analysis by the Codex Group (New York Times, March 31, 2010).

The misinformation is layered thick, here.

A) Granting that average book sales are small, immediately appealing to the debunked zero sum canard makes this whole argument suspect.

B) More weaseling, this time by mentioning Amazon as a false sign of completeness. But BookScan only tracks sales of  books with ISBNs. Look at the Author Earnings chart above. What category of books has seen the most growth while trad-pubbed book sales sagged? That's right--indie books without ISBNs.

C) Check out the sudden shift from measuring the sales of all books (which BookScan doesn't, anyway) to US adult nonfiction. Those figures could be true, for all I know. It's weird to focus on non-fiction, though, since fiction sells far better.


5. A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.

Warning: there is only one carriage whip manufacturer left in the United States!

On a totally unrelated note, Amazon has infinite shelf space. 


6. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books. Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each book is competing with more than ten million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.

The "All Books Are Legacy Books" zombie and the "Publishing Is a Zero Sum Game" zombie have joined forces! Whatever shall we do?

How about not wasting money on ineffective advertising, and instead building a web site that people want to visit and selling them your book directly?


7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities. Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

Good job, BK, you actually brought up an interesting point.

With Western civilization fracturing and stratifying into divided groups and classes, the very concept of art with mass appeal is becoming obsolete.

And you know what? As an author I'm fine with that.

"Awful Truth" #7 reads like it's aimed at the starry-eyed naif who expects his book to be chosen from the slush pile and handed a ticket for the express elevator of trad author success. A seven figure advance, a national marketing blitz, movie and TV deals--these were only ever given to 1% of the 1% of authors.

That's OK, because unlike before, when a writer's only alternatives to making it big were languishing in total obscurity or, perhaps worse, midlist hell; more authors than ever have the chance to earn a living through their art.

If you can be satisfied with living comfortably instead of extravagantly, all it takes is 1000 true fans.

Personally, I prefer building relationships with a tight-knit community of patrons than hawking my wares to faceless masses I'll never know.

Although, if the faceless masses really want to pay me their hard-earned money for my books, I won't complain.


8. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers. Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

You're two for seven now, BK. Keep up this trend, and you may salvage a shred of legitimacy.

It's absolutely true that you, the author, are responsible for marketing your book whether you sign with a publisher or not.

By the way, those "sales channels" the publishers have a lock on are the highly limited and declining dead tree outlets mentioned earlier.

As for "crafting books to succeed", judging by their own numbers, trad publishers have apparently forgotten how to do this.

Self-publishing means taking on the responsibilities of a writer and a publisher.

But publishers are increasingly pushing their traditional responsibilities onto authors.

So tell me, BK, why exactly do authors need you--or any legacy publisher--again?


9. No other industry has so many new product introductions. Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $50,000 to $150,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these new product introduction expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

The truth parade continues! Good job.

NB: if you want an idea of the total sunk costs for each of my self-published books, take the low sales figure in the quote above, minus some zeroes. I'm just a punk self-pubbed author, but my profit margins blow the Big Fives' out of the water.

The real awful truth that these numbers expose is how inefficient legacy publishers are.

Once again--why do I need them?


10. The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil. The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition, churning of new technologies, and rapid growth of other media lead to constant turmoil in bookselling and publishing (such as the bankruptcy of Borders and many other stores). Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

And BK fails to stick the landing by stumbling over the old "All Publishing Is Legacy Publishing" zombie.

The biggest technological changes that pose the most serious challenges to traditional publishing are Amazon and the indie published authors who are eating the Big Five's lunch.

But don't worry, Big Five. Just keep reading The New York Times, who know the real score--that the "Book Industry" is fine.


Meanwhile, those who don't lie awake at night dreading the imminent demise of the Book Industry can check out my book. (The sequel's on the way.)

2015/12/23

A Discussion of Sci-Fi Soul Swapping

mind transfer

The perennial subject of mind/soul-swapping as portrayed in science fiction recently came up at John C. Wright's blog.

Reader Kevin Stuart Lee kicked things off.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the metaphysics of mind transfer. Does that tenet of the singularitarians and transhumanists assume materialism? If so, and if materialist metaphysics are false, then mind-transfer/downloading as imagined in sci-fi from Asimov to Star Trek to Stross to the recently released game “Soma” should be impossible, correct?

To which I replied:
Correct.
The SF conceit of “mind-transfer” relies on the errors of Cartesian mind/body dualism and conflating mental faculties with the mind’s contents.
The soul is the form of the body. The intellect is a power of the soul, and knowledge is a good that the intellect seeks.
While knowledge is certainly transferable; the soul, and thus the intellect, is not. Transferring your soul to another body would be like trying to transfer a baseball’s “sphericalness” to cubical block. You could whittle the cube down to a sphere, but it wouldn’t be the same ball.
It may one day be possible to upload all of the knowledge in your mind, but that’s not the same as uploading your “self”.
If people were solely defined by the knowledge in their minds, then suffering from amnesia–or even ordinary memory loss–would make you no longer yourself. This principle would also apply to newly acquired knowledge, so you would become a different person every time you learned something new.

