Friday, June 30, 2017

More Concrete Writing Advice

Today's writing advice comes from the department of "you should have learned this in high school, but didn't." Jesse Abraham Lucas isn't just the advice giving sort.  Instead of opining that somebody should start a website for the #PulpRev, he went out and did it.

The final form of this new site will take isn't clear to me yet, but he has my support.  And with a kickoff post like Prose That Flows, you can bet it's going to be something special:
Tell me which sentence scans faster:

I ducked into the alleyway, squeezed off a few shots, and vaulted over a fence.

I ducked into the alleyway and, squeezing off a few shots, vaulted over a fence.

The first sentence is the correct answer.
Find out why the first sentence is the correct answer here.

We writers aren't one trick ponies.  We are readers first, drawn to write by a love of the language and a love of storytelling.  While that gives us a breadth and depth of experience with the written word, many of us wind up 'writing by ear' in the same way that a guitarist might not be able to read music but can still play a jamming solo.

The problem here is that reading and writing really are two different skills.  The former is passive and the latter is active.  If you really want to become good at the latter, you have to spend time thinking about how you do what you do.  Advice like Jesse brings helps make us all much more contentious and deliberate with our words and, in this case more importantly, our punctuation.

Here Jesse demonstrates not just a fluency with words, but a gift for explaining how to use them.  The former can make for a decent writer, but the latter makes for a great writer and editor.  And those are two skillsets that combine to elevate decent writing to a new level.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

High Quality Writing Advice

Most writing advice strikes me as the coloring on a tropical frog - it's bright and obvious and tells you to stay away from the poison.  You would think that those who write for a living would be better at writing advice, but typically I make note of the advice-giver's name to add to my list of authors to avoid.  If the best you can offer is nothing more concrete and actionable than, "write what you love" and "seek inspiration everywhere," then it's a safe bet you won't offer anything more interesting in your fiction writing. 

Enter Russell Newquist.  The man has been tearing up the scene lately.  His spirited defense of his publishing house's writers are epic, but it's his writing advice you should really study.  His latest, a two-parter on how to write page-turners is particularly illuminating.

In part one he provides actual mathematical numbers:
Be the page turner. Keep your chapters short. My average chapter length for Post Traumatic Stress is 1450 words. That’s only two manuscript pages, and only about a half dozen book pages.
Part two provides more structural advice:
One easy way to end your chapter on a hook is to take the first sentence of your next chapter and move it to the end of your current chapter.
 If you want people to say they couldn't put your book down, go thou and do likewise.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Appendix N: The Generation Gaps

The recent series of posts over at Vox Popoli relating to the sins of the Baby Boomers and GenXers set my mind wandering down strange paths.

That the true giants Burroughs, Howard, Moore, and E.E. Doc Smith were forgotten and the fraudulent three - pervy Heinlein, snowjob Asimov, and pedo Clarke - elevated by the Baby Boomers for political reasons is beyond doubt.  Anyone looking at the field of science-fiction with an impartial eye cannot deny the influence enjoyed by the former to this day, nor can they deny the steady downward trend in science-fiction's inspirational qualities or creative vision that was concurrent with the rise of the false trinity  (I won't dignify that slight by capitalizing the words.)

There may be more to the situation, however.  The Baby Boomers are notorious for believing that the world began with their generation.  We see this in their writing on film, art, politics, and literature.  Everything is viewed through a lens of "what did they ever do for me", and they gleefully ignore the culture that allowed them to live out their sheltered lives relatively free from the frothing cycles of history and economics that have always plagued mankind.

"Don't trust anyone over thirty," was the catch-phrase that highlighted their ignorance of the past, and so pervasive was that attitude that it only makes sense it would infect the field of science-fiction.  If Dad liked to read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard then that old stuff just had to be substandard compared to the new hotness of edgy writers like Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison.  You know they are cool because they are total dicks, man.

They rejected the things their fathers honored like selflessness, romance, virtue, and...well, honor itself.  And you can't read Burroughs or Howard without being infected by those ideas, so in order to preserve their carefully manufactured worldview that put them at the center of everything good and right and just, they had to treat the hard working and creative men and women who built the world of science fiction just as they had memory holed everything about the Silent Generation that wasn't focused exclusively on how great the Baby Boomers are.

It might not be quite as great a sin as squandering the financial wealth accumulated by the west over hundreds of years, but squandering the cultural wealth of Burroughs and Howard certainly serves as just one example of how they left the world a worse place than the one they inherited.

