Making Your Readers *Feel* It

  • by Gitabushi

One of my more favored authors is Alistair MacLean. When he’s at the top of his game, like in “The Guns of Navarone,” “Circus,” “When Eight Bells Toll,” or “Where the Eagles Dare,” he’s amazing.  When he’s not, well, let’s just say I don’t recommend “Goodbye California” and “Athabasca.”

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One of the things he does well, however, that I rarely see authors include is make his heroes fatigued.  The fatigue could be seen as a dodge to make it easier for them to make mistakes that help drive the plot, perhaps.  But he does a good job of making you feel how tired the main character is.

In this same vein, when one of my sisters read “The Stand” by Stephen King, she said it entranced her so well that she would look up and think, “What are all these people doing here? Everyone is dead!”

As an aspiring writer, I want to be able to do that.  So I set out to write a section of a story with an exhausted combatant.

The inspiration was somewhat based on this event from my own life.  I had so much to do, and I couldn’t stop until I finished the work for the day.  I just kept going. I got tired, then weary, then exhausted. I got to the point where I had to stop and rest.  But energy would return after even just a 30 second rest.  The thing is, the energy span you get after a rest gets shorter and shorter.  You get so tired your arms just go limp when you aren’t lifting something.  If you sit down, you risk falling asleep if you close your eyes even for a second.  Your skin chafes. You get blisters, and just keep moving…your brain sort of switches off the pain notifications. By the end of the day, you are truly spent.  To the point that you try to eat a hamburger and have to go vomit.

And then you get up and do it again the next day.

Your body has truly astounding reserves of energy.  There’s almost always more you can call on in need.  But every movement takes an effort of will. Just standing becomes difficult.

I wanted to capture that.  Here’s an attempt:

Another opponent.  He staggered toward me, barely able to lift his axe off the ground.  I knew my shield had sagged to the point of leaving my upper body exposed, but I couldn’t find enough energy to lift it any higher.  He summoned a burst of energy to swing the axe upward in an arc, letting the momentum and its own weight bring the axe blade down toward me, inexorably obeying gravity to try to bite deeply into the metal of my armor, and the relative softness of my flesh underneath.

But I was no longer in the axe’s target point.  I had pushed off with my exhausted and cramping left leg, and gathered enough power to move my body out of the way.  I yanked my sword arm up, so the point was no longer pointing at my feet, and fell foward, reaching out with the point for a spot on his side, just above his belt.  I managed to get my foot up in time to place in front of me to prevent falling on my face.  As my sword point cut through cloth and parted hide, I twisted my body to add force, trying to make it go deeper.

The axe head hit the ground, and his body followed it a second later.

I stared stupidly at his dying body, only dimly aware of other things happening on the periphery of my vision.  Unable to hold my arms up a second more, I let them both drop by my side.  I lifted my eyes to my surroundings, willing my head to follow, and looked around me.  I squeezed my eyes shut tightly to try to rid myself of the stinging sweat dripping down from underneath my helment.  I couldn’t lift my arm to wipe away the sweat without dropping my sword, and I didn’t want to do that.  Not until the encampment behind me was safe.

The closest enemy combatants were no closer than a half-dozen yards away, all engaged with different members of my company.  I had time to feel and catalog all my pain and discomfort.

My right hand ached from gripping the hilt of my sword, and a blister had formed and burst on the webbing between thumb and forefinger.  The sweat begain to sting.  My left arm ached from the blows absorbed by my shield. I’m sure the arm itself was mottled with black and purple bruising.  A dozen or more nicks and cuts; nothing deep nor serious, or I would not be able to stand, but with a growing pain, the longer I had time to think and experience the sensations, undistracted.  My head ached where the leather band in my helmet rested. My shoulders burned with exhaustion.  I would have given my right arm for an M-58 and three clips of seeker rounds, but we ran out of ammo two years ago, and the metal from the rifles salvaged for medieval arms not long after.

