Thursday, March 23, 2017

ICFA 38

This week I'm attending the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando. Eighty-degree days! Nice change from the sudden resurgence of winter we suffered at home last week.

This year's theme is Fantastic Epics. I'm delivering a paper on Brian Lumley's Necroscope series. Next Thursday I'll report on the con.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Depiction Part 26 - Depicting Humanity by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Depiction
Part 26
Depicting Humanity
by
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Previous parts of the Depiction series are listed here:

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/04/index-to-depiction-series-by-jacqueline.html

Well, now we're turning into Spring (Northern Earth Hemisphere) and the world is pretty much in a lot of trouble.  It's a mess.

So, how do writers of Alien Romance "depict" such a multi-leveled mess?

One of my favorite pastimes is to "explain" human behavior (individual behavior and mass behavior) to non-humans.

I've noticed something on TV News lately -- after the shift to interviewers asking only "leading questions" (never any real questions, only telling the interviewee what to say next), we now have almost every person "interviewed" as a talking head using a tone of voice that is either whining or condescending.

What do we mean by "whining" -- well, it's that tone of voice that projects "pleading" to understand what I'm saying.  It has an underlying texture of "complaint" to it, a whine for you to change your mind.  This is what a child does when parents say, "No."  They come back with, "But, you don't get it!"

What do we mean by condescending?  It's that tone you now hear on almost all voice-overs for commercials that are "telling" (not showing or arguing) you why you need to buy this product or service.  It's the way a parent talks to a child who just isn't old enough to understand complicated things.

So TV voices are using tones (in American English) that are either child-to-dense-minded-parent, or adult-to-incapable-child.

It has been a long time since I've heard the tune or underlying voice song behind words that indicates adult to adult communication.

I heard adult-to-adult in a short clip from some Trump Administration folks talking to the media, then it was gone.

The stark contrast between adult-to-adult tones and child-to-adult whining and adult-to-child "sweet-kind-condescension" just blows you away if you notice it.

So listen for it in the daily news clips you run across.  It is not in the words, but in the melody behind the words.  The tones are most easily spotted when the song does not match the words, the information behind conveyed.

There is an "announcer" song -- which has in it a flaw I've spotted where a word is emphasized by a pause afterward, wholly inappropriate for the grammatical flow of the sentence.

If you tune out the words and just listen to that underlying song you will notice how the song is chosen to affect the emotional response to the words.  The words require one sort of response, but the tone is urging (pleading for) another emotional response, usually an inappropriate one.

This analysis of how people talk, rather than of what they say, is one thing you'd have to explain in depth and in detail to a Vulcan, or any other non-human.  Suppose you are introducing an Alien, a First Contact Situation, to this world we are suffering through today.  What would you say to this Alien, and what TONE OF VOICE (song behind the words) would you use?

There is a rule in public speaking that I've seen disobeyed consistently, and then gradually expunged from our TV Voices (talking heads).  That rule is, "Never Uptalk."

Uptalk is a song where assertions are inflected with an upward tone, as if asking a question when finishing a declarative sentence.  It is common in Southern USA dialects, and if you move from North to South, you will pick it up without noticing.

Uptalk is passive-aggressive -- since you aren't actually saying something is so, but rather asking, you can't be countered.  You take the weaker position in the exchange, and as the weaker you can't be attacked or the other person is a bully.  Passive-aggressive.

How do you explain Uptalk to an Alien?

By tone of voice and facial expressions, humans convey vast amounts of information separately from the denotation of words.  If the three channels of communication carry conflicting messages, we often conclude the human is lying.  If the channels carry the same, harmonious, information, we believe the information is true, or at least the person is honest.

How do we tell if an Alien is lying?

More interesting -- how does an Alien tell if we are lying?  And how do you explain to an Alien that since all the humans know this person is lying, it is OK -- everyone knows what he "really means."

By matching the words, tone of voice, and body language (whether the smile reaches the eyes, and other tiny signals), we figure out what we think about what is being said.

Thinking requires concentrated effort.  Generally speaking, people are too busy exhausting themselves on daily tasks, chores, and life-or-death-decisions (like how to pay for health care).  Just staying even takes all our strength.

So living in today's world, we may pause to figure out what a news item means, or which news anchors are lying, or what interviews are 'canned' (rigged, scripted).  It's hard work trying to sort out which of the 3 streams of information you get from television (words, tone, body language) is the true one, and which are the lies.

So once a human has figured our what "the truth" is, they paste a label on that truth and try very hard not to revisit that decision because all subsequent decisions will have to be changed, too.

Most people want to be honest with themselves (at least), even politicians, but don't especially value being completely honest with all other people.  We select who to be "honest with" -- and that is a kind of intimacy called "being close."

Politicians do that.  They hold one, personal and private position, sometimes sharing it with other elected politicians of similar rank, and a totally different position publicly, a position crafted to get votes.

Thus if there is a "hack" of a private communication (such as an email) which reveals the private position, and how it differs from the public position, the public often stands aghast.  Then things settle down, and the public slaps a label on the individual whose private position was revealed.  The problem is just that one person, not all politicians.  And you tell the difference by the labels.

In fact, the whole commercial industry is based on labeling -- a type of labeling called "branding."

If you want to buy a GM car, you want it to have a GM label on it somewhere.  If you want Dole pineapple, you want to see the Dole logo.

Why do you want certain brands of an item, but not other brands?

Shortcut thinking.  Radio, TV, Magazine, media advertising methods use that "tone of voice" plastered over words that do not match to engrave on your mind that this Brand is better than that Brand.  And it might actually be better.  You never know until you try it, yet when you try it, your preconceived notions may color your tasting experience.

Labels matter when they are shared among humans.  Labels, short-cut-thinking, accepting the opinion of others who "know better" is learned in childhood.  At some point you are expected to mature, to shed the thought habits of childhood, and "think for yourself."  But thinking is hard work, so after you've thought, you do not want to re-think.  So you slap a label on your conclusion and move on with the business of survival.

Explain that mental shortcut I'm calling "Labeling" to the Alien you are falling in love with.  Can you understand his explanation of how his people use shortcut thinking, labeling, whining, condescension and Uptalk?  Do they even have an equivalent?

As an example of an emotionally charged yet completely abstract (i.e. thematic) element in Depicting Humanity, consider political science, philosophy, and history.

Modern record keeping is allowing us to revisit and rethink Labels invented about a hundred years ago, more or less.  Printing has allowed even minor works to be preserved.  Historians study these records, as do journalists, and often exhume Labels invented to cover certain cultural Idea Bundles that were "sold" to whole communities in the past.

Explaining individual behavior to Aliens is easy compared to explaining our mass movements, shifting cultural norms, and vicious arguments over what the facts were, and what those facts have now become.

Yes, as part of the labeling shortcuts human cognition uses, we change the "values" of the facts as time progresses.

Labels used in short-cut thinking are like the X, Y, W, symbols used in algebra -- they stand-for-something rather than be that something.  So we can manipulate labels the way we manipulate terms in algebra -- it is abstract thinking, and the kind of Aliens you could plausibly use in a Science Fiction Romance would very likely use this type of thinking.

Assemble a group of Ideas under a Label, (say X, for example) then juxtapose that group of ideas to a different group (say Y, for example).  Then try to find a relationship between them that holds through time -- perhaps requiring the invention of another Label or Symbol called W.

For humans, I expect this systematic explanation of human belief systems is impossible.  Humans as a group, (it seems to me) will fight any process that threatens to reveal the truth about their behavior.  We love and admire irrationality as a method of tricking our most dire foes.

Thus, definitions of Labels used historically change -- I expect in a 20 year cycle, and an 80 year cycle.

Academics, today, are struggling to redefine and clarify the Label "Fascist" -- I've seen at least 5 mutually exclusive definitions bandied about on social media, often with legitimate academic credentials attached.

Since these definitions usually come in cold text only, there is no tone of voice or body language to analyze, just words.

We have equally shapeless, whipped cream type Labels being shouted about - Liberal, Conservative, Religions, Atheist, etc.  (e.g. Zuckerberg suddenly came out with the statement that he now sees Religion as important last year, and some instantly speculated he's planning to run for public office.)

Journalists and Academics (often with identical credentials) are trying to Group the beliefs and tenets under sharply contrasting Labels, so they can call them X, Y, W and manipulate them before your eyes.

You can't make this stuff up, but maybe you can explain it to a visiting Alien just discovering humanity.  If you can get this point across, you may hit the best seller list because people will talk  (shout, argue, get red in the face, and cry inconsolably) about your novel.