On a surface level, there is a certain irony in me - a GenXer myself - repeating the cycle and rejecting the actions of the generation before me.  But where the Boomers rejected everything that came before and assumed that they could create a better world from whole cloth in a generation, we GenXers are looking back beyond those poor misguided fools to the generations that came before them to see if we might heal the world they poisoned in order to leave a better world for our children than they left for us.

We don't reject the wisdom of our predecessors, we just reject the foolishness of our immediate forebears.  And it's this focus on the lost wisdom that will allow us to reject their false promises and build a better world.

And that includes a better science fiction culture.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

More on "Escaping infinity"

On Wednesday, I posted a review of Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity, in which I lamented the inclusion of an extended post-script that felt like a separate story in its own right.  After giving this book more thought, I have to revise my opinion of it. 

The #PulpRev channel has been crackling over the last few weeks with discussions about the foolishness of the traditional hero's journey story structure, of which Dario Ciriello's post at the Castalia House blog is just one example.  It occurred to me after writing my review of Escaping Infinity that my view of it has been unduly affected by a lifetime of exposure to the standard 3-act story structure.  This book defied my expectations, and my initial response was one of confusion, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Paolinelli should be commended for taking a huge risk. 

He didn't stick to traditional story structures, and instead let the story unfold in a far more natural manner than if he had tried to squeeze it into a formula.  Risks like these are what the #PulpRev is all about, and we should always be on guard against adhering to the old rules.  Richard Paolinelli has the guts to ignore them to craft a better story.  As readers, we should learn from his example.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Salon Admits Jeffro Was Right

Jeffro's detractors have called him a crackpot conspiracy theorist for daring to point out the concerted effort by major publishing houses filthy with secular midwits and tedious intersectionalists to commandeer the ship of science-fiction and steer it away from the open waters of action, adventure and heroism and onto the deadly rocks of collectivist thought.  They don't want to see that attempts to weaponize science-fiction is straight up non-fiction and so have ignored all of his cogent observations and connections.

Well, Slate (ramping up for the Hugo Awards - these stories always hit the press in greater numbers in June in order to help establish street cred for their garbage reporting on the Hugos) let the cat out of the bag.  I'm not linking to that fake news site, but here's my proof:
A few choice quotes:
If you’re surprised to hear that that science fiction might actually have a meaningful real world impact, you haven’t been paying attention. Science fiction and science reality have often found themselves in a feedback loop.
Okay, that's not exactly news.  We all know this to be true.  The article takes a turn for the sinister when it reports on an organization seeking ways to bridge the gap between dreaming of SJW futures and implementing them:
The newly announced Science Fiction Advisory Council, composed of a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in—and figuring out we can get from here to there.
Does anyone think that this council will be inviting Dragon Award winning author Brian Niemeier or best selling science-fiction (and non-fiction) author Vox Day or even a Nick Cole?  Beuller?  Beuller?  Yeah, didn't think so.  No room for badthinkers when you've got towering luminaries like Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, checkbox hire Malindo Lo, and colossal douche Neil Gaiman.  Although, you have to give 'em credit for including a few tokens like Niven and Mike Resnick.

This is a council interested in directing the future along paths that are pre-approved by the Narrativists and they cannot welcome guys with clear vision and deep understanding of how humans actually operate rather than how they might operate if only they would surrender control over their lives to the SFAC.  So you won't see even moderate voices like Larry Correia, John C. Wright, Brad Torgerson, or Sarah Hoyt win that Golden Ticket.

Bear in mind that this council goes well beyond previous instances of science-fiction writers - actually engineers who write science-fiction - advising the US military on potential new technologies.  The SFAC lists numerous roadmaps designed to steer the future along a "preferred future state" including "Planet & Environment; Energy & Resources; Shelter & Infrastructure; Health & Wellbeing; Civil Society; Learning & Human Potential; and Space & New Frontiers" (emphasis mine).

Anyone want to bet that the civil society they envision will include criminal sentencing for rodeo clowns who wear the wrong mask, but plenty of room for staged political assassinations (when the assassins' target is on the wrong side of the political divide?   Anyone want to bet that a big part of the roadmap for civil society will be finding way to reduce or eliminate the influence of Christianity, free speech, or the preservation of European culture?

 With a council like they have assembled, that's a sucker's bet.

