How to make me feel old.

So far my Facebook group, Swann’s Lounge, seems to be a success. But it comes at a price. On one of the more popular threads people are listing “obscure” SF/F titles. There’s a lot of good stuff in there.  But apparently it’s been long enough for Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls, and Julian May’s  Saga of Pliocene Exile to become obscure to some folks. Given that I bought both these series as they came out. . .  Let’s just say it made me feel my age.

Lounging About

I just want to let people know about my continued effort to integrate myself into the social media landscape (or other buzzwords to that effect) I have launched myself a Facebook group called Swann’s Lounge. So, for those of you on Facebook, you can join a bunch of like-minded folks to discuss reading & writing genre fiction, particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy. Come on and join the discussion, or start one of your own.

Continuing on my trek into the 21st Century

Updated my blog as I mentioned in the last post. Now I’m looking at my career while I wait for a couple of editors to respond to my latest projects. Short term I’m looking at possibly another Choice of Games title. Long term I’m investigating joining the ranks of indie authors. So far what’s held me back is the shear volume of work involved. Marketing has never been my thing, and I’m scattershot at best when it comes to social media (witness my sporadic blogging). But it does seem to be the future of things, so I’m looking seriously at what it would take. Of course I would need a new novel or three, so best case we’re 12-18 months away from even considering pre-launch stuff, without taking other paying gigs into account. Then again, a lot of the groundwork I need for this (e-mail lists, press kit, &c.) can be worked on well in advance and would presumably help out my traditionally published stuff. So, we’ll see…

And Speaking of Worldbuilding…

Since I was talking about world-building earlier, thought I’d follow up with something a little different. Here’s a few ongoing webcomics that I really like that have created truly impressive universes to play in:

1) Girl Genius

ggGirl Genius has been going on since 2002, so if you’re new to it, bank some time to catch up. (Or buy the print copies.) Phil & Kaja Foglio’s “Gaslamp Fantasy” series has been going continuously from the start, with only a few filler strips here and there during it’s run. The world is correspondingly epic, with a vaguely Victorian Europe overrun by mad scientists and their creations. A lot of it is intentionally goofy and amusing, but as Terry Prachett once said, “Funny is not the opposite of Serious.”

2) Gunnerkrigg Court

gcA special child is enrolled in a strange boarding school that seems to exist in its own separate universe. You’d be forgiven if you think of Hogwarts. But if this is Hogwarts, it is Hogwarts filtered through Terry Gilliam and Neil Gaiman. The eponymous Court is a school, but also a city filled with ghosts and automatons, adjacent to a forest where the old spirits live. Including a particular Coyote.

3) Stand Still. Stay Silent

ssssHow many post-apocalyptic stories come with a hefty dose of Scandinavian magic and folklore? One that I know of. All the fantastic elements tie back into the setting, as do the characters. This is one of those stories that could not be removed from its locale. It’s a slow burn, but when the monstrosities start showing up, they are absolutely horrifying. (Though a trigger warning for those who have issues with violence to cats and dogs.)

4) Kill Six Billion Demons

ksbdIf any webcomic ever had the potential to found its own religion, this is it. The world is deep and strange and somehow vaguely familiar all at the same time. The art is stunning and hallucinatory. It’s a story of gods and angels and devils and a heaven/hell that’s suffering severe infrastructure problems due to neglect.

One of those things useful to a writer…

You might notice something about writers in general (at least it’s true about myself) that when you start talking about your life on the job, we’ll tend to be more attentive than average.  When you’re a writer, hearing an on-the-ground story of someone else’s job, weather it’s a Subway employee dealing with an oblivious manager or an EMT dealing with a weird call, it’s all gist for the mill.  We collect stories and impressions and insights, better for when we’re writing from a similar POV.  So, for us, a blog post like “Underground DSM-IV – Full Version” is a goldmine.  I know most of the terms because my day job is in Behavioral Health care, but it’s worth it for any writer just to add someone’s real-world observations to your characters.  Tidbits:

“No one is listening to me,” means “no one is agreeing with me.” This has been remarkably durable over my career.  The idea seems to be “If you were really listening to me you couldn’t possibly disagree.”  Countering with the statement “I hear what you are saying, but i don’t agree with it” can actually provoke assaultive rage.

