Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Bowdlerizing Myself
So Maybe Han Didn't Shoot First
Wednesday, October 3, 2018 11:59 am
My collection of stories The Spare Midge has been revised a couple of times since its initial creation in 2007. I've dropped and added stories and changed their order. I've changed the title itself. Each story has also been polished a bit, to remove some or another infelicity.

One consistency, however, has been the tone. 

It's not a happy collection. This is because the author was not a happy person. I, that author, am not necessarily a happier person today; but the strand of fatalism in The Spare Midge somewhat bothers me. The things I am writing now, especially since The Giant's Walk, are just tonally different. Tonally better, maybe. Yet my old stories are still good. I wouldn't be presenting them otherwise.

It has crossed my mind, over this past decade, to maybe brighten the collection a little. Inserting The Endless Batteries was one brightening move. Yet even that tale has a bittersweet ending! And really, there's no way to brighten something like Tainted by Grace without nullifying the story altogether.

One story, though, that seemed susceptible to brightening was the eponymous The Spare Midge. I actually didn't have to change much. I didn't want to change the tragic outcome, but I did want to change the narrator's reaction to it. I also wanted to remove one crude aspect.

The crude aspect was trivial. The narrator referred to sex as a "wet." My intention was to be crude, to be reductive, and to suggest a cyberpunkish alteration of sex into something called a "wet." But the current me dislikes the crudity. As an author I have not forsaken crudity. But this one thing... ach, it's gone, and good riddance.

The narrator's reaction is a deeper issue and more directly a matter of the story's original fatalism. I realized that I could make The Spare Midge a hopeful story by changing and adding only a few sentences and words. I didn't have to rewrite substantially. The story comes to a very clear fork; and instead of going left I now go right.

No, I haven't given the story a happy ending. But the utter fatalism is gone.

Then the question becomes: Am I betraying the story?

If I had made this change when I was originally writing the story, it would simply have counted as editing. An author regularly decides that a character should do A instead of B — even though B was in the original drafts.

But if the change is made fifteen years later? After the story has already been presented to the public?

Well, first, I don't imagine more than a handful of people, perhaps no more than two, have ever read the entire prior version. In some sense I am still in the editing phase.

And second, much as the original fatalism bothers me, my reaction to it now isn't merely a kind of bowdlerization, as is certainly the business with "wet." I truly want the story to be better. I'm not making Han shoot second because, somehow, I've grown fond of the character and think it icky that he might have shot first. Nor have I undone my narrator by making her do something she wouldn't have. Rather I have placed her on a hopeful path. It is the ending I changed, not the beginning or the climax; and indeed, the new ending plays off an earlier moment of hope that was always one of the strongest moments in the story. That moment is no longer in vain.

I have not betrayed the story. I have saved it from itself.

I'm not going to be specific about what has been changed. I've probably called too much attention to it already. I suppose when I die the legions of literary scholars, intent on the intentions of the great David Skinner, will unearth the earlier drafts and identify my changes. Know ye, scholars, that I disavow the earlier drafts! I am happy with The Spare Midge as it now stands.

As the Humans Say
Dialogue for Aliens
Saturday, July 21, 2018 5:28 pm
In The Corbomite Maneuver, an episode from the original Star Trek, an alien named Balok has decided to destroy the Enterprise. Balok then grants the crew some time to make peace with their Deity or deities. And how much time does Balok give the crew? "Ten Earth time periods known as minutes." 

Unless you're a steady fan of SF, you might not appreciate how amusing that is. It is the epitome of an SF meme, namely the alien who must use human measurements just to make it clear how long or far or big something is. And since the writer must concede that an alien would not normally use "minutes," he must therefore qualify "minutes" with "your" or "human" or "Earth."

But it sounds so silly. It's even a tad pedantic.

These pedantic qualifications are constant in Babylon 5; and it's not just for measurements such as "days" or "megatons." These past weeks I've been bingeing the series and you can all but make a drinking game out of "as the humans say." Straczynski, the prime mover and writer of the series, too often uses "as the humans say" to qualify a colloquialism or allusion or metaphor that, yes, might seem odd from the mouth of an alien. But surely the alien knows that his listener, a human, knows what humans say, and would qualify nothing. I have conversed with quite a few Japanese and Indians in the context of an English-speaking company, and they have never said "as the Americans say."

It's especially grating when Straczynski has two aliens of the same species conversing. He wants an alien to use some obvious and appropriate phrase like "kill two birds with one stone," and of course he feels a pedantic twinge and has to have that alien prepend "as the humans say." Honestly, if the phrase seems that out of place in the mouth of your alien, don't use it. Besides, why would two aliens, speaking to each other, use human turns of phrase at all? For one thing, they'd be speaking to each other in their own language, not English (the English is just a concession to the reader or viewer); and for another, they'd surely have their own phrases.

Never be like Straczynski and deploy "as the humans say." Either narratively establish that the aliens are linguistically assimilated and let them speak naturally, or bite the bullet and use a measurement or metaphor without qualification. Only in first-contact situations need you fuss with this issue at all, and in such situations do try to avoid the overblown balokisms.