You hit an emotional core response when you rip Labels apart and re-arrange what those labels stand for.  Imagine the disruption when a packaged food your family relies on is under botulism recall!  Now imagine if a Label you are absolutely sure of is "recalled" and re-formulated.  Explain to your Alien Character just how disruptive his people arriving on this planet will be to our nice, neat, reliable labeling system.

As an example, or perhaps inspiration in how to go about writing an explanation of human short-cut thinking and what happens to us when our short-cuts are disrupted, read this article all the way through.

You already know the information in this article -- Donald Trump is a Populist.  But there are dozens of definitions of Populist going around, some from serious academics, all mutually exclusive.  Historically, the Label Fascist is being redefined, reorganizing a Group of behaviors some of which were evident in Italy, and some not.

Don't worry about deciding which Label is accurate and applies to whom.  Read carefully with an eye to explaining to your Alien Character how humans use (and abuse) Labeling as a cognitive process.

This is a difficult exercise.  I warn you, the article will make you fume and stomp, maybe shout and snap at anyone who talks to you for the next day.

While you read, remember that "right-wing" means the opposite in Europe than it does in the USA, and it means something entirely different in the Middle East (explain THAT to your Alien).  I have no idea what "right-wing" might mean in China but I'm betting the meaning does not resemble anything I've ever heard of.

The point of this exercise is to gain the kind of perspective on humanity that Gene Roddenberry had when he invented "Number One" (the emotionless female) and Spock (the half-human Alien), then combined the two Characters.

Roddenberry was fascinated by "emotion" -- actually explored it from another angle in a failed pilot he made where a human being was from a culture where the worst invective was to Label something Inconvenient.

Because he was interested in how humans were affected by Emotion, he created a Character who "had no emotions" (we know he walked that back later, due to the exigencies of commercialized fiction).

That's what you can do with this exercise.  Create an Alien who has NO LABELS -- who does not understand the cognitive shortcut we use when we apply Labels (or Branding).

If you can succeed in reading this (explosive) article without blowing your top, you may be able to create such a Character who will haunt readers for generations.

http://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/1/3/14154300/fascist-populist-trump-democracy

Donald Trump isn’t a fascist
A leading expert on 1930s-era politics explains that Trump is a right-wing populist, not a fascist — and the distinction matters.
Updated by Sheri Berman  Jan 3, 2017, 1:00pm EST

Of course, an expert must know what they're talking about.  Would your Alien assume she did?

Pay particular attention to the article section:
Four key characteristics of fascism (not in evidence in Trumpism)

Note the contrast with Liberalism.  Maybe you thought you were a Conservative?

All of these labels are tossed about in this article as if they are "real" -- as if everyone agrees on the definitions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Note also that the "four characteristics" are treated independent variables.  There is no thematic connection among them (as would be required in a novel).

If you have one of the four variables, that does not mean that you have the other three.  The other three are not generated by the one -- not consequential.

What if your Alien's psychology could not encompass a notion of thinking beings functioning in such cognitive chaos?

Explain how humans can believe contradictory things.

Given that humans do believe contradictory things, why should the Galactic Community accept humans as intelligent?

You might also want to explain to your Alien Character how Fascism, as defined by this article (or maybe some other articles about it) differs from government by Aristocracy.

How is a Dictator different from a King?

A King controls life or death over individual citizens, is the chief justice of the supreme court, is the speaker of the house, and the president pro-tem of the senate, as well as the superior to every corporation's CEO.  In fact, a King is CEO of all the businesses in his Land.  The King owns all the Land and grants tenancy to Dukes etc.  The King can revoke tenancy of anyone at any time (if he can get away with it politically).

So how do Fascists differ from Kings?

We write a lot about historical times when Kings ruled, and we have projected the Aristocratic model of government into Fantasy, and even Galactic Civilizations.

We also use the constitutional monarchy model in Galactic Civilization - is that Fascist?

Suppose your Alien objects to your explanation, "But the role of government is to protect the individual from government!"

Do you answer with the ancient wisdom of humanity that without the strong hand of government, humans would eat each other alive?  Humans misbehave if nobody tells them what to do.

So read
http://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/1/3/14154300/fascist-populist-trump-democracy

if it's still available - or if not, Google fascism and see what you find as a definition, then explain it to your Alien.

In that explanation you come up with, you will find your Alien Romance Theme -- and you will find what barrier Love must Conquer to forge your human/Alien couple.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Moral Rights Deadline, Keeping Your Contest Legal.


If you feel that, as an alien romance author (or any other type of author), your moral rights ought to be increased or more vigorously protected by the US Government, you have until one minute before midnight Eastern Time on March 30th, 2017 to submit your brief (or lengthy) remarks.

Explanation:
https://www.copyright.gov/policy/moralrights/

Instructions:
https://www.copyright.gov/policy/moralrights/comment-submission/

Moral rights are non-economic rights that are personal to an author, such as the right of attribution (giving you credit for being the author of your work), and the right not to have your work distorted in a way that harms your honor or integrity.

LaVar Oldham, of the law offices of Workman Nydegger has written a helpful article on Moral Rights in the USA, and why authors might wish to provide comments. Other countries provide greater protection for authors' moral rights than does the USA, partly because the American "First Amendment".
http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=7fec26a9-3207-44cd-bc73-84774f29e9b8&utm_source=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed&utm_medium=HTML+email+-+Body+-+General+section&utm_campaign=Lexology+subscriber+daily+feed&utm_content=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed+2017-03-17&utm_term=

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP have a helpful article about staying on the sweet side of the law while running a contest to promote one's work.
http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5801a2a8-d61d-4c3d-bdda-f0b8262c88cc&utm_source=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed&utm_medium=HTML+email+-+Body+-+General+section&utm_campaign=Lexology+subscriber+daily+feed&utm_content=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed+2017-03-09&utm_term=

This is the first of a series. In this part, they define what makes a "contest" look like an illegal lottery ("a prize", the element of "chance", and "consideration" or "anything of value") and how to tweak your contest so that it is not an illegal lottery.

Many independent authors, and some traditionally published authors run contests that appear to cross the line. This looks like a series that is worth following.

Kudos and attribution for the sweepstakes advice go to Darren S Cahr, Tore Thomas DeBella, and Mita K. Lakhia.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

PS. My apologies for not posting last Sunday. I blame Stella (the storm).

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We're All Mutants

This article on the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND site uses the "X-Men" series as a springboard for an overview of genes and mutations:

We're All X-Men

Popular culture tends to think of "mutants" as extraordinary freaks of nature to be either feared or envied (in superhero stories, often a bit of both). Yet alterations in DNA are common and pervasive. The article estimates that human beings "accumulate 100 to 200 mutations each generation." Some changes, while nowhere near as amazing as Wolverine's super-healing power, have had far-reaching cultural effects; think of the fact that, while most ethnic groups have lost the ability to digest milk in adulthood, a few have retained lactose tolerance all their lives—so we have dairy products and herding societies. Some mutations are both good and bad. The gene that causes sickle cell anemia also offers protection against the malaria parasite.

Recommended reading: A book titled FREAKS OF NATURE: WHAT ANOMALIES TELL US ABOUT DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION, by Mark Blumberg, explores "monsters" in human and animal development, whether produced by genetic mutations before conception or by environmental influences or developmental glitches during gestation. As the subtitle indicates, studying "monstrosities" can provide insight into the normal course of development in an individual or species. For example, one chapter analyzes the way malformations of limb development in many different animals can be caused by either environmental toxins or changes in DNA, yet the underlying cellular processes that produce anomalies or absence of limbs are similar, whether in people or animals born with missing arms or legs or in naturally limbless snakes.

Without variations for evolution to work on, we wouldn't be here, since life on Earth wouldn't have changed from the primeval, microscopic proto-organism. As the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND article says, the electronic mutant detector in one of the "X-Men" movies "wouldn’t have just identified Mystique as the camouflaged mutant; it would registered all of the humans in the room as well." On the cellular level, we're all mutants.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reviews 31 - Dave Bara The Lightship Chronicles

Reviews 31
The Lightship Chronicles
by
David Bara

I have not yet done an Index Post listing all the previous 30 Reviews posts, but you can find most of them by searching for Reviews in the search slot for this blog at the right.

This Review of Dave Bara's Lightship Chronicles series might also belong to the series Marketing Fiction In A Changing World.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2014/05/index-to-marketing-fiction-in-changing.html

We have been discussing the impact of Star Trek and Star Wars -- and other hugely successful movies and TV Series such as Avatar and Stargate -- on the science fiction novel field.

If we can figure this out, we may have an inkling of what to write now that will become hugely successful 10 years from now. Dave Bara may have hit on one important change that is still ongoing, and I am recommending you read and study The Lightship Chronicles.