Gazing intently slightly upward — choosing among several things to say (Lots of people do this.) The further up the gaze, the more possible responses – usually not a healthy sign. Gazing at ceiling: = Choosing among a multitude of things to say, i.e. lying.

The news media is horrible and it’s filled with horrible people

You remember Ken Bone, right? The guy in the red cardigan that became an internet meme? Or, more accurately, became promoted by the mainstream media as an internet meme. He rose to prominence on October 9th. He tried to exercise some control over his pre-ordained fame, and did an AMA on Reddit, and all of a sudden we have so-called journalists gleefully deconstructing every potentially objectionable thing this poor guy ever said or did on the Internet.  This wasn’t any sort of rational investigation, the man was a private citizen of little or no notability except that which the media gave him.  But, because the media gave him that, he had to be destroyed.  By October 14th, the New York Times— let me repeat that— The New. York. Times. was gleefully, and somewhat condescendingly, printing details that Mr. Bone had posted on one of Reddit’s pornography forums following in the footsteps of that paragon of journalistic virtue Gizmodo. (And I’m sorry, Gray Lady, the fact you cast your story as a story about faux-journalists blowing up a faux-story about a faux-celebrity and causing a real person real damage, that does not excuse you. In fact it makes you the worse actor because of the pretense that, if it ain’t your shit, so you can fling it how you like and not get dirty.) And they aren’t the only big paper indulging in this pathetic excuse of a story.  This is not some angry Internet stalker doxxing someone on 4chan.  These are supposedly legitimate news agencies first creating a celebrity, just to the point where the poor guy might be notable enough so they can engage in the moral equivalent of revenge porn without getting sued.

Everyone involved in this story should be ashamed of themselves. And have their browsing history made public.

So why are things so nasty?

You know what I mean. From the presidential election down to what stupid little award our geeky niche genre decides to award itself, we cannot seem to have anything like a polite disagreement anymore.  Everyone gets up in arms about everything from who’s using what bathroom, to who’s cast in what part in a movie no one wanted rebooted anyway. It’s reached the point where it’s necessary to write articles like this.  WTF happened?

The obvious answer is, “the Internet happened.” So now everyone goes on-line, withdraws into their little confirmation bias bubble, consumes all the news that conforms to their worldview only to pop out of their hole to virtue-signal to their tribe, troll the enemy, and block people on Facebook.

The problem with that hypothesis is, when people actually study the issue, the whole “self-contained political bubble theory” tends to leak a little. According to a Pew Research study:

These cleavages can be overstated. The study also suggests that in America today, it is virtually impossible to live in an ideological bubble. Most Americans rely on an array of outlets – with varying audience profiles – for political news. And many consistent conservatives and liberals hear dissenting political views in their everyday lives.

Frankly, political bubbles are probably a lot more permeable nowadays than they were in the good/bad old days of three networks when a kid had to join the army or go to college to be exposed to a political point of view different from wherever they grew up. So what gives? After all, actually interacting with different folks is supposed to be a good way to promote tolerance.

I have a theory, and the Internet and confirmation bias do play a role, but not due to any bubbling.

In fact, I think the opposite is happening.  In days of yore, were you to hear an alien political opinion, chances are the voice of that opinion would have been tested by prior debate, the message honed, practiced and tempered by experience.  In the days before instant viral communications, a political message had to pass through many gatekeepers and face many opponents before it reached you, either on the campaign stump, via the printed word, or over a broadcast network. Ideas from the crackpots, the insane, and the stupid rarely reached beyond their own street corner, and when they did, it was after their message had been polished so shiny that people couldn’t see the crazy for the gleam.

This is no longer the case.

Everyone has a political opinion, and almost everyone feels obligated to share it.  Today they all can.  Nowadays, when someone wishes to rail against conservatives, their opponent isn’t a William F. Buckley Jr. or a William Safire or even their local alderman— it’s “RedneckJesus66” on some YouTube comment thread.  Someone trashes liberals, they aren’t arguing with Adlai Stevenson or John Maynard Keynes— it’s “MoonshineUnicorn37” on Tumblr.