So much for that question. Or was it? The formidable Stephen J. stepped up to play devil's advocate.
To be fair, some people have argued that’s exactly what happens — that broad-spectrum permanent amnesia amounts to a destruction of the personality. BABYLON 5 even spun one of their best episodes around that conceit, “Passing Through Gethsemane,” in which a character finds out that he is actually a former serial killer who was sentenced to mindwipe and personality reconstruction.

I accepted the challenge.
I’m familiar with that argument. I even had a friendly debate with a regular commenter over at Briggs’ on the same subject. She knows someone who suffered neurological trauma that did in fact completely change his personality.
But citing such examples is circular in this context. I concede that various forms of neural impairment may destroy one’s personality. That still begs the question: *whose* personality?

Undaunted, Stephen answered:
Hm. I suppose if I were defending the argument, I would probably say that the assumption here is that personality is identity — that it is functionally and practically, if not theoretically, meaningless to speak of a “who” as an entity separate from the personality; that complete destruction of memory and history, and reboot of personality, effectively divides the consciousness into two identities, and that identity can be treated as functionally equivalent to one’s soul, the latter being effectively a completely new soul as if only just born.

My reply:
To continue in kind, I’d point out that we do in fact speak of personality as distinct from identity–and especially from the soul, and such speech does in fact convey meaning.
Take the case of a newborn infant or a man in a coma–or my prior example of someone acquiring new knowledge and experience.
What’s meaningless would be literally speaking of a grown man and his childhood self as two different people, which the personality=identity position would require.
That’s presuming that a person’s knowledge and personality can be “wiped” in the first place. Knowledge is non-physical (unless you’re willing to posit the existence of “thought particles”). Therefore it has no adjacent parts and therefore cannot be destroyed.
What can and does happen is that the physical machinery responsible for actualizing the knowledge possessed by the intellect breaks down, but the personality, identity, etc. is still there in potency if not in act.

The Indefatigable Mr. J's example of a classic Babylon 5 episode bears mentioning.
(One disquieting fridge-logic implication of the B5 episode is that the Church — which in B5’s future universe takes in those punished by mindwipe to give them new lives as monks — has somehow found a theological justification for that procedure and genuinely considers the new personality to be a new soul, free in God’s eyes from the sins of the old one. Although it is also, I suppose, possible that the Church still vehemently opposes the procedure in principle while still caring for its victims in practice.)

This scenario called to mind the scourge of BMIHD--an affliction suffered by theologians among the audiences of sci-fi shows that base plots on bad metaphysics.
Incidentally, Stephen, thanks for bringing that B5 plot to our attention.
Almost every SF series features technical errors that give physicists headaches. But theologians in fandom are susceptible to a little-known phenomenon called “bad metaphysics-induced headdesk”.
The B5 scenario above presents a grave risk of BMIHD :)
(See also: BEIFP [bad ecclesiology-induced facepalm]).

All in all, a rousing discussion. And let my admiration for B5 be added to the record. Such well-meant ribbing 'tis all in good fun!

Bonus: our gracious host Mr. John C. Wright, who knows more about science fiction than most acquire in seven mortal lifetimes, threw his hat into the ring.
An interesting conceit in Philip Jose Farmer’s RIVERWORLD series was that reincarnation by means of mind transfer (similar to what is in A.E van Vogt’s WORLD OF NULL A or to TO LIVE FOREVER by Jack Vance) but not just the brain information. An artificially created yet mysteriously living energy field, called a ‘wathan’ is spread by the aliens throughout the stars and connects to any sufficiently advanced chordate creature, bestowing a ‘soul’ on him, that is, in indestructible repository of his memory and personality which can be transferred upon death to a similar body.
I myself see more parallel between Gnosticism and the Transhumanism in SF than with Cartesianism. There is not just a believe that souls are a fluid that can be poured without chemical change into any body in the thinking of those whose works I’ve read, but a distaste for the body as such, a belief that being a creature of pure mind, or pure energy (in a story the one represents the other) is the superior state.

I, of course, immediately caved.
Point cheerfully conceded.

Yet Mr. Wright's hunger for SF-themed debate precluded him from accepting my surrender.
Don’t concede too quickly. The obvious analogy between software v hardware and the mind v body is something the engineers and scientists of the Anglosphere would present itself to science fiction quite forcefully, especially since science fiction is, by and large, an attempt to retell old myths born of the prescientific worldview in scientific terms, that is, naturalistic and mechanistic terms. The mechanical version of reincarnation is to treat the mind body duality as a machine, which implies Cartesianism.

I, of course, immediately caved
Concession withdrawn :)
And offered an olive branch:
Perhaps this is a case of both/and instead of either/or.