I breathed deeply, trying to find oxygen to regain my wind.  I buried the point of my sword in the dirt, and fell to one knee, gripping the crossguard and bowing to rest my head against the hilt. I closed my eyes.  I could feel sleep stealing about the edges of my consciousness, ready to dart in and drag me down into blessed oblivion of sight, sound, sense, and pain. The dizziness made my head spin, I felt the sensation of falling…

…and snapped my eyes open.  It would help no one if I fell asleep at this moment.  As exhausted as I was, I had slept more recently than most.

I saw man, clad in enemy colors, trudge up the hill toward me.  He ignored my engaged compatriots and came right for me. He raised his sord to point it at my head.

Show-off. If he were half as exhausted as I, he would regret the wasteful display of excess energy only long enough for his life blood to leak into the sandy soil.

I put the effort of my whole body into standing up.  I still leaned against the sword, as if a cane, with its point still lodged in earth, as my determined opponent approached me.  I could see his eyes light up as I refused to pull my sword, saw the wolfish grin as I let my shield fall, as if from nerveless fingers. He pulled his arm back, and thrust as he stepped forward…

…to pierce the air where I had been. The knife I had drawn with my left hand and concealed along my forearm twirled out, and I let his momentum carry him onto the point, driving it deeply into his heart.  He fell, and I lost my grip on the knife.

I didn’t want to bend over to pick it up, fearing I might fall over.  I stood where I was, still gasping for air, still trying to marshall my energy for my next opponent.

I turned and looked behind me at the summit of the knoll. The defensive wall still stood, and the orange and yellow flag still flew.  It was weighted, and held aloft by a rotating set of the older children. Had a wall breach threatened, or even worse, broken through, the child would have let go the rope to make some pitiful attempt at defense, and the flag would be in the dirt.  Our children remained safe and unmolested.

I turned back to the battlefield, and saw two more warriors notice me, and begin walking toward me.  My breathing had still not slowed to normal, but I had regained a little energy; enough to retrieve and sheath my knife, and even enough to shrug into the battered shield.

The first reached me, and I had gained enough energy to knock his javelin thrust to the side before stabbing him in the throat. He fell to the ground, and the next was upon me.

He swung, and I parried. I thought I saw an opening and jerked the sword up and around in a path to hit him just above his shield, but he raised his shield arm to deflect, while ducking under the rebound.  I had to use energy, too much, to stop the sword from dragging me all the way around.  My sword and shield drooped again.

His dropped, as well. Early in the battle, I would have made him pay for the poor defense, but then, I would have paid for my own.

We stood, facing each other, gasping for breath. Two men. One who turned his back on humanity and civilization, one who defended the last remnants of it. I thought of Sarah, back in the encampment, and the hell I was certain waited for her if I fell. I ignored the seat in my eyes, ignored the pain in hands, and lifted my sword for another attack.

I drove him back with the ferocity of my attack, pushing him to the edge of the nearby gully that guarded our left flank, but even my adrenaline frenzy drained away quickly.  I had to end this quickly. I took a chance.

I beat his sword out of line, and thrust.  He recovered, more quickly than I hoped, nearly as quickly as I feared. His sword sliced my side as mine slid between his ribs.  He fell backward, and my sword stuck on his ribs, dragging it from my grasp.  I let go as soon as I felt it stick, but it threw off my balance.  I staggered foward, tried to catch myself, stumbled, and fell onto the steep slope.

I grabbed for anything I could, but my grasping fingers met only the body of my last opponent, pulling him down with me.  I tumbled for a few dozen yards before tubmling into a crack between two boulders, the body of my opponent on top of me.  I tried to push him off, but with one arm wedged beneath me and trapped by the boulders, I couldn’t summon up enough strength to move him. I closed my eyes to rest a moment before trying again.

When I opened them again, it was night.  All was still.  There were no sounds of battle.

This time I was able to wiggle my way out from beneath the dead weight.  Being so close to the galaxy’s core, the stars were bright enough for me to slowly, and mostly silently, clamber my way to the top of the ravine.  I looked up at the encampment. No lights, but in the starlight, it was clear: the flag was down.

I let the other Bushis read it, and I think we all agree: there’s something good there, but overall, it’s clunky and overwritten.  I think I’m going to distill this down to a page-length or so, then write about the pursuit and rescue.