But take heart.  Their roadmaps will be clumsy, ineffectual things.  They will be predicated on the same false notions of humanity possessed by most of the members of the council.  As their view of humanity is so fanciful, their roadmap will be a rainbow bridge built on dreams and wishes and just as effective at carrying vehicle traffic.  This is largely a collection of authors whose works do not resonate with readers, whose works have driven mainstream readers away from books, and whose only recourse is the ever popular appeal to amenable authority.  Their roadmaps will all be less about maps and more about traffic laws and ensuring that they control the highway patrol to force humanity to drive the direction they want, regardless of what the people want and regardless of what will be healthy for humanity.

Unfortunately, although their plans are guaranteed to fail, there's no telling how much damage they might do to civilization in the meantime.  So do your part to help stave off their inevitable dystopian futures - don't read anything written after 1940, and if you must, don't read anything published east of the Hudson River.

Hey, here's something that meets the latter criteria
and it's a heck of a lot of fun, to boot!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Escaping Infinity

At its core, Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity, presents a Twilight Zone style mystery of a strange hotel that appears in many times and places, and that once you check in, you can’t check out.  The guests at this hotel become so taken by the perfect luxury of the place that they succumb to it like sailors on the isle of the lotus eaters.  Not so for our trusty hero, however.  He immediately notices a number of things out of place and sets out to unravel the mystery and escape Hotel Infinity.  I really enjoyed this part of the book. 

Peter Childress, the architect at the heart of the story, makes for a fine protagonist.  He is clever, determined, and has just the right level of randiness about him.  The romance set up and resolved during this portion of the book is natural, with a truly feminine ingĂ©nue who glides back and forth between dame and damsel with an ease that lends her a likable vulnerability without ever painting her as a knuckle biting coward.  The action and puzzles are original and believable.  It’s a great book.

The wonderful middle-section of the book – really three quarters of the book – suffers for the inclusion of a prologue that spoils much of the mystery and a postscript that veers away from the extra-dimensional nature of the Hotel Infinity and into a strange space opera “Happily Ever After” ending.

The funny part is that both the prologue and post-script are well written and great reads.  The Prologue makes for a great short story with characters struggling to react to a catastrophic error.  It touches on everything from acceptance of responsibility to loyalty in the face of disaster in ways that are heartfelt and intense.  The general spoilers in the Prologue leave enough specifics unspoken for the reader to still wonder about the nature of the Hotel Infinity, leaving that short chapter a great little tale in its own right.  The characters in the extended postscript are also great, even if the entire section reads like the unholy marriage of a Mary Sue and a deus ex machina.
The Prologue might have worked better had it been included as an omnipotent POV explanation for the origin of the hotel, and placed after Peter makes his escape.  The Postscript, with its entirely different tone and scope might have worked better as a sequel.  It’s hard to say, really.  Because both are necessary parts of this story – without the origin and denouement the escape sequence might feel like half of a story.

Which leaves this reviewer in the awkward position of concluding that Escaping Infinity might not be the perfect science-fiction story, but it’s a darn good three of them.

Monday, June 19, 2017

They Know

Politics is downstream from culture.
One of the reasons that the publishers in New York are doing everything they can to isolate independent writers and publishers like Castalia House is that they know it plays a vital role in establishing what kind of future we will have.  We represent a threat not just to their pocketbooks, but a threat to their goal to completely secularize all life in America.  Science-fiction grounded in a Christian worldview - even if it isn't explicit in the way of C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy - serves as a counter to their efforts, and as one grounded in truth and beauty it represents a far more appealing vision of the future than anything the secular nihilists living in NYC can possibly offer.

In the run up to this year's Hugo Awards, the mainstream media is once again turning its attention to pushing back against rebellious newcomers like yours truly by fluffing up the credentials of the intersectionalists, secularists, and just plain Marxists.  NPR's Big Picture ran a typical overview piece that mistakenly reports science fiction's birth in the 1950s and repeats the lie of the false Trinity of the pervert Heinlein, the hack Asimov, and the pedophile Clarke.  No mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Doc Smith - at least in the first 30 minutes of the show.  I grew bored hearing the usual lies and distortion repeated and as such could not stomach the rest.
I did hear them mention and thereby tacitly endorse authors like boring Kim Stanley Robinson, a Marxist who wields global warming as a political club, and Margaret Atwood, author of the latest rage amongst the "haven't read a book since Harry Potter" crowd.  Her mediocre and contradictory book, "The Handmaid's Tale" is an explicitly feminist tale based in profoundly stupid understandings of how people work, but which has nevertheless proven to be a popular means of fearmongering by the elites.
Brace yourself for a wave of this sort of typical midwit writing by Fake Science Fiction fans writing stories about fake science fiction.  For far greater insights into the state of science-fiction today, watch the following video.  The narrator is talking about Marvel comic books, but his insights are accurate across all media.  He might as well be talking about the Hugo Awards.