So the discussion currently stands. What are your thoughts--and do those thoughts define you?

2015/12/21

Why Oligarchs Love Equality

scales
In a perfect followup to my post on why Liberalism inevitably leads to tyranny, Murray Rothbard presents a devastating explanation for why egalitarianism is always championed by elitists.

Rothbard begins by debunking the modern idea of equality.
For 'equality' means 'sameness' — two entities are 'equal' if and only if they are the same thing. X = y only if they are either identical, or they are two entities that are the same in some attribute. If x, y, and z are 'equal in length', it means that each one of them is identical in length, say 3 feet. People, then, can only be 'equal' to the extent that they are identical in some attribute: thus, if Smith, Jones and Robinson are each 5 feet, 11 inches in height, then they are 'equal' in height. But except for these special cases, people are heterogeneous, and diverse, that is, they are 'unequal'. Diversity, and hence 'inequality', is therefore a fundamental fact of the human race.
Like "freedom", "equality" between two subjects only has meaning in relation to some other quality, e.g. length, wealth, prestige, etc. Claiming to support equality without qualification has no more ethical content than an unspecified support for "stuff".
The current veneration of equality is, indeed, a very recent notion in the history of human thought. Among philosophers or prominent thinkers the idea scarcely existed before the mid-eighteenth century; if mentioned, it was only as the object of horror or ridicule...The profoundly anti-human and violently coercive nature of egalitarianism was made clear in the influential classical myth of Procrustes, who 'forced passing travelers to lie down on a bed, and if they were too long for the bed he lopped off those parts of their bodies which protruded, while racking out the legs of the ones who were too short. This was why he was given the name of Procrustes [The Racker].'
I'd always wondered where the term "Procrustean" came from. Thanks to Murray, now I know!

Next, Rothbard lays bare the inherent impossibility of any quest for equality.
And even if, for the sake of argument, we can assume general equality of income and wealth, other inequalities will not only remain, but, in a world of equal incomes, they will become still more glaring and more important in weighing people. Differences of position, differences of occupation, and inequalities in the job hierarchy and therefore in status and prestige will become even more important, since income and wealth will no longer be a gauge for judging or rating people. Differences in prestige between physicians and carpenters, or between top executives and laborers, will become still more accentuated. Of course, job prestige can be equalized by eliminating hierarchy altogether, abolishing all organizations, corporations, volunteer groups, etc. Everyone will then be equal in rank and decisionmaking power. Differences in prestige could only be eliminated by entering the Marxian heaven and abolishing all specialization and division of labor among occupations, so that everyone would do everything. But in that sort of economy, the human race would die out with remarkable speed.
Of course, egalitarianism's most glaring contradiction is the inescapable need for a powerful elite to implement it.
When we confront the egalitarian movement, we begin to find the first practical, if not logical, contradiction within the program itself: that its outstanding advocates are not in any sense in the ranks of the poor and oppressed, but are Harvard, Yale, and Oxford professors, as well as other leaders of the privileged social and power elite. What kind of 'egalitarianism' is this? If this phenomenon is supposed to embody a massive assumption of liberal guilt, then it is curious that we see very few of this breast-beating elite actually divesting themselves of their worldly goods, prestige, and status, and go live humbly and anonymously among the poor and destitute. Quite the contrary, they seem not to stumble a step on their climb to wealth, fame, and power. Instead, they invariably bask in the congratulations of themselves and their like-minded colleagues of the high-minded morality in which they have all cloaked themselves.
The Iron Law of Oligarchy dictates that hierarchies will inevitably arise within the decision making organs of any human association, due to inherent differences of ability, commitment, etc. Therefore, any organization seeking to promote equality can never rid its own ranks of elitism.

Again, much like Liberalism, egalitarianism is progressively totalitarian by nature and necessity.
...the egalitarian impulse, once granted legitimacy, cannot be appeased. If monetary or real incomes become equalized, or even if decisionmaking power should be equalized, otherdifferences among persons become magnified and irritating to the egalitarian: inequalities in looks, intelligence, and so on
And yet, it's interesting how the wealthy, powerful egalitarian elite always manage to exempt themselves from the leveling of wealth and power that they advocate.

Rothbard invokes the German sociologist Helmut Schoeck, who...
...has pointed out that modern egalitarianism is essentially an institutionalization of envy. In contrast to successful or functional societies, where envy is always considered a shameful emotion, egalitarianism sets up a pervasive attitude that the exciting of envy by manifesting some form of superiority is considered the greatest evil. Or, as Schoeck put it, 'the highest value is envy-avoidance.' ...Indeed, communist anarchists explicitly aim to stamp out private property because they believe that property gives rise to inequality, and therefore to feelings of envy, and hence 'causes' crimes of violence against those with more property. But as Schoeck points out, economic egalitarianism would then not be sufficient: and compulsory uniformity of looks, intelligence, etc. would have to follow.

I seem to recall someone else warning us that "Leftism is politicized envy."