But what are your thoughts?

Of course, we don’t write about normal body functions in a story, but has anything in your life ever been disrupted by having to use the bathroom?  How about being sick?  How about being exhausted?

If it can happen in real life, why shouldn’t it happen in your story?

I have mixed feelings. I think I’m happy that we don’t talk about urinating and excreting in most stories.  It just gets ignored, right?  On the other hand, could it increase the verisimilitude? Or add further plot complications? Could it be done tastesfully?

What do you do to help your readers *feel* what your characters are going through? What should be out of bounds for inclusion, when it comes to bodily functions?

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Glory Load

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Ok, Glory Road is ultimately kind of garbage. I don’t often quit reading books once I’ve begun, but if I do it’s usually within the first chapter or two. This thing strung me along to within 50 pages of finishing. But alas, I can take no more.

And you know, if Heinlein had possessed the humility or sense not to keep writing once the adventure was done, or if his editor had possessed the cajones to rein him in, it would have been a middling, serviceable scifi story.

But nope. Instead we get more Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein, who can’t stop himself from writing about free love and weird sex. The adventure is over, so here’s a few chapters of exposition about some weird imperial sex culture stuff.

Oh well.

As Kaiju tweeted some days ago:  Heinlein died after writing Starship Troopers.

The end.

-Bushi

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A Glut of Content

Last month I wrote about Netflix and how I’d like to drop it (maybe someday!). Recently I find that I’m not even watching Amazon Prime Video all that much, aside from an occasional episode of Baylon 5. Of course adding endlessly to my Watch List remains a great pleasure.

I touched upon this the other day, but the amount of content out there now is just amazing. Now that time has gone from valuable commodity to luxury item, I find myself mostly looking for two things in my video entertainment –

1. Value for cost

2. Chunkability

By value for cost, I mean that I am willing to pay for something if I really want to watch it (like Criterion Collection J movies on sale at Barnes and Noble this month!). But with so much free, decent-quality content available out there plus the two subscription video services I’m already paying for, I’m not going to shell out to watch Premium YouTube or Hulu AllStars or HBO Mega. It’s gotta really be worth it.

This can be taken even further when you consider the free trials available out there. After the baby was born, I did the Hulu one-month free trial so I could rewatch Last Man Standing and Adventure Time. When I get more time, I’d like to try out Film Struck, as well…

Chunkability is my way of saying I can watch it in short, easily digestible pieces and put it down constantly without losing too much. This is a huge benefit of video over video games right now, actually. Watch a 20-minute episode of something; chunk and chip 15 minute-increments out of a 45-minute episode. Movies are doable, but shows with shortish episodes are best.

If I had to enumerate to 3, I’d say I crave entertainment untainted by politics and the culture war. Unless I’m watching a Crowder video, I’d rather be enjoying art or movies or comics or scifi for itself and not struggling to look past its wokeness. I work in a DC liberal bubble – I don’t need to be reminded that conservatives are Nazis and that we are literally living in a Handmaiden’s Tale.

 

So what kind of stuff do I watch? Well here are a few flavors I like to lick:

PA TV

The Penny Arcade guys don’t just do comics. I used to watch an occasional First 15 (where the dudes just play the first 15 minutes of a random video game and comment as they go). Surprise – Jerry and Mike are funny and interesting guys.

Well, the gate is open now. I recently finished watching PA: The Series, and I am working my way through Strip Search now. I’m generally not a big fan of reality TV, but the PA flavor combined with the novel theme of “comic artistry” scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

Cinemassacre

I’ve been watching The Angry Video Game Nerd for years. Yes, it’s gimmicky. But the guy’s love of video games and cinema is contagious, and the low budget special effects he peppers in have grown on me.

Red Letter Media

Come for Mr. Plinkett’s renowned Star Wars reviews, stay for Scientist Man.

I didn’t used to care much for Half in the Bag (the team’s regular movie review show), but I’ve come to appreciate these guys. I don’t always agree with them, but they’re good critics and just funny dudes.