P.S. Although the writing and the "humor" in Babylon 5 can be cringe-worthy, the characters and their arcs are really good. The characters actually develop. Their relationships and struggles are interesting and relevant. They're not just cogs in the plot or literary mixtures of personality traits. They support the space opera nicely — and that opera, Shadow War and all, is also really good. Hence my bingeing.

Yet Another Blog Hiatus Ends
Too Much Time Spent Being a Space Ninja
Saturday, July 21, 2018 12:18 pm
Well, well. I haven't posted in eight months. Story of my blog-life.

The latest fiction writing I've done was leading up to April 15th, the deadline for submitting to the Luna Anthology from Superversive Press. I had previously submitted to the Pluto Anthology — and wonderful news! My Pluto story was accepted. However, there has been no final word on my Luna story. It's great, so of course it will be accepted; but still. There has also been no follow-up on my Pluto story (for editing and such). It seems Superversive Press is a little behind. The months are passing away. I hope both anthologies — both with my stories — still come out this year.

Otherwise I've been dithering. Mostly I've been obsessing over Warframe, a video game about being a space ninja. I've never been quite so much the fanboi. I've even started watching Twitch streams for Warframe, something I've done for no other game. Warframe is great.

Whatever my obsession, I could still have done some writing. In some ways I just can't decide what to do. A new Hamlin Becker tale for StoryHack? A submission for the Sol Anthology? Some chapters for my poor neglected novel? But in most ways I've just been disinclined to write. I do grant that a writer should never wait around for inspiration, but of late "uninspired" doesn't half cover my unproductivity.

I'm hoping a few blog posts will grease my gears.
No, Not That Kind of Pulp
Here's the Kind I Mean
Tuesday, November 21, 2017 10:53 am
Old pulp has a reputation as vulgar, trashy, lurid, and low; and in their apologetics, the proponents of new pulp are usually quite aware of that reputation.

Sometimes the apology is an outright apology. Some proponents, for example, explicitly disavow the "racism" and "misogyny" of old pulp. Well, okay. I'm not here to hate races or women, either. But declaring against "racism" and "misogyny" is a concession to the very Stalinist conformity that has been destroying our fiction. Those words are no longer reasonable; the enemy has defined them. These days, putting a woman in a dress and saying she is not the same thing as a man is considered "misogyny." Virtue signaling is not the path to better fiction. 

But generally the apology is an affirmation. It is not trying to stay in the good graces of the modern zeitgeist but simply reminding people of the excellence to be found in old pulp; an excellence that is grounded in the pulp style.

Even so, there was something a bit vulgar about pulp. Consider the extent to which the Good People of the time sought to suppress pulp as injurious to morals. The Good People had a point. Scantily-dressed women and salivating killers are not precisely sublime.

But two things can be said.

First, there is a sense in which some vulgarities are better than others. George Orwell, in considering the naughty postcards of Donald McGill, noted that the cards, though obscene and (in Orwell's view) rebellious, were only funny because they presumed a stable society of indissoluble marriage, family loyalty, and the like. I myself have noted that pulp presumes the natural order. So long as the salivating killer is the villain and is so precisely because he is salivating and a killer, morals are not necessarily injured.

Second, even if one were to concede that a lot of old pulp was total trash and beyond redemption, there's still a lot that wasn't. As I read it, the Pulp Revolution has never been about total reversion to the past. It idealizes pulp. And ideals are not bad. Every revolution idealizes. A revolution is only guaranteed to be bad when its ideals despise the past. One can embrace old pulp and still set aside the vulgarity; for it is rather the wonder and excitement that guide new pulp.

Writing About Pluto
Get a Free Copy of Poof Poof Ya Does Me a Favor
Sunday, November 19, 2017 5:12 pm
Superversive Press is creating a series of anthologies, each of them focused on one of the nine planets in our system. I really like this idea and, when I heard about the series, immediately wanted to contribute.

Several anthologies, such as those for Mars and Venus, were already closed for submission. Luckily I wasn't left with only Uranus. Pluto was still available. 

I have written one other story about Pluto; one of my favorites. But I didn't want to recycle something old. I took the parameters of the anthology — science fiction about some combination of wealth, death, or Pluto the world — and wrote something entirely new. It's a nice tale of natural mysteries near Charon, Pluto's primary moon. I also worked in a nice lot of philosophy.

As I wrote it, though, I wondered how many of the contributors would be touching on similiar ideas. It's a thematic anthology, after all. For example, I added a (relevant) defense of Pluto as a proper planet, contra the pedantic killjoys. How many such defenses will the editor have to read? How many can the anthology bear?

Anyhow, what I wrote is pretty good. I'm optimistic about its chances. But we all know how this goes. It's been submitted; acceptance is another matter entirely.

In celebration of the new story and its submission, I thought it might be nice to make my other Pluto story available. Poof Poof Ya Does Me a Favor was originally published in Thundershine, way back in 1999. Between 11/21 and 11/25, you can get it for free on Amazon. Enjoy!

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