Back to Rothbard, who points out that the original application of egalitarianism, which was limited to equality of incomes, has mutated and proliferated like a virus into every aspect of human life.
 As we all know, the new egalitarians search for 'oppressed' groups who are lower in income, status, or prestigious jobs than others, who become the designated 'oppressors.' In classic leftism or Marxism, there was only one alleged 'oppressed group', the proletariat. Then the floodgates were opened, and the ranks of the designated oppressed, or 'accredited victims', have proliferated seemingly without end. It began with the oppressed blacks, and then in rapid succession, there were woman, Hispanics, American Indians, immigrants, 'the disabled', the young, the old, the short, the very tall, the fat, the deaf, and so on ad infinitum. The point is that the proliferation is, in fact, endless. Every individual 'belongs' to an almost infinite variety of groups or classes.
How does the egalitarian elite convince members of "oppressor groups" to participate in their own fleecing? The same way the old egalitarians convinced successful people to part with their wealth--by inducing guilt for their "unfair" advantages.

Rothbard's closing argument perfectly aligns with the gist of my post on Liberal tyranny when he identifies the common factor that enabled both Liberalism and egalitarianism to triumph in the West.

Quoting economist and sociologist Joseph Schumpeter:
Capitalist rationality does not do away with sub- or super-rational impulses. It merely makes them get out of hand by removing the restraint of sacred or semi-sacred tradition. In a civilization that lacks the means and even the will to guide them, they will revolt. …
...capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.
...there was very little hostility [to free-market capitalism] on principle as long as the bourgeois position was safe, although there was then much more reason for it; it [the hostility] spread pari passu with the crumbling of the protective walls.
No civilization can survive the erosion of its founding values for long. Hostile parasites within and without sense its weakness and descend like vultures.
In his sparkling essay, 'Equality as a Political Weapon', Samuel Francis gently chides conservative opponents of egalitarianism for expending a large amount of energy in philosophical, historical, and anthropological critiques of the concept and the doctrine of equality. This entire 'formal critique', however rewarding and illuminating, declares Francis, is really wide of the mark...
How so? The doctrine of equality is 'unimportant', Francis explains, 'because no one, save perhaps Pol Pot or Ben Wattenberg, really believes in it, and no one, least of all those who profess it most loudly, is seriously motivated by it.'
In a way, egalitarianism is even more insidious than Liberalism. Unlike liberty, which has legitimacy in its proper context, equality is an impossible self-contradiction invoked as a cynical justification for granting the elitists who promote it ever more power.

2015/12/19

Operation: Silent Night

Star Wars 7

The wait is over! Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally been released to enraptured audiences.

Unfortunately, I was not among them. The only showing that wasn't sold out was in 3D, which to me doesn't make movies look three-dimensional so much as it turns them blurry and induces migraines.

Instead of reviewing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I'm pleased to announce that I'll be doing the next best thing--reviewing Operation: Silent Night, the 1983 Christmas episode of hit 1980s TV series Magnum, P.I.!

Before we dive right into the episode, it's worth noting that there's a fascinating connection between Magnum and Star Wars by way of one series' creator and both series' stars.

The Indiana Jones We Deserved
Everyone knows that superstar Harrison Ford played the title role in the George Lucas-produced Indiana Jones series. But did you know that we almost got a different Indy?

It's true! Had fate's fickle hand not intervened, the iconic role of Indiana Jones would have gone to none other than Tom Selleck.

Behold the irrecoverable loss to the art of film--and all of Western civilization!

Both Lucas and Spielberg loved Selleck's performance and were ready to sign him on the spot. Unfortunately, Selleck was already contracted to play the title character of another landmark series--that's right, Magnum, P.I.. CBS refused to let him out of the contract, so we got stuck with Ford.

Yet all was not lost. Instead of playing Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. in a paltry three films (yes, I said and meant three), Selleck got the chance to shine for eight seasons on one of the 1980s' most consistently highest-rated TV shows.

With a pedigree like that, you'd expect Magnum, P.I. to bring something special to the table when it came to Christmas episodes, and you'd be right! The episode I've chosen in honor of the event which Higgins rightly calls, "one of the most sacred in human history" is the 1983 Christmas special, Operation: Silent Night.

The Main Event
Note: I won't bother with spoiler warnings for a 32 year-old TV show. Besides, you all should have watched every episode of Magnum by now, if not committed the whole series to memory.

Magnum 1
Less seedy than most mall Santas
Written by the dynamic duo of Chris Abbott and Reuben Leder and directed by Fantasy IslandIncredible Hulk, and A-Team veteran Michael Vejar, this episode couldn't have asked for a more capable creative team.

The adventure begins with Magnum, TC, Rick, and Higgins en route to various Christmas festivities in TC's helicopter, which in no way resembles an off-the-shelf model.