In the 1930's and 1940's, "science fiction" was an obscure field, barely represented in public or High School libraries, not even known by the general public as existing.  The few dozen writers and few thousand readers just buzzed along in private, much as fanfic started in the 1970's.  When ordinary people (Muggles) heard about what we read, they greeted the entire thing with scorn.  The comic strip, Dagwood, got more respect.

On this blog, we have been analyzing what we, as Romance Writers, can do to convince the "general public" that the Romance genre in general, and science fiction romance in particular, are worthy of respect.

Meanwhile, that general public's respect for our field may actually be rising.

Gini Koch's Alien Series - that I've been raving about on this blog for years - is still prominent and the series is growing.

I've noted several other works that touch the edges of "The Love Story" -- novels about interstellar war, Aliens, dimension travel, or paranormal inter-dimensional travel.  Many writers, and their editors, are dabbling at the edges of the depicting of a Universe where Love Conquers All, producing a Happily Ever After.

So we are marketing fiction in a changing world, and some editors are willing to publish novels that would never have been accepted for Mass Market in the 1970's.
And as usual since then, DAW Books is a leader in changing the publishing landscape.

DAW has now brought out three of Dave Bara's Lightship Chronicles novels.

IMPULSE
STARBOUND
DEFIANT

Find them at
https://www.amazon.com/Lightship-Chronicles-3-Book-Series/dp/B01FZ55770/

These are space-war, military science fiction with a Star Trek like leap into an era that emerges from what technology might do with today's science.  Now, we see that technology only via Mathematicians speculating and Physicists dreaming up experiments.

That speculative leap into a future where humans live with the results of applied science creating impossible technology  is the hallmark of great science fiction.

The science makes the fiction.

But fiction is about Characters living through a Story - in spite of, or because of the Events that happen, the Plot.

Human Characters have the same character flaws (and strengths) that the readers do.

Human Characters make mistakes, boast egotistically, embarrass their parents, offend everyone, ingratiate themselves, and regularly pull of miracles -- just like you and me stumbling through Life.  Human Characters fall in love.  Learning to tame the force of Character we all bring to bear on Life is Story.

The Story is the Character Arc where the Character learns an abstract lesson, a moral, a rule of thumb, and gains maturity.

If you examine the early Star Trek fanfic, you will find a type of Character drawn with broad strokes, who is painfully close to the typical reader of such fiction.  That Character was branded "Lt. Mary Sue" after the lead Character in an particularly egregious example of the sub-genre.

Today, we refer to such stories just as "Mary Sue" stories.

Now, oddly enough, I am a blatant Mary Sue fan.  I loved the stories as they were published in T-Negative, and I still love this type of story.  My definition, therefore, may differ from that in current usage.

One feature of the Mary Sue Character is the absurdly long and varied list of accomplishments, talents, abilities, and credentials Mary Sue has garnered before she graduates from Star Fleet Academy at an age younger than others.

She skips ranks, solves any problem with apparent ease, and because of her precocious accomplishments, she has little respect for authority.

At the same time, Mary Sue has an emotional maturity somewhat below her age-group, does not understand people and can only evaluate any situation from her own point of view.  She has no clue why people don't trust her and admire her.

For the most part, people define the "Mary Sue" as a type of story not worthy of their respect.

The reasons the Mary Sue story does not garner admiration and respect center around how "unbelievable" these Characters are -- the Character is "unreal."

Mary Sue is implausible.

That is the exact complaint readers have about Romance -- Love At First Sight is implausible, Romance is not realistic, and Love always Loses -- there is no such thing in real life as Happily Ever After.  Maybe, Happily For Now might happen, but not as a result of Love Conquering All.

We all know how many people regard Romance, but most of us do know a few people who have experienced real life romance, fought through vicissitudes and then lived many decades "Happily Ever After."  Real life examples abound, and we are aware of a few.

In real life, many people look at a "Happy" couple and imagine the discord they keep private.  Then they conclude the couple is not actually happy.  That turns out to be true enough times that people conclude happiness does not exist.

So, if we know that Romance does indeed strike, Love forges Couples amidst vicissitudes, and those Love-tempered Couples do have good, long years of "Happily Ever After" then why is Mary Sue implausible?

Many people do not know a Mary Sue in real life.

I, on the other hand, have met quite a few, dealt with them, done business with them, and watched them try to cope with not fitting in.  So I do not find Mary Sue implausible, just as I don't find Romance implausible.

I noted this disparity of experience when Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced Wesley Crusher.  Fans reacted explosively.  Some adored him and were relieved to see such a Character on TV -- someone they could identify with.  Others loathed him because he is so implausible -- no real person could be like that.  Others objected to the Character being introduced into the show because it struck a sour note -- this Character does not belong in this Show.

I suspect Wesley Crusher was the first presentation of a Mary Sue Character in a Professional venu -- and not a mere Mass Market Paperback, but a TV Series.

At first, in 1987, I didn't notice anything odd or strange about Wesley Crusher (I was already a Mary Sue fan for life) -- I've known a few real people like that and found them very amenable and not at all remarkable.  But I understood the objections when I heard them, but disagreed.

The Character Wesley Crusher is probably the best known example of what has become known as the Marty Stu -- the male version of Mary Sue.  Spock, as a child, must have seemed like that to his peers.  He outgrew it, as most do.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

But through the ensuing 1990's, we did not see this type of Character turn up in Mass Market paperback Science Fiction or Romance.

Throughout the 1990's, the online communities were growing faster than the technology.  The fans of my Sime~Gen novels were, likewise, writing millions of words of fanfic set in my universe -- at first on paper, and then online in various hosted communities.  We moved several times before launching our own simegen.com.  So I had a ringside seat during this transition, and now host classic Star Trek 'zines on simegen.com

http://simegen.com/fandom/startrek/

Today, fanfic.net and others host a wide variety of fan writers enlarging on stories they share with others.

In fanfic, the Mary Sue and Marty Stu stories flourished.  Very likely, people enjoy writing them more than others enjoy reading them.  The scorn is just as hot now, but the Character Type is still common.

And now, after 2010, we are seeing the Marty Stu Character turn up in Mass Market.

Gini Koch's Kitty Kat (ALIEN SERIES) is a more tame, plausible, believable Mary Sue because, written from inside Kitty's own mind, we see her uncertainty, her struggles, her misunderstandings, her mistakes, and flaws.  Kitty Kat is aware of her own flaws -- and that is a signature of Maturity.  Kitty Kat has out-grown her Mary Sue years when we first meet her.  But we can imagine what a pain she must have been as a kid, and so we understand why her Mother didn't tell her "everything."

Kitty Kat apparently grew up among Marty Stu Characters, and that spurred her maturation.  And she has matured markedly through her adventures in this Series.  She's adorable and lovable because she's not a Know It All and is accepted by others for her unique Talent.

In the last six or seven years, I've been finding Marty Stu Characters strewn through Mass Market paperback Science Fiction.  Gradually, the "wraps" have been taken off this Character, and even so he is still selling books.  Yes, people buy books to follow a Character.  Create the Character for your Readership and it will sell books.

Which brings us to the Magic of creating a Character that readers remember for years even when they don't actually remember that they remember.

Picking a book to read may merely be a matter of liking the cover art, or something about the packaging seems similar to some other book which was a pleasurable read.  It is very intangible.

And somehow I did it.  I picked a book without remembering the writer's name, or the prequel title. I started reading convinced I'd never read IMPULSE by Dave Bara.

I was several chapters in when the story finally twanged my memory -- and it was not the main Character, Peter Cochran, that reminded me.  It was a secondary Character -- and not even that Character, but his technology, that had lingered in my mind.

In IMPULSE by Dave Bara, we learn about an FTL ship exploring the cosmos -- encountering hostiles, fighting frantically and being nearly beaten.  This FTL ship gets its technologically advanced weapons and propulsion systems via a group of humans called Historians.  I didn't remember what they were called, but I did clearly remember the one feature that distinguishes Bara's universe from all the other Military Science Fiction, and galactic war stories I've read in between.

And therein lies a lesson for us all.  Hollywood wants, "The Same But Different" -- and this is the reason why.  I remembered the Historian, his name and his Character, but mostly his personal transportation -- a whole ship attached to the bigger FTL ship and almost indistinguishable from it.  It's a whole private apartment, loaded with technology and know-how the main ship does not have access to.

That unique feature of Bara's Universe stuck with me.  It's fabulously interesting, and the secondary Character (the Historian) is the one who has my interest (as Spock riveted my attention no matter what Kirk ever did).

This is a lesson in how to write for a market.  Lightship Chronicles is "just another" galactic war story -- except for The Historians.  It is the same, but different from all others.