The great evil of the Internet is the unleashing of an army of actual living, breathing straw-men to feed the fires of all political debate.  Everyone’s core conviction that they’re the smart ones and all their political opponents are stupid is now fueled by the fact that any idiot can now publish any screwball idea, and have it carry the same weight as the New York Times.  This means that no one needs a coherent argument anymore, because there’s always some poor sod on the other side that’s published something stupider than they ever will. Nowadays on the Internet, and increasingly in real life, political discourse is always punching down. Everyone now eschews the engagement of ideas, preferring instead, the easy fight against the most idiotic comments from the opposition.

That’s why we can’t have nice things anymore.

How You Aren’t Helping Online

I was pondering making comment on the SF kurfuffle du jour, but many obvious predictable people are making the obvious predictable points, all biases are being confirmed, and if anyone’s going to change their minds on the Internet it will only be upon facial contact with the hard cold unyielding surface of reality, and not by reading my hot take on the matter. So instead of launching into a tirade at what a sorry state it is that things have come to this, I’ve decided to mock how passionate people insist on making fools of themselves complaining about things online. Facebook users take note.

Not knowing what the hell you’re talking about: When you launch into a screed about anything, getting basic facts wrong (such as what is or is not illegal, what is or is not part of a code of conduct) will make you come across as a moron. An order of magnitude worse is saying “I don’t know [X] but I think [Y].” At that point you’re just making crap up, and not in a good way.

Putting the ad hominem before the horse: If there is a debate that person [Z]’s actions are just, right, advisable, problematic or a war crime, starting said argument by stating person [Z] is a known dumpster-fire douchbag coprophagic kitten eater is not doing you any favors. This statement insures that you will only be taken seriously by people who a) know who the hell [Z] is, and b) agree with your assessment. This is a smaller number of people than you imagine, leaving the vast majority of the population to view you as an unreliable nitwit with more axe to grind than argument to make.

The Amazing Kreskin: A combination of the prior two, this is where by the power of ultimate insight you divine the true motives of [Z]. “We know that [Z] is an evil person because they obviously did [Y] because of [X].” This basically translates to “We know that [Z] is an evil person because they obviously did [Y] because of their desire to do evil.” If you state that [Z] “wants” to do something problematic without a direct indication of [Z] expressing that particular desire, you’re at best inferring something that you have no direct evidence for. At worst, it makes it appear that you enjoy libeling people to support your own biases.

Goal-post moving: One great way to broadcast the fact you have a weak argument, few facts, and an inability to let go of a pre-conceived outcome is the following— “Well I heard that [Z] did [X], isn’t that awful?” “Actually [X] never happened, we have a recording, ten eye witnesses, sworn testimony and a major newspaper. . .” “But what about [Y]?”

But they said: If your only argument about [Z] is that [Y] said this or that about them, why are you even in the debate? Just shut up and let [Y] make their own arguments. They can certainly do better than you, since you can’t even come up with any of your own.

Confusing means and ends: “I support the children by pounding kitten skulls into the pavement.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “Why do you hate the children?” “Crushing kitten skulls doesn’t help. . .” “Your critique is an attack meant to keep me from helping children.” “Are you even listening?” “Unleash the kitten stompers on the child hater!”

Two random thoughts.

A couple of things to file under, “what the future might look like.”

First, what is the most significant thing the Internet has done to political communication, or communication in general? You know the answer, though it wasn’t the answer you just thought of.  Consider the MediaGlyph, and how it is both the natural product of the sound bite, and a compelling explanation for the state of the current political landscape.

Second, what is the most significant consequence of introducing self-driving cars?  If you didn’t answer “an increase in capacity utilization resulting in a crash of demand for new vehicles,” you may want to read this Zero Hedge article and think about unintended consequences.

And I am back again…

I have returned. (Not that I’ve actually gone anywhere.) My wife is cracking the social media whip at me, telling me I should stop ignoring the blog portion of my site. So I’m going to start posting here again so my little corner of the web doesn’t look so abandoned. Look for me to be posting stuff here Tuesdays and Thursdays…