Magnum 2
Pictured: a real helicopter next to a freakishly large tree
A mechanical failure forces TC to put the chopper down on a deserted island. The four men immediately fall to squabbling at the prospect of missing their respective Christmas celebrations.

Meanwhile, unknown to our heroes, the captain of a nearby US Navy destroyer--played to hawkish perfection by Ed Lauter--decides to target the island they've landed on for artillery practice.

Magnum 3
Christmas leave is cancelled until morale improves!
Unaware of their plight, the four castaways nonetheless get to work on various escape plans. These include attempting to repair the helicopter, building a signal fire on the beach, and cannibalizing the lost wreck of a WWII Japanese scout plane to build a canoe.

Magnum 4
This guy is partially responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, but Magnum is honorable enough to give him a proper burial and notify his next of kin. Classy!
The Navy ignores the signal fire, and the makeshift canoe sinks--along with Higgins' Christmas spirit. But Magnum cheers everyone up by playing Santa before their dinner of tropical root and berry gruel.

Magnum 5
Eat your heart out, Charlie Brown!
The destroyer starts shelling the island. Luckily, TC gets the helicopter working just in time, and our heroes get away by the skin of their teeth.

Magnum 6
A Christmas episode with big ass explosions. Thanks, Magnum, P.I.!
In the end, everyone learns not to take friendship for granted and not to lose hope, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. The stodgy captain even wishes the ensign a merry Christmas.

Plus, explosions. HUGE explosions.

Is Magnum, P.I. episode S04E10 Operation: Silent Night the best Christmas episode of any TV series ever? In a nutshell, yes. Yes it is.

2015/12/18

There's No Voting Our Way out of This

voting

A previous post on how the tide is turning against legacy media and its Leftist bias drew commenters who rightly observed that I offered no solutions for the current political crisis.

Right up front, let me point out that I'm a schlock hack SF writer who is unqualified to propose a plan for mending our broken electoral system. Art reflects culture, and like all artists my first job is entertaining you, and a distant second, to illustrate problems; not to give answers.

Besides, in my experience the overwhelming majority of people who ask for solutions are really asking, "How can we elect enough members of Party X/pass the right laws to fix this rotten state of affairs?"

This is a rare case where I actually have an answer: we ain't voting our way out of this one.

Understanding the problem
Most people know that the Western world is undergoing an existential crisis. Those who claim that everything's fine are either in deep denial for fear of confronting the truth, or they're convinced that they stand to gain if the crisis continues or even worsens.

We're all aware of the symptoms. The US national debt is over eighteen trillion dollars and rising. 94 million Americans cannot find work and have given up looking. The massive influx of refugees is wreaking havoc on Europe. In the US, taxpayers are forced to fund infanticide and support organ trafficking. Islamic terrorists massacre Americans and Europeans, yet legacy media tools cite bogus reports to indict their fellow countrymen.

Living in such a state of grave disorder is taking its toll, as rates of drug abuse, mental illness, and suicide are rising.

"Classical" Liberals
Among those who acknowledge these problems, it's common to lay the blame on laws and policies associated with liberalism. They point out that the welfare state erodes the family and perpetuates poverty, that mass immigration costs Americans jobs, and that the left wants to fundamentally transform America.

The go-to solution, even among those who understand the severity of the crisis, is usually to elect more Republicans.

Ryan Obama

Even though the GOP, including the current Republican-dominated legislature, keeps stabbing their constituents in the back by advancing Leftist policies.

The perceived failure of conservatives to stand up for their principles is neither accidental nor anomalous. Conservative principles, to the extent that they can be said to exist at all, are derived from Liberalism.

When confronted with this fact, there are some conservatives who claim the mantle of "Classical Liberalism". They say that they adhere to the principles of liberty championed by the Founding Fathers, which modern day liberals have betrayed.

They'e got it backwards.

In his compelling, meticulously argued book The Tyranny of Liberalism, James Kalb explains the history of Liberal political philosophy, its pre-eighteenth century origins, and its goals. Simply stated, Liberalism seeks government power to give individuals maximum license to indulge their personal preferences.

Examining today's unrest in light of dominant Liberal theory, Kalb reaches a number of conclusions that mainstream conservatives may find disturbing.

  • Liberalism, by definition, makes freedom an absolute. It cannot ultimately accept any external limit on personal license. Therefore even "Classical" Liberalism is progressively totalitarian.
  • There is no stable, ideal version of Liberalism. The "Classical Liberalism" that some hold up as definitive is actually an illusion created by Liberals' practice of temporarily accommodating relatively more liberal alternatives to less liberal systems. (Liberals opportunistically support constitutional monarchists over absolute monarchists, representative republicans over constitutional monarchists, etc.)
  • Being absolutist, progressive, and totalitarian, Liberalism can only lead to tyranny.
  • Liberalism is self-contradictory. It is impossible for everyone to pursue their personal preferences unhindered at all times. You are going to have one person who prefers to blast loud music all night living next door to another who prefers going to bed early. There is no way for the government to intervene without infringing on one party's freedom.
  • Conservatives are even more self-contradictory. As "Classical Liberals", conservatives operate under the same basic principles as their supposed opposition does. The only difference is that self-identified liberals are internally consistent in following their philosophy to its tyrannical end, while conservatives must draw an ever-receding series of lines in the sand.
  • This process of halfhearted opposition and incremental retreat strikes independent observers as arbitrary, because it is. Since they are merely retrograde Liberals, conservatives can give no coherent reason for violating the progressive core principle of Liberalism. This incoherence dooms conservatives to ultimate failure.
The Tyranny of Liberalism
This book will explain America's political debacle to you--if you want it explained.
Considering Solutions
The Founding Fathers weren't con men who knowingly tricked Americans into adopting a form of government that would inevitably leave them in chains. Their own writings testify that they truly believed they'd given their countrymen the best possible hope for freedom.

At the same time, the founders of the United States were wise enough to understand that freedom alone wasn't enough.
Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
--John Adams
History shows that Liberal government can work under one--and only one--circumstance. Conservatism fails to check progressivism because attempting to do so hacks at the root of the tree where conservatives themselves are perched.

The only way that citizens of a polity that absolutizes freedom can stave off tyranny is if their preferences are informed by a moral system that upholds the good; not freedom, as absolute.

You probably know where I'm going with this.
The fatal flaw in treating freedom as an absolute is that the proposition is simply false. The value of freedom depends entirely on the value of the good you can get with it. In that sense, freedom is moral fiat currency.


Only when their freedom is oriented toward intrinsic goods can a people truly be called free. A functional and rightly ordered society requires common understandings of what is good. Since Liberalism, which simply substitutes freedom for the good, can't define objective goods, where can we find a source of necessary common understandings?

The Walk to Canossa
NB: the dude in sackcloth is an emperor.
Christianity is the only force that's proven capable of keeping Western civilization intact and free.
It's a claim that elicits plenty of knee-jerk denials, but barring objections that the Founding Fathers were all Deists (they weren't), the Founders' own words--like John Adams' above--demonstrate that they were counting on Christian moral principles to inform Americans' exercise of liberty.

Liberalism itself can be thought of as a Christian heresy that distorts man's freedom to seek God into a license to "do whatever you want". As such, the most cherished liberties of Western civilization are derived from developments of Christian doctrine.

The separation of church and state is an innovation undreamed of in pre-Christian times. The second greatest contributor to Western law--the Roman Empire--had a state cult with the emperor as high priest.

Only with the advent of Christian theology supporting the right of resistance to tyranny and an organized Church powerful enough to hold secular rulers accountable did a check on state power--besides bloody rebellion--emerge.

In addition to the separation of secular and religious powers, pretty much every freedom championed by Classical Liberalism has its precedent in Christian theology.

The fact that the Church overthrew a real theocracy that had ruled the West for centuries puts paid to claims that Christians support theocracy.

Am I seriously arguing that everyone should convert to Christianity?
Ideally--but only because Christianity is true; not as a cynical solution to worldly problems. What has been established by historical precedent is that Western-style Liberal governments only work when the majority of their people subscribe to common understandings of morality based on Christian principles.

This isn't such a radical idea, since even the most secular Western nations take Christian moral precepts as a given--if only unconsciously. That's the heart of natural law theory.

The prevailing culture informs how citizens of Liberal democracies vote. The current crisis isn't due to the process breaking down. When the culture that drives it decays, the process spews out garbage.

Still think voting can fix that?

Therefore, solution #1 is a return to natural law-based morality by a majority of the populace.

By no means are self-professed Christians exempt from this challenge. Matters have only deteriorated this far because we, the true guardians against tyranny, have been sleeping on the job. Only twenty percent of us attend church regularly. Many who claim to be pro-life vote Democrat. Though she once broke the power of Caesar, the Catholic Church's addiction to federal funds has brought her to her knees before the US government.

Since you should never ask someone else to do what you're unwilling to do yourself, Christians are advised to begin living according to their stated beliefs if we expect others to follow suit. And we should do it fast, because...

Solution #2 is for the whole system to collapse.

Tonight We Ride
Image courtesy of Napalm Records
Nature always wins. A civilization living contrary to nature cannot survive. Western civilization is now terminally ill. All that's required is that nothing be done, and the crisis will resolve itself.

This solution presents its own set of problems, as few of us are likely to enjoy the period of transition between our current civilization and whatever takes its place.

Those are the available options. The choice is yours--and mine.

2015/12/16

How to Handle Character Agency in Your Writing

fork in the road

Continuing my loose series on advice for aspiring authors, it's time to address a subject that will leave hardcore outliners scratching their heads, but will have organic/discovery writers nodding in commiseration.

That subject is character agency. Or, as frustrated writers lament: "What should I do if my characters want to take actions that will sabotage my plot?"

Again, pure outliner-architects will be totally baffled by this question. "Your characters are just extensions of your own will," they'll say. "How can they 'want' anything that you don't want?"

This misunderstanding stems from the technical differences between authors who construct meticulous outlines before they even start writing, and authors who just dive in and let the story unfold as the spirit moves them.

Hardline architects won't be confronted with a branching plot thread due to character agency, because the characters already had their say (and were probably vetoed) during the outline phase.

But for discovery writers, having their characters hijack the story can be a substantial roadblock. Hopefully I can offer some advice to help writers avoid this problem--or if it's too late for prevention, help them solve it.

Character-author conflict
Full disclosure: I'm predominantly an outliner, though I do discovery write about 40 percent of a given project. It's a high enough ratio that intransigent characters make themselves a problem from time to time.

The source of the problem
At least in my case, characters tend to get uppity when I've gotten myself into a nice groove writing an interesting character. I'm pretty deep inside the character's head to the point that I'm essentially role-playing his thought process and writing it down in real time.

Then, perhaps long after the fact, I'll think "Wait. This guy is mucking about here when the action is supposed to be happening way over there!"

What happened? Chances are I haven't developed the character's motivations well enough. If he's in a story about X, but he'd rather do Y, I probably haven't given him a compelling reason to do X.

Alternate (disturbing) theory: some characters are more real than they seem.
I'm gonna take a pretty weird detour here, but a model derives its worth from its explanatory power, so follow me on this one.

By definition, fictional characters don't exist. But can fictionality admit of degrees?

Tolkien coined the term sub-creation to describe the creative efforts of humans in imitation of God's sovereign creating power. He even illustrated the concept in the Silmarillion.

The story goes that Aule tried to create his own race, but they could only move or think when he focused his thought on them. The same can be said of authors and the characters in their books.

If Aule's story ended there, it would make a fine parable on hubris. But since it's from Tolkien, this tale has a metaphysical twist. Eru confronts Aule about making a race of mindless homunculi. Aule points out that he was just imitating his Father--the highest form of flattery. Eru grants Aule's creations autonomous existence, and BAM! Dwarves.

Tolkien, being a learned Catholic, knew that his story had a venerable precedent. In Genesis 2:19, Adam gives names to every creature, and God backs him up. This, by the way, is a form of prophecy. Prophets don't always make pronouncements dictated to them by God. Often, the prophet gives an oracle and God ratifies it.

Is it possible that a fictitious character could be made real through divine action?

I hope not. If my characters came to life, they'd track me down and murder me. That's if they decided to let me off easy.

We can get even weirder with this. The brother of a friend once solemnly assured me that, due to multiverse theory, every fictional character is real, and authors are just reporting the adventures of people living in parallel universes. James Bond, Dracula, Wolverine--they're all out there somewhere.

I nodded and smiled politely while thinking that he was totally off his nut. I still do, but since becoming a writer I've had cause to wonder about that long ago conversation more than once.

It's a logically inescapable fact that fictional characters are just mental constructs assembled from an author's personal experience, literary influences, and hang-ups. Hell, most of them are thinly veiled versions of the writer's coworkers and friends.

That's what I firmly believe--until a character springs fully formed out of my head with a complete background, personality, and appearance all in place. They even tell me their names. It's far less like creating something and more like meeting someone. This has happened multiple times, with zero mental effort on my part.

Is it just my unconscious mind? Probably, but that raises the equally odd question of how there can be a part of my consciousness that I'm unconscious of.

What are characters--really, and where do they come from? I'm prepared to admit that I don't know.

It's really not important, since we can make the little bastards do what we want, anyway. Here's how.

Getting your characters back in line
Are you halfway into a manuscript, only to find yourself facing a character revolt?

Don't despair. It's happened to me, and I've found a number of effective solutions.

Retrace your steps.
Is your plot spiraling out of control, or branching off on weird tangents that have stalled your main plot? Simply read back to the last point where the story was still on track. Identify where the narrative started to diverge from the intended plot. It's probably because a major player did something that was in character but conflicted with your plan for the story.

Examine character motivations.
Take a close look at the rebellious character's choices. Are they really in line with his personality and background as established in the story thus far?

If not, all you need to do is change his decision to reflect his true motivations, which should be compatible with the overall story. If they're not, however...

Harmonize the character's motivations with the story.
If you want to tell the tale of an underdog resistance group fighting against an oppressive aristocracy, a main character who comes from a noble family, is devoted to tradition, and stands to reap the greatest benefit if the current regime stays in power probably shouldn't be expected to shake up the status quo--not without grave intervening reasons.

In cases where a character's motivations are throwing a wrench in the plot, go back and rework the character so he'll be more willing to cooperate.

Change the story.
Say you've tried to make an unruly character's motivations fit the story, but it just isn't working out, Perhaps you're telling the wrong story.

If changing the character would make him less interesting, and the path he's leading you down is more entertaining than the original story, go ahead and follow his lead.