Other

There’s plenty of great stuff out there – from Eric Rap Battles of History to Legolambs’ musicals to Jordan Schlansky videos, depending on your tastes. Go out and discover!

So I’ve got plenty to tide me over while I wait for my old samurai movies to arrive…

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-Bushi

bushi

Switch: Has-Been Heroes

 

My PlayStation 4 lies fallow, and my gaming PC gathers dust. But this was foreseen and expected. Someday I will lay down my plow and once again take up the sword. For now, though, this whole rearing a little person thing doesn’t allow me much room.

I do sometimes get to play a bit at night or in the small hours of the morning – times reserved for sleep or frivolity. For the first several weeks of my son’s life, I vacillated between my 3DS and my Switch (which I resisted for quite some time, but has grown on me). Nowadays the Switch is my go-to. When you need to be able to run to the kitchen for your spouse or pop a pacifier in your infant’s mouth with all due haste, the ability to pause your gaming on the fly is a necessity. The ability to play the same game in bed or in a lounging position on any couch or other mostly flat surface is also highly desirable.

I’ve been playing Has-Been Heroes. There are other games on my radar, but right now I’ve got to stretch what I’ve got, and it isn’t really that much of a challenge (putting aside my compulsion to hoard and stockpile both books and games to consume “eventually”).

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This game starts off simple. “Oh, you just move these guys between lanes and cast spells when they’re off cooldown. This may get old fast.” Then you begin to discover the way the different elements interact. Water + fire creates steam, which slows enemies. Wet enemies buffeted with wind spells will freeze. And this is just scratching the surface.

Then you start to unlock new characters, items, spells, map nodes, enemies. And there are tons of these unlockables.

Suffice it to say this game’s got a lot of potential mileage, if you’ve got the stomach for it. I can’t accurately approximate the importance of luck vs skill, but both are necessary to complete runs as the game progresses. Sometimes you just get shit spells or can’t find enough battles to fill your coffers. Other times may be described as “serendipitous.” The worst is when you squeeze a treasure goblin or two and are sitting on 1,000 gold right before dying to some bullshit. Ah, what could have been!

I often need to put the Switch down for a while at the end of a run owing to my “this is bullshit!” reflex, but before long I crave another potato chip and I’ve started it up again.

If you are curious what this game is about, here’s some low-context nonsense:

Fucking guy. Can’t even say he got lucky – that combination of spells looks absolutely mediocre to me. Maybe I just need to git more gud.

And yeah, that’s a luchador.

-Bushi

bushi

The Problem With Progressivism…

  • By Gitabushi

Margarent Thatcher once noted, “The problem with Socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s mondy.”

In that same vein, yesterday I noted:

I wasn’t just trying to be clever.  Progressivism is based on the assumption that humans are pefectible, and are on a journey from old, backward thinking toward modern (and even futuristic), enlightened thinking.  The old way of thinking includes outmoded beliefs like the importance of family, nation, propety/wealth, etc.  If Progressivism can just get everyone to learn their new, modern viewpoints, humans will live in harmony,  peace, and happiness.

To do this, Progressivism identifies some law, norm, or tradition that is old and somehow holds humanity back.  Perhaps it is the outdated notion of national borders, or perhaps the backward assumption that work builds character.  They attack it, and hopefully destroy it, advancing humanity a little bit farther on its path to perfection.

Or, as David Burge (iowahawk) put it:

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They don’t care that their efforts result in destroyed lives and unhappy people.  By any sane metric, the United States is one of the most successful, safe, and egalitarian societies in the history of mankind, but Progressives are unhappy. Feminists are unhappy. Democrats are unhappy.  They are unhappy any time they are thwarted in the realization of their goals.  They are unhappy they can’t get everyone to join in the consensus. They are unhappy that the United States doesn’t enthusiastically embrace their religious fervor.

Eventually, you run out of things you can destroy in the name of progress.