That alone is a good reason to read this series if you want to write Science Fiction Romance.  But another reason that you'll enjoy the Lightship Chronicles is the classic, indefatigable Love Story.  There is Romance in there, but it is a Love Story with a lot of friction, and a lot of reasons why this Couple can never make it to Happily Ever After.

The main Character, Peter Cochran, is Marty Stu.  He is "royalty" from a planet that is trying to forge a union of planets to stand against the current attackers.  He has "intuition" measured at the top of human range, but he makes mistakes that get dozens of those under his command killed.  His bridge station is under the command of the resident Historian, and he has a security clearance above the Captain's.  He is a classic Marty Stu, by accident of birth and by on-paper accomplishments.

His list of heroic accomplishments would win him respect, but he's just too implausible for his compatriots.

But he is clearly on his way to maturity.  We are seeing through his eyes as he is attracted to the one particular woman who is an awkward fit for his personality and position in his society.  He values her for the exact attributes all women want to be valued for -- accomplishments not appearance.  She is beautiful to him because of her accomplishments, and she just can't see what's happening.

The Marty Stu motif is born out in STARBOUND by an awkward and inept writing style absolutely conforming to the average fanfic.

This is Hardcover/Mass Market publication upholding the best of the fanfic style.

The first thing I noticed in STARBOUND was the inept use of dialogue.  I recommend studying this novel just for the dialog lessons you can learn from this.

1. Dialogue is used where narrative should be, to inform the reader.  The Characters tell each other what the Characters already know.

2. Dialogue is used where symbolism and action (in screenwriting, this is called "business" -- little things the actors add) should be.  The Characters argue at length during action scenes.

This second item is really big because it both conveys and undermines Peter Cochran's Character and Situation.

This is a military exploration vessel, armed to the teeth with the latest weapons, going into enemy Territory on a stealth Extraction Mission (which they never bother to mention again or complete).

In each and every instance in the opening chapters, where an official order is given, whoever that order is given to answers back with an argument or objection (that is ridiculously inappropriate).  This dialogue exchange actually is there to inform the reader what is going on - but it is typical fanzine writing in that the craft-tool of Dialogue is substituted for Narrative.

It would work if in only one instance an order was objected to, but it is in every single instance.

So you have an illustration to study here explaining to you exactly why we keep saying "SHOW DON'T TELL" -- and that whatever you show and whatever you tell, it all must explicate the THEME.

The way dialogue is used in these action-opening chapters (space battles etc) shows us this is a lax, non-vertical chain of command where laid back argument and discussion is encouraged.  We are shown that Orders are not Orders, and the life-or-death-by-the-second decisions are not really life-or-death (except people die because of the discussion intervals).

But we are TOLD - that this is military exploration on a rescue mission, a stealth extraction of spies.

What we are shown does not match thematically with what we are told.

You really must study these three novels, and the market shifts their publication indicates.
Read the review praises in the front page in the LOOK INSIDE feature.  Every sort of reader is loving these books.

OK, the next fanzine structure issue in STARBOUND comes around page 100, where after they get the ship shot up and so damaged it has to go back to repair dock, Peter Cochran and his woman are sent to testify about their losing their previous ship (in the novel IMPULSE).

Now we go to Peter's social duties as a royal heir, and he goes home and gets bumped up a rank, then off to testify on another planet.

This interval is a drastic shift of pace -- it is another book entirely -- with totally different themes and conflicts.  The plot connects but the rest of everything just does not go together artistically.

This kind of "lurch" in pacing is typical of fanzine writing.

It is also something I rather enjoy reading -- fanfic has its charm.

But I am seeing this in Mass Market Paperback -- knowing what my editor would have done if I'd ever turned in a book structured like this -- and I know I'm looking at the taste of a readership that has grown up on fanfic.  They know real Marty Stu people, and believe they exist and can grow up to be mature and respectable.

In our current world, you can be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, score incredible successes before age 30, be an utterly immature and abrasive idiot in your 40's, and come into your 60's scoring even bigger successes while displaying mature Character.

Mature Character is an independent variable from Success in our world.  So readers find the Mary Sue and Marty Stu Characters acceptable, and even respectable in their adult form.

We live in a whole new world.  We are writing for a whole new readership.  Evidence here indicates they can be convinced that Love Conquers All and leads to Happily Ever After.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Brain-to-Computer Communication

A research project at Stanford University enables paralyzed people to type on computers by moving a cursor with their thoughts:

Brain-Computer Interface

This technology, according to the article, produces the desired output up to four times as fast as previously existing methods. It's supposed to be superior to the eye-tracking method of operating a computer, which sounds to me as if it would be tiring as well as difficult to master.

Imagine combining a perfected brain-computer interface with the Second Life environment discussed a few weeks ago. Individuals locked into their bodies without even the ability to speak might be able to live a fulfilling life in a virtual environment that feels as multidimensional as the "real world."

Or consider the shell people in Anne McCaffrey's THE SHIP WHO SANG series. Such artificial bodies for people with no control over their physical bodies might become more feasible in actuality once the robotic form could be completely operated by thought alone.

Does the interface described in the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article allow speechless people to communicate (through a computer) with something like telepathy? Well, not exactly. The user doesn't beam thoughts through the ether. Wired connections between brain and machine have to be installed. Still, it's an exciting beginning.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Depiction Part 25 - Depicting Hatred

Depiction
Part 25
Depicting Hatred
by
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to Depiction Series:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/04/index-to-depiction-series-by-jacqueline.html

In Part 28, we looked at the sweeping, long wave of change in science fiction and fantasy genres in how Aliens and Supernatural Beings are depicted, and noted how one crude but unmistakable method of labeling a villain is to tell rather than show.  Just make him/her say "...and then I'll rule, forever!" preferably with venom and triumph gleaming.

Villains aspire to RULE.  That's how you know they are villains.

Did the Lone Ranger yearn to rule?  Does Superman want to rule Earth forever?  Did Captain Kirk secretly politic his way to Admiral status so he could step up to rule the Federation?

The Hero has no interest in Ruling.

The Villain wants nothing else but to Rule.

What was it in the character of The Evil Queen (in the TV Series Once Upon A Time) that changed to make her not-evil-anymore?



https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-Complete-Season/dp/B01E7XSDOK/

When she was Evil Queen, she wanted to RULE - when she became Good, she did not hurt people to make them knuckle under.  She didn't steal hearts and put them in boxes anymore.  That Heart-Stealing bit is a graphic (show don't tell) of a very abstract set of concepts, and it is brilliantly done.

Do humans (maybe Aliens, too?) yearn to Rule people because they Hate those people?

Or is there something more complicated going on?

Remember, the master theme of Romance is Love Conquers All.

In the TV Series Once Upon A Time, they use True Love's Kiss to overcome impossible obstacles of magical origin.  True Love's Kiss undoes the most powerful spell.

All Romance is about how Love Conquers All -- so it is up to the writer to create a formidable obstacle for Love to overcome.

One formidable obstacle that has been the plot generating conflict in many of the very best Romances (especially in the Science Fiction or Paranormal Romance) is Hatred.

When the Couple first meets, it is Hate At First Sight.  The story experience transforms that hate into love as a series of misunderstandings is unraveled, and the depths of human (and/or non-human) psychology are penetrated.  Many of the very best Romances flip Hate into Love.

Love is generally considered the only thing that can dispel Hatred.

There are many psychological studies of affinity and aversion that can be used to plot such a Romance, so the more widely you read, the better you will write.

December 2016, I found an article in Slate
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/garry_kasparov_on_why_vladimir_putin_hates_chess.html

This article, Why Dictators Hate Chess, begs to be studied by those puzzling over the question posed in Depiction Part 28 - why do villains yearn to rule forever?  Or rule at all, for that matter?  Heros don't yearn to rule - why do villains?  What has Ruling to do with Love and Hate?

Notice that Love, Hate - and even Rule - are abstract concepts.  Remember that a stage play, TV Series or Movie is a "story in pictures."  The task of "Depicting" hatred is the task of making an emotion visible and concrete.  So a writer of Romance has to study Hate very closely to understand what the readership will interpret as "That One Is The Villain."  Or "That One Is The Obstacle Love Must Conquer."

Make the readers root for the Villain to melt in the bright shaft of love-shine, and you have a winner.   This works even in all the other genres.  See why every novel needs a love story.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/07/why-every-novel-needs-love-story-part-1.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/07/why-every-novel-needs-love-story-part-2.html

That article in Slate is an interview with the former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, talking about Vladimir Putin and dictators (rulers) in general.

Note: the USA has a President, not a King, because a President does not rule and has no power to rule (if he obeys the law).  The USA does not have a "regime" and Presidents do not "come to power."  This is because a President has no power; voters do.