Brute force
If the character is acting contrary to his established motivations--or even if he's not, but having him act out of character would be more entertaining (no one's behavior is 100 percent consistent), go ahead and make him take the path that's more fun. You're the writer. It's OK to veto your characters' choices as a last resort.

These are the solutions that have helped me slap my characters back into line. But again, I'm an outliner. If any self-professed discovery writers have other effective approaches, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

2015/12/15

New Media vs. Legacy Media: At the Turn of the Tide

A close relative recently confided in me that he's been struggling against a pervasive sense of despair. He's a faithful Christian and dedicated family man whose politics lean conservative. Yet his professional culture and the media he pays attention to bombard him with narratives contrary to his principles on a daily basis.

The reasons for his alienation and unease aren't difficult to see. There is no question that the mainstream media filters news coverage through a Leftist bias. The same goes for the entertainment industry. Anyone who denies that the major news organs, Hollywood studios, and New York publishers lean left is either willfully ignorant or actively spreading misinformation--most likely due to a stint of brainwashing in college.

With all the culture-dominating powers of the media and academia arrayed against him, is my kinsman justified in his despair? Is a pair of thrift store Keds stamping on a human face forever an accurate picture of the future?

Not even close.
turn of the tide
#GamerGate charging the denizens of Castle Gawker
The Turn of the Tide
The left's media monopoly was doomed from the start. The seeds of their undoing lay at the heart of their own ideology all along.

Leftism is totalitarian
Like the Christian faith of which it is a heresy, Liberalism claims to be a universal creed that will usher mankind into paradise at the end of history. Unlike Christianity, Liberalism is based on ahistorical unreality.

Also unlike Christianity, Liberalism cannot tolerate rival philosophies. Leftists say they are progressive, and in this they speak the truth. By its very nature, their ideology must continually advance until it is all in all.

Leftism is at odds with reality
As alluded to above, Leftists operate according to a principle of unreality that not only obstructs their access to the truth, it compels them to speak and believe lies. And not just little white lies; monstrous, absurd, psychotic lies. Their firm, fixed belief that certain words--especially masculine pronouns--are eldritch incantations capable of cursing defenseless listeners is just one example.

The inevitable outcome
You shouldn't need me to explain what happens when a totalitarian ethos that's at war with reality seizes control of the engine that drives culture. As we've seen, its adherents try to remake the culture in their own image. As we've also seen, they have been wildly successful.

But when the implications of an ideology are essentially suicidal, the meaning of "success" gets turned on its head.

The mass media has lost America's trust
media trust
According to Gallup, only 40% of Americans trust the mass media. This dismal intellectual credit rating ties 2012 and 2014 as the lowest on record. Even worse for the MSM's future, their credibility is lowest among younger Americans.

Related: cable news ratings, like all TV ratings, are down, but Fox remains on top of the shrinking heap.

The indie publishing revolution is overthrowing Leftist gatekeepers
author earnings
The Big Five New York publishers have seen their sales of science fiction and fantasy books plummet. Meanwhile, readers are flocking to self-published authors and small independent publishers.

I'm not aware of any studies proving this connection, but reasoned speculation and strong anecdotal evidence indicates that the growth of indie is at least partially due to an exodus of authors and readers who've grown tired of the Big Five's ideological bias.

I can't say that the possibility displeases me.

The corrupt gaming press destroyed by a golem of their own making
Vivian with puppy
For the past year, the #Gamer Gate consumer revolt has seen gamers of all political backgrounds unite to combat dishonest, leftward-slanted media outlets. Their efforts cost tabloid bully site Gawker over $1 million.

Most GG members self-identify as liberal, but tens of thousands of them have gained new respect for conservatives, especially for Republican actor Adam Baldwin, who started the hashtag.

While over in SFF, the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaigns exposed the Hugo Awards' ideological bias.

Youth revolt
Signs of resistance to the currently dominant narrative are even thriving among the much-maligned Millennial generation.

Most Millennials reject radical feminism.

And, along with most Americans, abortion.

Also like their elders, younger Americans support tighter controls over immigration.

That image of the future as a self-beclowned hipster stamping on America's face at an ivy league struggle session is starting to fade like Marty McFly's family photograph.

Speaking of the future...
The Democratic Party doesn't have one.

The upshot
American society has stratified into an elite minority (of both parties) who all live in the same places, go to the same schools, work in entertainment, media, academia, and government, and hate the working class.

The rest of the American people have now caught on to this fact and have begun to actively hate the elites back.

There's a rapidly growing realization that the ruling class, universities, and mass media are illegitimate. This sentiment is gaining steam and will increase exponentially.

Liberals of both parties are done. Finished. They overplayed their hand, and people are wise to their game. Many haven't realized it yet, because the Left is dumping all of its remaining power and influence into a propaganda blitz designed to trick people into thinking that the elite are still in control.

Just like countless failed regimes did before lying down to die on the ash heap of history.