If you can't stomach fake science fiction, why not give the real thing a shot.  I've got a post-apocalyptic tale featuring real people, real adventure, and real science fiction:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

He might not have taught me how to fight leopards, or Arab slavers, or swing through the trees using jungle vines, but my Dad did provide me with a number of skills that come in handy for fighting the slave-minded people of my time.  An irreverent sense of humor, an unflappable calmness in the face of adversity, and a deep sense of faith have proven time and time again to be  fearsome weapons in my own small fight to save civilization.  My first progeny is preparing to leave the nest at the end of the summer, and I can only hope that I've been half the father that I had.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Break Time

My first bona fide novel is up to 10 reviews on Amazon, which is a nice surprise given how rarely I ask for those.  It's also a reminder that I've got to play some catch-up.  In addition to posting a few three-sentence reviews on Amazon - that's all it takes, people - I owe a good friend a short story for a collection he is compiling.  So I'm taking this week off from blogging.  See you next Monday.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Newcomer's View of the PulpRev

Dominika Lein, author of, I, The One, posted an in-depth look at her experience with the #PulpRev.  It's gratifying to read about her experiences, as this is exactly the spirit that I've been pushing within the community.  I've lifted a few choice quotes, but you should really go read the whole thing:
It's been a little over a month since I emerged from lurking to larval wiggling about in the PulpRev trenches. Time flew fast.
In my time as an independent writer for the past four years, I've never seen support like I've already experienced in the PulpRev community. 
I would have never gotten that kind of support from a regular writing group or a place like NaNoWriMo...An aside: the only kind of support NaNoWriMo knows how to give is of two kinds; Rabidly cheerleadering "approved elements" to include in stories (you know) along with word counts regardless of quality and yet parroting the "proper ways to write" which ranges from mangled quotes of Strunk & White to Wendig blatherings to generic marketing/myths (which always includes "GIVE AWAY FREE COPIES ...(so I can get it for free)").
The #PulpRev has experienced phenomenal growth over the last six months, with no sign of let up.  We've attracted newcomers like Dominika and old hands as well.  In addition to serving as a ready-made fan base, the #PulpRev features some of the most supportive fans around.  We don't just buy each other's works, we do beta-reading, marketing, and encouragement, too.  At least for now.

One thing that I don't have a firm grasp of yet is how well this atmosphere will scale.  As the crowd continues to grow, will we ossify into the NaNoWriMo self-absorption, or will we continue to show the same level of support for each other?  My guess is that it will scale perfectly.  As more writers of good will enter the lists, they'll bring their own talents and time into the fold.  That will increase the amount of support even as the number of people who need support increases.  The overall level of support that any given writer receives won't increase - you'll still have two or three people beta-reading and reviewing and recommending your work - but the volunteerism will grow as the culture does.

The one thing to watch out for is the moochers.  The guys who always beg for help, but never offer anything up in return.  They will come, have no doubt about that.  It's surprising that we haven't seen any of them yet, or if we have, I haven't seen them*.  Perhaps they fade away when they realize that the #PulpRev crowd isn't stupid.  We notice the little things, and without question, those who don't give shall not receive. 

My advice, for what it's worth, is to continue welcoming new writers with open arms.  Be wary, but welcoming.  And start looking for ways to build up a stronger reader base rather than a writer base.  Our weak link right now is that the people most drawn to the #PulpRev are those who have thought about what modern literature is missing and set out to correct its shortcomings.  But there are throngs of readers out there looking for us who just don't know we exist.  Once we crack that nut, you're going to see a quantum leap in our profile.  Jon Del Arroz has been doing yeoman's work to that end, but the movement as a whole has a long way to go.

Which shouldn't be discouraging, but inspiring.  We're going to be around for a fair few decades, even if it dwindles back to a few gaming bloggers writing stories for their own amusement.

Also, if you want to support one of the authors of this growing movement, you can do so by purchasing a copy of my latest #PulpRev novel, A Moon Full of Stars.  It's post-apocalypse the way it was meant to be!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Don't Take My Advice

Russell Newquist, author of the much enjoyed Make Death Proud to Take Us, offers up some solid writerly advice when he recommends:
The secret (It’s not really a secret – you can find this all over the internet) to making money off of this in the book world is to have lots of books – preferably in the same series. Then, some portion (but not all) of the customers who pick up one book will buy all of your books, or at least all of the series.
This is echoed by Nick Cole, author of Ctrl-Alt-Revolt! and The Wyrd Chronicles:
Write a three book series and don't release until Book 3 is done. Rinse and repeat.
These are both working authors, so you should definitely listen to them if you want to be a working author.  Do as they say, not as I do.  I'm working on my fifth book and my fourth novel length story, and every single one of them is different from the other.  I just can't help it.  Once I get a story out in one universe, I'm already looking around for the next universe to explore.