Presidents serve not as decision makers but as managers who create policies to carry out instructions of voters.  Presidents are supposed to do what the the majority of voters elected them to do.  Kings rule.  Rule means make others do what you want, whether they want to or not.

"Want" is an emotion, and like Love, Hate, is very abstract.  The writer's job is to make it concrete, a story in pictures depicted in text, in symbols.

Here is Part 4 of the Theme-Symbolism series with links to previous parts.
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2016/01/theme-symbolism-integration-part-4-how.html

Here is a quote from the article in Slate:
Why Dictators Hate Chess
Garry Kasparov on Vladimir Putin’s meddling and America’s response.
By Jacob Weisberg

---------quote--------------
Interviewer: That also sounded to me like a chess player’s analysis. You’re the greatest chess player ever. Is Putin playing chess, or is he playing a different game?

Kasparov: No, I always wanted to defend the integrity of my game—when people said, Oh, Putin played chess, Obama played checkers. Putin, as with every dictator, hates chess because chess is a strategic game which is 100 percent transparent. I know what are available resources for me and what kind of resources could be mobilized by my opponent. Of course, I don’t know what my opponent thinks about strategy and tactics, but at least I know what kind of resources available to you cause damage to me.

Dictators hate transparency and Putin feels much more comfortable playing a game that I would rather call geopolitical poker. In poker, you know, you can win having a very weak hand, provided you have enough cash to raise the stakes—and also, if you have a strong nerve, to bluff. Putin kept bluffing. He could see his geopolitical opponents—the leaders of the free world—folding cards, one after another. For me, the crucial moment where Putin decided that he could do whatever was Obama’s decision not to enforce the infamous red line in Syria.

---------end quote-------------

What if this "game" were being played out on a Galactic canvas?  What if the Putin-Character were non-human, playing against Earth?

How would humans assess the Character of a Galactic Authority that was not "transparent."  What if that Authority abhorred transparency, but had no desire to "Rule" Earth or anything else?  Would the veil of mystery be taken as Villainy?

Is Kasparov's assessment of Dictators hating Chess universally valid, or is it a cultural trait that might not turn up everywhere?

Is the burning desire to Rule a certain sign of villainy?  Or is that a human thing?

It may be that wherever humans are involved, Ruling = Villainy.  Or put another way, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  No human is fit to exercise rule over another.  Maybe that's not universally true for non-human people -- and therein lies a complex tale.

For humans, though, the it certainly seems that the ambition to Rule, to Conquer and to Win Ruler-ship, is innate in our biology.

See Part 19 and Part 21 of Depicting which discusses how that innate human goal of Ruler-ship is related to Testosterone:

Part 19 - Depicting the Married Hunk With Children (especially daughters) (Testosterone effect)
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2016/11/depiction-part-19-depicting-married.html

Part 21 - Depicting Alien History (Testosterone revisited)
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2016/11/depiction-part-21-depicting-alien.html

This new scientific research on testosterone psychoactive dimension tells us a lot about why humanity self-organizes into hierarchy -- or behind a Leader -- or in allegiance to a King.

When beaten, a man knuckles under to his ruler -- not from cultural custom but from the abating of the biological urge to conquer.  When raising his own children, the man's need to take insane risks abates -- we call it maturity.

Not everyone experiences the urge to Rule in equal degrees, but don't forget women also have a need to dominate, to prevail, to get things to go their own way.  If that requires Ruling, then Rule She Shall, and she shall enjoy the heck out of it, too.

So humans are hard-wired to compete for Rulership, and nobody really wants their Rule to be temporary -- so Rule Forever is an innate goal, set in our genes.

Consider, Happily Ever After is the innate goal of Romance.  After What?  After Love Conquers All.

Conquers being the Keyword to ponder, along with "ever after" (i.e. forever).

Both the Villain's Quest and the Lovelorn's Quest are searches for a definitive, permanent, eternal solution to the problem.

The human male seeks to conquer a female.  The language of sexuality is fraught with the language of war, conquering, taking, having, getting.  The language of Romance is about convincing, wooing, maybe fooling, seducing.  The language of Love combines the two.

Love is about conflict, and the satisfactory and permanent settlement of that conflict.

It has been widely proposed that the opposite of Love is not Hate but Indifference.

Love manifests as an affinity, gravitating together, combining.

Hate manifests as a bond, focusing attention, defining goals according to the hated person -- to vanquish that hated person, to conquer or thwart or neutralize that hated and rejected person.  Where this is active hatred, there is no fleeing or giving up everything to get away.  Fear causes flight.  Hatred binds.

Like Love, Hatred comes in thousands of styles and flavors as well as degrees of visibility.  Sometimes a person who smolders with hatred doesn't even know the feeling is hatred.

Hate comes in a variety called Baseless Hatred -- where the feeling of being locked in a fight to the death is not caused by the person or situation that is ostensibly hated.  There is no objective real-world reason for the feeling, but that feeling dominates and motivates, oblitterating all other purposes in life.  Baseless Hatred very easily becomes an obsession detached from all rationality.

People blame external events, other people, random occurrances and situations for their emotions.  Not all humans do that, but ways of avoiding it are absorbed by children before they can talk.  Where emotions lie on the spectrum of values is a cultural norm, and as far as we now know, not biological in origin.

Baseless Hatred makes a good story dynamic for the Horror Genre, and for Action Genre where the point of the novel is to depict a righteous and sanctioned killing.  This is the sort of vanquishing you often see in videogames where you just "kill" anything that gets in your way.

Monsters are motivated by Baseless Hatred.

When writing a "slay the monster" story, you don't have to provide a comprehensible motive for the monster.  Nothing the hero did or said has anything to do with why the monster is fixated on killing the hero.  And the Hero doesn't hate the monster.

The monster has no power over the Hero, so the Hero does not hate the monster.  The monster is just a "force of nature" - a formidable adversary bent on destruction.

The adversary motivated by Baseless Hatred makes a great plot element for Action or Horror genre, but not for Romance.

Baseless Hatred is conquered by Love, but not love of the Monster.  Love conquers the Monster by binding the humans into an unbreakable defensive wall.  The love of one human for another conquers the Monster.

Once fully consumed by Baseless Hatred, the Monster is irredeemable, but harmless to those who Love.  Many good Love Stories revolve around rescuing someone from going down the path of Baseless Hatred.  The rescue process resembles the AA 12 step program, or deprogramming someone from a Cult. Those make very potent novels, but rarely produce the best of Romance.

Hatred that is based in reality, in the actions and situations that exist in truth, and that readers can recognize as legitimate causes for hatred, provides a much wider and richer spectrum of plots and stories for Romance writers.

The classic, as mentioned previously, is Hate At First Sight that eventually turns to True Love.

In real life, very often we hate that which has power over us.  Love has that kind of power, the power to change our very identity, or sense of self.

When you fall in love, you literally become someone new, someone different.

Humans do fear change, and do fear anything with the power to change them -- hence our fascination with werewolves and shapechangers.  Can you "change" so radically and still be you?

We also love novels about how Love At First Sight turns to hatred -- the escape from the clutches of a man you have given yourself to, then discovered he's Bluebeard incarnate.

So the opposite of Love is Indifference -- not feeling any bond at all.

So to depict hate, make sure your Character is deeply bonded, enthralled, captivated, obsessed with the object of hatred.

Depict a cause or basis for that hatred -- and ask what this Character would accept as proof that this "cause" is actually not the problem at all -- that what he/she thought was true is in fact not true.  You can't do that with Baseless Hatred -- and you can identify baseless hatred by the non-falsifyable nature of it.  Nothing would be a convincing proof that this is not a real source of the problem.

If you're writing Alien Romance, and you want to drive your plot with hate, then consider what makes humans hate (for cause).  Build Aliens who are different in that regard.

Consider the two posts on Testosterone in this Depiction Series.  A human who is beaten, vanquished, defeated utterly, will lose the desire to hurl himself against the one who defeated him, and will be generally less aggressive.

Among humans, the winner "rules" - the loser knuckles under.  Now, if the defeat is not utterly complete, the loser may smolder with hatred, and eventually burst into rebellion.

Is that how it works among your Aliens?

We hate that which rules us - (even sometimes if what rules us is Love!).  We just purely hate to "be ruled" -- whether it is forever or not.

Anyone who rules is justifiably hated.

Rulership is hated.  It is human to hate having free will thwarted by the will of another.

The Hero knows this, and has no desire to be hated, thus no interest in ruling.

What if Aliens ruled all Earth?  Would the Hero rebel?  Or would the behavior of the ruling aliens make a difference?

Hate is a bond comparable to Love -- maybe a little less binding, for Love Conquers All.