A Few of the Many Reasons Socialism Won’t/Can’t Work

  • by Gitabushi

It seems as if Socialism is becoming cool among the youth of the United States again.  This is sad, because capitalism-based (mostly) free markets have lifted more people out of poverty than socialist nations have killed and/or starved to death, and that’s a lot of people.  Moreover, if the DNC hadn’t rigged the primary for Hillary Clinton, an avowed Socialist would have won the Democrat Party nomination for POTUS.  Another avowed socialist just ousted one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives.  As recently as 2013, Venezuela was praised by liberals for their socialism, and for being an economic miracle.

At the same time, I have a friend on twitter, a semi-famous speculative fiction author whom I won’t name because I don’t want to get him harassed, who fervently believes in Socialism. He argues well and fairly for it; he believes that once robots and AI usher in a post-scarcity society, socialism will become the only way to sustain humanity.  So there are intelligent, forward-looking individuals who stiill fervently believe in Socialism, despite all its spectacular failures.

So with Socialsm on the rise among the nation’s youth, and the continued refusal of the Left to admit the humanitarian crises in Venezuela, Cuba, and Socialist nations of the past were due to the inherent ruinous effects of Socialism, it might be time to review some of the reasons Socialism can’t work.

  1. After the Janus ruling by the SCOTUS recently, government unions are no longer permitted to take dues from non-Union members.  And even better, paying dues to a union is opt-in, not opt-out: the default is unions don’t get your money unless they convince you to contribute.  The main argument for unions to collect dues from non-members is that unions obtain all sorts of benefits for their workers that also benefit non-members.  Unions are credited with the 40-hour work week, work safety rules, etc.  The assertion is that non-Union members take these advantages for granted, and, absent the ability to take the dues without permission, too many workers will be free riders, taking the benefits without contributing their fair share.  If this is true, if too many will not contribute their fair share without force, then how can Socialism work?  After all, Socialism guarantees everyone has enoough.  It isn’t explicitly stated that you will be given enough whether or not you work for it, but who decides whether you have worked enough to earn your Socialist benefits?  The argument for Socialism is the compassion: everyone has enough.  Now take someone who doesn’t work at all: do they still get as much as they need? If they do, other people will loook at them and say, why should *I* work?  This is the free rider problem that Leftists see very clearly with union dues, but cannot seem to apply to Socialism itself.
  2. One of the problems with Capitalism, socialist advocates claim, is the greed.  In capitalism, there is incentive for people to gather capital to themselves, to exploit workers for their own material gain.  The assumption is that capitalists, business owners, landlords, etc., are greedy and evil.  They don’t need that much money, they just want it.  For proof, they point to the wealthy who continue to work to earn money: no one needs that much wealth, so continuing to seek profit after you have enough is proof of greed and exploitation.  Why not give up your multi-million-dollar CEO salary and/or owner payout to give all your workers a raise (even if it only works out to a few dollars a year for larger corporations)?  It must be just a mindless quest for status: to be the richest simply to be the richest; a competition among the wealthy to see who has more, with the lowly worker paying the price.  However, these people rise to the top due to ambition and ability.  At the very least, if you accept they are only motivated by greed, what happens if you achieve a Socialist system?  Will this greed go away?  If there truly is a human need for competition to see who is best, why won’t that urge shift to the true scarce resource in Socalism, i.e., power?  Socialists never explain what magic wand will suddenly change human nature so that the evil capitalists of our current system won’t use their drive and ability to gain power in a Socialist system and still exploit the less-ambitious for power and comfort.

The answer to both of these, then, is likely force.

I’ve seen it said that the Left is always just one more execution away from Utopia.  The answer is that when Socialism fails, it always looks for people to scapegoat.  There is always someone exploiting a rule loophole for power or comfort.  There are always Hoarders.  There are always Capitalist Roaders, who participate in an underground economy that inevitably develops to fill shortages and redistribute resources that Socialism’s Central Planning misallocated. There is always a free rider that can be made an example of, so others work harder.

In short, every problem that Socialists identify as a shortcoming of Capitalism-based (mostly) free market economies will still exist under Socialism.  Humans don’t change.  Only the ways the leaders use to reward or punish changes.  And because Socialism has no way to deal with these human foibles without force or execution, Socialism will always fail.