The dirty little secret is that I don't world-build.  I story-build.  The background of every one of my books contains just enough information to paint a broad picture of the situation, and enough background to drive the plot or motivate the characters, but for the most part my settings are designed to fit the story and not the other way around.  I've actually gone back and changed entire universes in a few instances in order to bend them to the needs of the story.

It might make good financial sense, but I prefer the wide-open spaces of tight and compact story telling over sprawling epics.

For now.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dangerous Gamers - The Book

From day one The Frisky Pagan has been a reliable source of passionate, well considered, and funny commentary over at the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  Lately, his production has fallen off a bit (he's not alone in that), and now we finally get a chance to see why: Dangerous Gamers

You already know who these commentators are, and you have seen their works everywhere. They thrive in the worlds of on-line journalism, blogging, news aggregators, click-bait journalism, and social media. Their ranks have swollen, and they have problematized everything under the sun. And without more worlds to conquer, they have set their eyes on entertainment and video games.

If you are a regular at The Puppy of the Month, you know that Frisky has the writing chops to do a topic like this justice.  In its first day of publication it hit #16 in "Media Studies" and #27 in "Video Games", beating out some pretty impressive titles.  Be a sport and help him crack the top ten in both categories, would ya?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Donut Shaped Planets


It's so very tempting to give a post like this the subheading along the lines of "Homer's Haven".

There's been some chatter in the science field lately about synestias - short term stages in the development of an earth-like planet where the dust and rock of accretion takes on a donut shape.

Note that all three objects have the same density.
You couldn't walk on the surface of the synestia shown here.
By itself, this isn't particularly groundbreaking, but it does shed some light on the possibility of donut shaped planets.  We science fiction writers are always on the lookout for fun new planets on which to place our space princesses, four armed green aliens, and fighting men of earth, and a toroid shaped planet seems tailor made for adventure.  By its very nature, it is an alien setting.  Gravity varies over its surface.  The day-night cycle varies depending on where you stand.  The seasons are affected by how great it's tilt is off of the solar ecliptic.  The paths a moon (or moons!) might take get way-out wild.

The donut moon is worth a paragraph.  While the moon could dive through the donut hole in huge figure-eights, or even just bob up and down inside of it, both orbits are very unstable.  Far more likely is a moon rotating around the rim, parallel to the tilt of the planet.  On the other hand, these orbits are stable enough to allow for artificial satellites for spying, communication, and GPS systems.  They'd need more nudging than their Terran counterparts.

So why haven't we seen more of these?

Here's a video with a few explanations:

If you can't watch the video or just can't wait, here's a few interesting bullet points to consider:
  • In order to maintain its stability as a hoop, a planet with earth approximate gravity would have to rotate once every few hours.  A 24 hour day might have four to six sunrises and sunsets.  That sort of bright-dark cycle would play havoc with normal life.
  • Gravity would vary by 200% as you travel from the equator (the line of smallest diameter through the hole or largest diameter around the outside of the hoop).
  • To drop this planet in the habitable zone of the star, you need a big, fat blue star.
  • The seasons on a planet with an axial tile similar to earth would run very hot and very cold.
  • Continental drift would 'smoosh' the tectonic plates up as they approached the inner ring, and stretch them out as they drifted back around to the outside of the ring.  That would result in massive mountain ranges inside the donut hole.
All in all, not a very friendly place, but a decent writer should be able to work with it.  Continental drift is not a requirement for a colonizable planet, nor are moons.  They real problem as I see it is the lack of a liquid-solid core.  Without that, you've got no magnetic field, and no protection from solar radiation.  Which means life on a donut planet just isn't feasible.

And I guess that's why we haven't seen many stories set on planets like this.  The kind of authors prone to think about the geometry and gravity and tides on a place like this are hard enough science guys to throw up their hands and walk away.  To drop a planet like this in your story, you'd have to be one of those guys capable of juggling just enough math and science in your head to make it plausible while being loose enough with science to ignore how all of the data screams, "This is not SCIENCE!"  You'd have to be crazy to use one of these in a story.

Which reminds me, it's a planet called Antioch, and it's one of the last lines of defense for those tasked with protecting the Sacred Planet against the ravages of the Demented.