To depict Hate, don't tell the reader this Character hates that Character.  Don't put the word "hate" in dialogue.  If someone says out loud, "I hate you," you never believe it.  Teens hate their parents -- right?  How many times do they say it?  How many parents believe it?

To depict hate, show the Character behaving in opposition to what the Character sees as pure Evil, a force loose in the world that must be destroyed, something that must be conquered.  Show the Character choosing death rather than submission.  The reader will hate that which oppresses that Character.

It's not that simple, of course.  It is never simple where humans are involved.

Start into the messy tangle of Character Motivation by finding the target of the hatred, and decide if it is Baseless Hatred or hatred for just cause.  Then introduce Love into the dynamic to overcome the hatred.

Do your Characters hate that which they resent?  Do they hate that which has power and/or Authority over them?  Do they hate that which they are jealous of?  Or do they hate that which they admire?  Do they see Love as a threat because Love does conquer all?  Do they hate God because God has betrayed them by ignoring their entreaties because Ultimate Power should always be kind?  If they gain power, do they use it for kindness?  Do they hate kindness?

It seems to be in our biology to sacrifice everything to Rule, to be sovereign, to admit nothing in power over us.  And it seems we hate anything that has power over us.  But just as children need the discipline of their parents, so do we knuckle under to a Ruler, to a dominant power.  So it is for humans -- are we a special case in the Galaxy?  Ancient Wisdom indicates there are ways for the human spirit to tame the animal spirit -- the ways of Love.

These emotions drive the Story, and the reasons for the emotions drive the Plot.  We have discussed theme and plot at length previously.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/12/index-to-theme-plot-character.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/05/index-to-theme-plot-integration.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/11/index-post-to-art-and-craft-of-story.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/09/verisimilitude-vs-reality-part-2-master.html

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Death of a Life-Saver

Weird-bearded men, some with black-banded battle braided hair and thick chains hanging from their waists and pockets, stood silently in a semi-circle on the beach with their mates, their heavy "bovver" boots planted firmly on the sifted white sand, facing into the stiff onshore breeze and the wind-whipped rising tide.

A ceremony was about to begin. Curious, I joined the back of the crowd.

A man in tartan played a familar hymn on the mournful bagpipes. An all-male team of rescue-swimmers, bare footed, wearing dark boardies and sash patterned tops stood with their hands folded like soccer goalies stood at a tangent to the sea. With them stood double ranks of men in dark uniform tracksuits.

There was one easel holding red and white flowers in the lozenge shape of a red cross. At the water's edge was a pure white surf boat, broad, shallow, with the prow pointing inland and the blade of one oar resting on the side.  Midway between the rising tide and the assembly was a lone, freshly painted, orange baywatcher's high chair flanked on each side by two rescue floats. A furled flag lay across the seat.

A man read the words of the seaman's hymn "For Those In Peril On The Sea" as a prayer. Several people spoke into a hand held microphone and into the wind. The wind carried many of the words away, but it became clear that this was a funeral service for a lifeguard who had died too soon. When all who wished to share memories had done so, the bagpiper played "Amazing Grace".

The rescue-swim team received something... two somethings... and proceeded to the surfboat and launched it with difficulty into the high and heaving surf. One man did not make it into the boat. Perhaps he was not supposed to.  The oars were raised vertically in a formal salute, and then they rowed up into the roaring breakers, over the foaming tops, now hidden from the shore on the windward side, now thrashing up the rising face of a near Macker.

Past the surf line, past the impact zone, and into choppy but waveless water, the surf boat turned parallel to the shore and again raised their oars like a forest of masts in a vertical salute. Something bobbed and floated. After a while, they rowed parallel to the shore, then turned and came surfing in, riding the churning waves.

When the surf boat was beached and the crew had tumbled out and rejoined the funeral afterglow, one lone strong swimmer swam like a champion back out to sea, heading for whatever it was that was still floating. I watched him and worried. Was this supposed to happen?  With quiet competence, he retrieved a life-saver's float, and also a washed-ashore lost oar.

This interesting ceremony made me wonder, what might an alien funeral be like?  For inspiration, I googled "strange funerals" from different parts of our own world.

Some traditions are widely known. Anyone who has watched the James Bond movies has seen the Jazz funerals of New Orleans, and the Zoroastrian "tower of silence". The Neanderthal "flower funerals" might have inspired the burial of Rue under flowers in the first "Hunger Games" movie. Possibly the Arthurian myths of Merlin trapped in the bole of a tree by Morgan Le Fay might share something in common with a Manilan culture that buries its dead inside hollowed tree trunks. Not dissimilar is the culture that pulps the remains of the dead, and inters what is left inside totem poles.

Another woodland culture suspends the dead in containers from ancient trees. Yet another people hang occupied coffins from cliff sides so that the spirits may be conveniently close to the sky.

Other "sky" burials in arid or mountainous countries such as Tibet involve the willing participation of vultures. Allegedly, even recently, there are communities where the dead are a valued source of protein and there is a strict pecking order about which relative may consume specific body parts. (Apparently, a sister-in-law may enjoy a deceased female relation's buttocks.)

While some of us seafaring folk, or small islanders who cannot spare meager farming or rainwater catchment areas for cemetaries may cremate and scatter ashes at sea, and sailors on the high seas sink weighted bodies reverently into the depths of the ocean, other communities compress the dead into reef balls to enhance the reef habitat for fish.

Other cultures compress corpses of loved ones into colorful beads that can be kept as ornaments. Yet another business turns ashes into carbon, and then crushes the carbon to create diamonds so that loved ones can become precious rings for their survivors' fingers.

Banned now is the practice of female survivors being forced to hack off parts of their fingers whenever a close family member died. Apparently, the ancient Hindu requirement (suttee or Sati) that widows throw themselves (often not willingly) into their deceased spouse's pyre  may not have been quite extinguished. Many misogynistic customs that kill off widows have implausible rationales, but most boil down to the physical and financial security of the males.

Arguably more tender are the societies that mummify their dead, and treat them as if they are still alive. Most mummification requires the dearth of moisture and the absence of bugs.  The most remarkable process might be the 3,000 self-mummification exercise carried out by priests who would eat a 1,000-day fat-reducing diet of nuts and seeds, succeeded by another 1,000 days of eating bark and perhaps pine needles and poisonous tea to make their flesh unattractive to bugs.  This would also make the monk or priest violently ill, which would further dehydrate him. After that, he would be walled up with only an air tube and a small bell to ring once a day until he died of starvation. Finally, his air hole would be sealed and his remains would be left for another 1,000 for mummification to be completed. This process was recently described in DISCOVER magazine, and also in one of the online sources mentioned below.

Sources:
http://cloudmind.info/25-unusual-death-rituals-from-around-the-world/

And
http://mentalfloss.com/article/58362/12-strange-funerals-and-funeral-traditions

And
https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/strange-funeral-customs/#.c0c8u3n03

I've omitted mention of many practices, but, perhaps this inspires some ideas for alien romance fiction funerary customs.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry





Thursday, March 02, 2017

Skeptical Thinking

Two articles in the March-April issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER deal with critical, scientific-oriented mental habits, which are usefully relevant to thoughtful world-building. I subscribe to this magazine, which tackles pseudoscientific beliefs and theories of all types, mainly because exploration of topics such as UFOs, Bigfoot, poltergeists, and many other subjects in the fields of the paranormal and cryptozoology can yield story ideas (and also keep fictional characters who encounter such phenomena from seeming too gullible, if they're aware of the major arguments against, say, telepathy or channeling spirits). Some articles do take a blatantly anti-religious stance, but not enough to put me off the magazine as a whole. "Skepticism" doesn't mean "cynicism" or stubbornly doubting everything. As used in this publication, it means keeping an open mind, asking questions, and being ready to change one's beliefs as evidence demands.

The parent organization that publishes SKEPTICAL INQUIRER is here:

Center for Inquiry

"Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn't," by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson, analyzes the well-known phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. Once we've made up our minds on a topic, further information that contradicts or invalidates our belief or position makes us uncomfortable. The idea that we've made a mistake in holding a certain belief threatens to undermine our self-concept as intelligent, informed, morally upright people. We tend to pay more attention to and give more credence to data that support our position (confirmation bias). Social media exacerbate this problem. As everyone knows, Facebook (for instance) makes it easy to control our feed so that we end up in a bubble where we encounter only information that agrees with the beliefs we already embrace. Confronting evidence that we made a mistake in choosing the last car we bought (one of the authors' examples) and consoling ourselves by seeking out facts that reinforce our original high opinion of the vehicle is one thing. Letting confirmation bias rule us in matters such as politics or religion is more serious. This article uses the metaphor of a pyramid to illustrate how confirmation bias can drive people on opposite sides of an issue further apart. Imagine two people starting near the top of the pyramid, pretty close together. Often, at this point, "we are faced not with a clear go-or-no-go decision, but instead with ambiguous choices whose consequences are unknown or unknowable." Forced to make a decision, often an "impulsive" one, "we justify it to reduce the ambiguity of that choice." The more actions we take to justify our commitment to that initial choice, the nearer to the bottom of the pyramid we move, so that the two people who started close together at the top end up getting further and further apart. The authors acknowledge that "it's good to hold an informed opinion and not change it" every time a possible objection comes along. At the same time, though, it's "essential to be able to let go of that opinion when the weight of the evidence dictates." I'm reminded of C. S. Lewis's discussion of faith, which, he explains, doesn't mean blindly believing apparently impossible things. It means that once we've reached a certain belief (in his example, in God) for what we consider good reasons, we should stick to that belief unless we encounter solid evidence to disprove it, not let every adverse life event or shift in our emotions override our rational commitment.

"The Virtuous Skeptic," by Massimo Pigliucci, outlines the ethical principles a person intelligently seeking truth should embrace. Humility—knowing one's limitations and recognizing what kinds of expertise are needed to produce an informed opinion on any particular question—heads the list. The author lays out a table of "epistemic virtues"—curiosity, honesty, objectivity, parsimony (Occam's Razor), etc.—and the opposite "epistemic vices"—closed-mindedness, dogmatism, gullibility, self-deception, etc. The article ends with a list of questions we should ask ourselves, which apply well to any argument, scientific or not (slightly paraphrased and shortened): Did I carefully consider my opponent's arguments instead of dismissing them? Did I interpret my opponent's statements in the most charitable way possible (very important in politics!)? Did I entertain the possibility that I could be wrong? Am I an expert in this area, and, if not, have I consulted experts? Did I check the reliability of sources? Finally, "do I actually know what I'm talking about, or am I simply repeating somebody else's opinion?"

Critical thinking is hard work!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Depiction Part 24 - Depicting A Villain by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Depiction
Part 24
Depicting A Villain
by
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 
Here we come to the main question a writer must answer if weaving a conflict between Hero and Villain: Why Does The Villain Want To Rule Forever?

Here is the index to the previous parts in the Depiction Series:

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/04/index-to-depiction-series-by-jacqueline.html

By "depicting," I mean show don't tell -- create a visible consequence of what you want to say, instead of saying it.

Saying what you want to say is "telling" not "showing."  In screenwriting, that is called "on the nose" -- dialogue that is the author speaking to the viewer, not one character speaking to another.

Here is the index to Dialogue:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/10/dialogue-parts-1-4-listed.html

One reason we gravitate to Romance, go away and come back over and over, is that the two main characters are not "Hero" vs. "Villain."

The two main characters are both Hero Quality Material -- great novels start before the Hero Quality in either is fully in charge of their decision-making.

TV Fiction is gravitating toward the Ensemble Cast -- a rag-tag group of Hero and/or Apprentice Hero Characters striving to overcome impossible odds to achieve a worthwhile goal.

Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:ToS) did this using mostly the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad, which Roddenberry told us ( in the many interviews we did with him to excerpt for the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES! ) that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were three parts of his own personality.  This is actually a well known secret of fiction-writing, dating probably way back before the Ancient Greek plays.

It is how you "tell the story" -- "tell" being the operative word. A writer "tells" a story.  That is what it feels like while writing words, one after another.  When you get stuck, you ask yourself, "What Will The Other Characters Do?" and you don the role of that Character.  As all good Character Actors will explain, to don a role you must reach inside yourself for that trait, pair away all the rest of the real you, and bring that single aspect up to the surface where the audience can see it and recognize it.

That is the secret to "targeting a readership," -- find a fragment of a real person and depict that single trait so that a lot of people can understand it and find within themselves the laudable or reprehensible trait which is dominating the Character's decision making.

Here is the Index Post to the series on Targeting a Readership"

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/10/index-to-targeting-readership-series-by.html

Screenwriting manuals give a formula for creating Characters -- identify 3 Traits, specify them and then write that character ALWAYS showing one or two or all three of those traits.

When done mechanically, just following the formula, the procedure produces "cardboard  Characters" viewers do not believe.

This happens more in movies and TV Series than in novels -- which is why some people prefer reading novels to watching TV.

A good case in point is the TV Series, The Librarians,

which is a blatant copy of the TV Series Warehouse 13.

https://www.amazon.com/Warehouse-Pilot/dp/B002GJRP6A/

https://www.amazon.com/Librarians-Season-01-Matt-Frewer/dp/B01L00HWN6/

The Librarians is a TNT TV Series:
http://www.tntdrama.com/shows/the-librarians.html?sr=the%20librarians

Returning to the universe of TNT's hit movie franchise, The Librarian, this new series centers on an ancient organization hidden beneath the Metropolitan Public Library dedicated to protecting an unknowing world from the secret, magical reality hidden all around. This group solves impossible mysteries, fights supernatural threats and MORE...

In Season 3 - Episode 1 - The Librarians And the Rise of Chaos -
http://www.tv.com/shows/the-librarians-2015/and-the-rise-of-chaos-3425989/
we get that wondrous line from the Villain -- " ... and rule forever."

This is delivered (rather well, considering how corny it is) as "on the nose dialogue."

This is what this Villain (adversary, opponent, nemesis ... ) aims to achieve.  It is the statement of the goal.  By that choice of goal, the viewer can instantly identify the Villain as a really Bad Guy (especially because he has enough magical power to make it happen!)

The Librarians is designed to be comedic -- like Warehouse 13, it is very broad comedy, somewhat akin to the TV Classic My Favorite Martian -- which was the only real science fiction on TV for years.

http://www.tv.com/shows/my-favorite-martian/

And from TV.Com --
CATEGORIES
Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction
THEMES
witty remarks, planetary explorers, secrets and lies, space travel, outrageous situations

My Favorite Martian is actually a SitCom with Science Fiction elements (but in those days it was considered Fantasy).

In both cases, we have the adversary of the week -- and the team (the Martian and his host human on Earth) unites to defend -- the Guest Martian or The Library.)

From TV.Com
My Favorite Martian first aired in September of 1963 on CBS and was probably one of the first sitcoms with a "bizarre" or fantasy premise to emerge in the early to mid 1960's. It joined the ranks with Mister Ed which began in 1961.

Star Trek: ToS began in 1966.

My Favorite Martian paved the way for Star Trek - and all the Science Fiction Romance that has come out of the fanfic.

The Librarians is ensemble cast, like Star Trek - but has a "story-arc" like Babylon 5.  Star Trek was an "anthology" show - designed to be viewed in any order, with the adversary of the week (usually not very villainous).

So My Favorite Martian and Star Trek were stories about "How To Make Friends With Adversaries - who are quite Alien."  They begin the continuum which has resulted in Science Fiction Romance about "How To Marry An Alien."

One of my all time favorite novel series about marrying an alien (even having the Alien's kids!) is Gini Koch's Alien Series.  The 2016 entry in that series is Alien Nation (yes, the author knows all about the TV Series by that name.)

Gini Koch depicts her Hero, Kitty Kat, a woman with fiery determination to make things right, as having a knack for converting enemies into friends or at least allies against the monsters trying to kill everyone.

In Alien Nation, Kitty manages to convert some of the most voracious monsters into friends.  It sounds ridiculous -- but Gini Koch makes you believe every word.  The secret is in how she depicts what is going on inside Kitty Kat's head -- this great Hero that everyone trusts to avert disaster has no idea what she's doing, and no plan that she knows of.  She has a few clues from a super-being (not a god, but a Being who understands the universe as the creation of God), but Kitty Kat has to figure things out and take chances on the fly.

When things work out well, you believe it could actually happen that way, and it is not just that Kitty is married to an Alien and has acquired "powers" while having his children.

Gini Koch's novel series is not comedy -- it reads more like a well played video-game, with comedic moments, absurdities turned to opportunities, and drama writ large.  The target audience is familiar with Star Trek -- maybe not with My Favorite Martian -- and games.

In the 1960's, we were just beginning to launch orbital vehicles and dreaming of real space travel -- wondering if our ships would bring back Alien Diseases we could not contain.  We were focused on finding Alien Life Out There.

Hundreds if not thousands of novels and short stories had been published about First Contact. The film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, is classic because it addressed all those issues.

Here is the 1951 Classic:
https://www.amazon.com/Day-Earth-Stood-Still/dp/B000UL5YW8/

And here is the 2008 remake:
https://www.amazon.com/Day-Earth-Stood-Still/dp/B001THAS5K/

Again, the 1951 film focuses on how the fearsome, formidable, monstrous Alien is actually a nice guy having a hard day at work.

As with the 1984 classic film, Starman,
https://www.amazon.com/Starman-Karen-Allen/dp/B004ZCM2Q4/
we end up wanting to leave Earth with the Alien -- absolutely smitten with this valiant figure and torn up inside to lose him.

Much of the most famous science fiction of those decades depicts the Alien as a potential friend, lover, ally, advocate, even though the Alien may start out at odds with Earth, or perhaps Earth authorities order an all-out attack on the Alien.

The consensus seems to be that Aliens are not necessarily Villains.

Just like humans, Aliens have a variety of potentials within them.  Some are friends, some are stupid, some are silly, some are immature, some are powerful but inept, some are misinformed - the list goes on.

These very humanistic aliens were the most popular during those early decades.

Then came the pronouncement from unimpeachable experts that there just weren't going to be ANY planets around other stars "out there."  The solar system we are in is unique, and just is not going to have anything like a duplicate anywhere -- probabilities are absolutely against the idea of Alien Life Like Us.

The academic power behind this pronouncement, fraught with every mathematical proof you could name, believed and espoused by the Einsteins of the era, drained most of the funding from NASA, and nearly killed off the space program.

Along with it, went Star Trek and most of the Science Fiction Romance you might see made for large audiences (such as film, or TV).

Then funding was squeezed out for orbital telescopes, and other instrument packages to explore our solar system.  Meanwhile, physics and math marched on.  It takes a lot of very fancy math to slice and dice the information garnered by our orbital instruments, and even our mountain-top instruments.  It takes a lot of computing power to understand that data -- computing power we didn't have in the 1960's.

So recently, the unimpeachable experts are pointing at actual planets around stars so distant it makes no sense to quote distances in miles.

We have a whole new generation of unimpeachable experts publishing in peer reviewed journals, as prestigious as the ones that declared how improbable an Alien Civilization Out There was.  Now, the calculations are trending toward the inevitability of there having been Aliens somewhere.

Of course, we are looking at data that is millions of years old.  Light travels way too slowly for us to have any idea what is actually happening "now" (the very definition of "now" and "time" is changing as we figure out what gravity is.)

So, once again, films and TV depict interstellar civilizations -- but this time, the Aliens are not so friendly.  War is more fun, so we have Star Wars continuing.  And Star Trek has become more about War than Exploration of the Unknown.

But while Science Fiction's depiction of interstellar civilizations was relegated to the absurd, another branch of the Science Fiction genre called Adult Fantasy (Fantasy that is not morality plays for children) has formed and taken off.

Early among the Adult Fantasy entries was Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Series
https://www.amazon.com/Deryni-Rising-Chronicles-Katherine-Kurtz/dp/044101660X/



Reprinted many times over the decades, this series depicts an alternate universe -- set around our year 900 AD -- and involving Royalty.  Every book in this series is about "who shall be King" -- it is about who shall "rule."  One faction vying for rulership is purely human (with all the villainy that goes with human mindset), and the main opposing faction is Deryni, basically human but with "powers."

The worldbuilding behind the Deryni universe includes the existence of "gods" and "demons" and forces and powers both Dark and Light (as in Star Wars).  In the Deryni Universe, there is also competition between Deryni and humans for control of "The Church" -- which is pretty much depicted as if it is Christianity.

The humans are convinced Deryni and their "powers" (of telepathy, fireball throwing, teleportation, etc) are of the Devil.  Deryni understand their powers as being simply Power -- like any capability -- and the "Light" side of their force comes from the God worshiped by the humans in the Church.

So the whole "who shall be King" plot line is driven by the argument over the truth of Religion.

I do highly recommend this series -- it does have some hot Romance laced through it, but like any story of hereditary Aristocracy, pivots on arranged marriage.

This series was one of the earliest in the Adult Fantasy market and helped shape that market, define the sub-genre.

Later, whole series arose depicting Power without God, and God or gods without humans with Power.  For the most part, "The Church" as a governing body and institution commanding the culture was deleted from Adult Fantasy.  Aristocracy, Dukes, Kings and their necessary wars persisted, but the power of God was left out.

That deletion of God from fiction parallels the rise of the atheist movement in today's world.

People want fiction that seems realistic -- and the real world was systematically rejecting the concept of Religion (even though God persisted, the institutions designed to serve God's purposes became despised for hypocrisy and lack of tolerance and diversity).

Political Power became the sole bone of contention in the plots, even when magical power was "real" in the fictional world, and the special people who could wield magic were organized (Hedge Witches or as in Babylon 5, a Guild).

For a long time, ESP (telepathy, telekinesis) was accepted as a science fiction element while "magic" involving summoning demons or angels or praying for acts of God was relegated to Fantasy.

Most recently, though, the Fantasy Genre has emerged as the flip side of the Aliens of the 1950's and 1960's (The Day the Earth Stood Still, My Favorite Martian).  After a couple of decades of mixing and blending ESP and Magic, reinventing the premises behind why they work and who can work them, the Fantasy Genre has focused on angels, demons, djinn, sprites, brownies, fairies, vampires, were-creatures, shapeshifters, zombies, ghouls, all the mythical Supernatural creatures and peoples, to tell exactly the same stories we saw about Aliens From Outer Space.

In modern Fantasy, the Mythical Creatures perform the same role and function as the Aliens did in early Science Fiction -- friend or enemy, opposition, voracious attacker bent on stripping Earth of all its wealth, eating humans, or whatever their objective.

Some of these Mythical Creature adversaries want to "escape" from some other dimension, penetrate the barrier between dimensions, and "rule the earth."

Those are the Villain Aliens.

The friendly Aliens become allies using their power and knowledge to help the human hero vanquish the Evil Supernaturals.

In the 1950's and 1960's, Aliens from Outer Space were either bent on "ruling" Earth or were potential friends.  Potential friends were the most popular.  Gradually, the assumption that anything Alien out there just had to be Bad Guys - so Potential Rulers became the most popular.

Today, some Mythical Supernatural People are potentially friendly, but the prevailing assumption seems to be that Supernatural Creatures are bent on ruling Earth, and therefore any Supernatural that intrudes must be destroyed before it can "take over."

Remember when the Vampire Romance shot to the best sellar lists in mass market paperback?  That sub-genre grabbed enough market share to get spine-labels and logos so you could find them on the bookstore shelves.  It took a while for writers to gear up to produce a lot of Vampire Romance -- and meanwhile, the readership lost its taste for "The Vampire As Good Guy" novel.

As manuscripts flooded into publishers, publishers reduced the number of slots for Vampire Romance.  As the e-book market began to form, many of those unsold manuscripts went to e-book, but the sub-genre disappeared from mass market shelves.

Hot-steamy Vampire Romance still thrives in e-book, with every type of Vampire being the  Hero, and writers inventing new types.

Blending the Supernatural with the Scientific Alien, I did a Vampire-Alien-From-Outer-Space Romance in my St. Martin's hardcover release, Those of My Blood, which has had many reprints.

https://www.amazon.com/Those-My-Blood-Tales-Luren-ebook/dp/B00A7WQUIW/

So, among Aliens From Outer Space, and among Supernatural Aliens From Another Dimension, we find those who want to "rule forever" and we label those with the ambition to Rule as villains.

The blackest of bad guys are always bent on "ruling."

Those with "Powers" want to "be King."  We always create genres around Villains, Bad Guys, Malevolent Forces, Evil Masterminds that want to RULE as the Supernatural creature in Season 3 - Episode 1 - The Librarians And the Rise of Chaos -
http://www.tv.com/shows/the-librarians-2015/and-the-rise-of-chaos-3425989/.

Those who are driven "to rule" are Evil.  That's how you identify Evil - it is determined to "take over" and to "rule."

Good stories are about opposing Evil and thwarting its Rule.

Why is that?  Why do we depict Villains as wanting to Rule?

Why do we know that the Character who wants to Rule Forever is the Villain, the Evil that must be stopped at all costs?

If the Villain does not tell us, "...and I will rule, forever!" how do we figure out that this Character is the Villain?

There are thousands of right answers to that question.  To do Fantasy worldbuilding, a writer has to pick an answer (or generate a brand new one) to why the need to Rule is villainous.  Depict that reason without the on-the-nose dialogue line, "...and I will rule, forever!"  If you can do that, you will show-don't-tell the Villain of your piece.

Creating and depicting good Villains (who are dead set on Ruling) may require a writer to learn more about the inner workings of their own minds than they want to know.

Sometimes, bringing that knowledge to the conscious level creates "writer's block."  And sometimes getting hold of that knowledge breaks "writer's block."  So experiment carefully.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com