Recommended SF&F Author: C. S. Friedman

  • by Gitabushi

I consider myself fairly well-read, at least when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

This is because I was a voracious reader living in a small town, and I read every SF&F book the town and school libraries had.  Being a small town, they didn’t have much that was new.

But since I read so much, I don’t always know remember who/what I read.  Being young and foolish, I didn’t bother to take the time to check publication dates, or try to fit the books and stories I read into the context of the time in which they were written.

But then in the 80s, I started babysitting, getting a decent allowance from chores, and working part time, and I put the money I earned into books.

I got a sense of who the main authors were, and explored most of them.  Sometimes I encountered a story I didn’t like, and if I encountered two from the same author, that would burn the author in my estimation, and I’d rarely give them a second chance.

But there were often strange gaps. Jack Vance and Damon Knight were both considered Grandmasters, but none of the libraries I had access to had any of their books, and so I never read either one, until PCBushi recommended Vance to me.

Because I was both a voracious and precocious reader, I started young, with The Lord of the Rings at age 9, Robert A. Heinlein at age 10, Herbert’s Dune at age 13.  Some books I just really didn’t understand.  I tried the Lord of the Rings at age 9 after a teacher read The Hobbit to us, but not knowing what I was doing, I grabbed and started with The Two Towers.  I finished it, but I had no idea what was going on.  I picked it up again at age 14 and read it in order, and loved it.  I tried C. J. Cherryh a few times at age 17 or 19, and just didn’t like her.  When she came out with Lions….  In…..Space…. when I was about 20 (the Chanur series), I gave it a try and liked it.  But it wasn’t until I turned 26 that I actually really understood her writing, and she became my favorite.

Looking back, there was one author I tried in my early 20s: C. S. Friedman.  Not sure why she felt the need to hide her female name, because there were plenty of famous female authors by 1986, when her first novel was published.

But her stories were complex and perhaps a little beyond me at the time, like Cherryh.

I started with the Coldfire Trilogy.  I enjoyed it, but my girlfriend loved it.  She fell in love with the main character, who I thought was cool, but not especially lovable.  But trying to understand what she loved about the main character helped me understand a little better what women want from/like in men.  The trilogy is a fascinating construction of a Catholic-like religion battling demon-like aliens.  The main character is absolutely a Knight Templar type, or could be seen as a D&D-style Paladin.

Look at this picture.  Isn’t this guy a bad-ass? Don’t you want to read this book now?

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As I recall, this cover is *exactly* why I picked up the book

It’s been so long, I barely remember the story. What I remember is the heartbreaking love story, where the main character falls in love with a woman, and she loves him back…then her memories are stripped.  He goes to extreme lengths to try to accomplish the return of her memories, but without her memories of their time together, she no longer loves him and falls for someone else.  It was well done, as I recall.

I enjoyed the books enough to purchase and read In Conquest Born.  It, too, was a complex book.  It has a little twist to it, though, not mentioned in the wikipedia page, that I don’t want to spoil for you, if you ever find it and read it.

I never found any of her other books, and had pretty much forgotten about her, until seeing C. L. Moore mentioned a few times in the past year stimulated my memory to the point where I had to figure out who C. S. Friedman was.  I even went so far as to write a tweet asking my SF&F peeps if they knew who the author was when I remembered “Friedman” and was able to do a quick search.

[Man, you younger kids have no idea what life was like before the internet, when it was difficult to find a song you heard on the radio, or a book you once read, or even the back catalog of your favorite band.]

Glancing through the books she’s written since, she is still writing complex stories with some pathos, although she is nowhere near as prolific as many of her contemporaries.

Have any of you heard of her or read her?  Honestly, the Coldfire Trilogy and In Conquest Born were good enough, I’m really surprised she isn’t mentioned more often as one of the greats.

I think I’m going to have to purchase and re-read her books (further delaying my slow-motion rampage through Edgar Rice Burroughs back-catalog).  I think with the added maturity of 20+ years, I should appreciate her books more.  Or perhaps discover that they aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember.