They Just Don’t Get It

  • by Gitabushi

I took a quiz I stumbled onto from Twitter last night.  I can’t find the link now, but it was something about 8 Political Traits. You took a quiz regarding your reactions to several political statements, and from that, it judged your position on 4 different paired-trait spectra.  Like, Authoritarian/Libertarian, Economic Freedom/Control, etc.

One thing I was struck with was that it got Conservatives/Traditionalists completely wrong.  Of course, Progressives usually get Conservatives wrong…it has been shown over and over that those on the Right understand the Left much better than the reverse.  Charles Krauthammer’s formulation is the Left thinks the Right is Evil, and the Right thinks the Left is Stupid.  Which makes sense, of course: the Right thinks the Left is stupid because they understand the Left’s viewpoints and find them immature or unworkable; the Left thinks the Right is Evil because they can’t understand how anyone can oppose the compassion of a $15 minimum wage and free birth-control for women.

Anyway, what bothered me was they characterized Progressives as believing that the human race can and should progress toward enlightenment.  The implication is that the past is always ignorant, and as we learn things, we can improve.  What is the opposite of that?  Why, that some people think that we should cling to the past because that’s how we’ve always done it!  Meaning, the quiz assumed that conservatives are conservative out of fear or reflexive adherence to tradition out of belief that Tradition is simply a Good.

That’s not my view at all.  Maybe I’m projecting to the rest of the Right and/or conservatives, but I think I’m not alone in this.  I’m convinced conservatives are Thinkers, and spend time questioning and trying to understand everything.

In my opinion, Conservatives conserve Tradition because Tradition arises out of What Works.  Humans are humans: we are biologically programmed (whether by God or Evolution) to exploit/game any system to its extinction, but also to require systems to reach our individual and social goals.  We are biologically programmed (whether by God or Evolution) so that in our interactions with the opposite sex, any/all errors of judgment result in pregnancy, because *anything* that results in reproduction is a successful reproduction strategy, and those traits of selfishness, sloppiness, pettiness, dishonesty, manipulation, etc, that assist in reproduction will be passed on.

As such, I support Traditions because those are time-tested ways to avoid pain, disaster, chaos, poverty, loneliness, heartlessness, death, despair, depression and Justin Bieber.

That doesn’t mean Traditions are immutable.  We can learn as a society, and do.  We can rise above our selfishness and pettinesses, and do.

But you have to make the case. You can’t just insist that there is an end goal of perfect equality between all people and all preferences, and anyone who obstructs that progress is wrong.  You have to explain how the direction of progress you want is helpful to everyone involved.  You have to make the case for overturning Tradition.  You have to move slowly when you do make changes, so that we have time to adjust to changes, and to reverse if it proves to be more harmful than helpful.

And most of all, you have to insightfully analyze and clearly identify and explain who pays the price and who benefits.  Assertions are not acceptable as proof.

If something benefits 1% of the nation and makes things worse for 60% of the population, it should not be done.  More time should be taken to ensure that the benefit is worth the cost, and to minimize the cost as much as possible.

So in the quiz, seeing that they characterized Conservatives as preferring Tradition simply because it was Tradition, it lost any/all credibility with me.

Closely related: Chesterton’s Fence.

They Just Don’t Get It

“No Real Plot” in ERB/REH Books

  • by gitabushi

Spoiler: Okay, that was too strong, and I withdraw the charge.  Sort of.

Don’t you love it when a writer starts off the story in the middle of the action, so you are immediately caught up in laser blasts and flying hand-axes?

So here’s the background.

There is a Pulp Resurgence going on.  As a hopeful writer who is hopefully on the verge of being able to complete my first novel, I noticed the trend and thought it might be something worth paying attention to. As in, maybe I might want to write a pulp story.

So I tried to re-read some pulp SFF I liked when I was in my teens.  And didn’t like it anymore.

The stereotype of pulp is that it is simplistic, juvenile, and immature.  Its fans disagree. And they have a point: the writings of Dashiell Hammett are considered by some to be literature worth studying.

hammett
Dashiell Hammett

I personally enjoy reading Louis L’Amour, and while he is definitely a pulp Western writer, he has some interesting characters, occasional fascinating character growth, and some fairly intricate plotting at times.

the-sackett-brand_LRG
…and boy, did L’Amour milk this brand!

But when it comes to SFF, I have to agree with the stereotype: it is immature writing that has been so surpassed by the state of the art that it doesn’t seem worth reading anymore.

So, of course, I had to say this on twitter, because that’s the Proper Location for Virtue Signalling.

Full disclosure: Twitter has changed me. It has helped me to mature and not be bothered by responses and attitudes that would have infuriated me not long ago.  On the other hand, I’ve gotten to enjoy mild trolling, so I’m not always as careful with precise critiques as I would have been in the past.

And PC Bushi and I have a long-running mild disagreement…we both love SFF, but our tastes seem to be diametrically opposed. What he loves, I dislike.  The only thing I love that I know he’s read is the Chronicles of Amber, but that’s enough to know that the reverse isn’t necessarily true. More data is needed.

Anyway, some people had been ripping on some authors PC Bushi liked, and we had a twitter conversation about it, as PC Bushi details here.

That led to me getting called out by a commenter here:

I am sorry but it just reads like nathan hasn’t read anything and is just using other people’s talking points. Couldn’t you describe Brust’s Taltos series as a guy just wandering around killing black elves?

(He later corrects himself note “black elves” is Cherryh’s construction, not Brust’s, but the Dragaereans are called elves, so his point is not undermined by the mistake)

Here is my response, in full:

Okay, I spent a little time thinking about plot, so your challenge actually did some good.

Maybe “no plot” is the wrong way to put it.
What is plot?
According to wikipedia, Plot is: the sequence of events inside a story which affect other events through the principle of cause and effect.

So from that point of view, yes, everything REH and ERB wrote have plots.

But I still don’t think they are very good ones.

Let’s take the first story in “The Coming of Conan”. (I have read most of the original REH Conan novels, but 30 years ago, so we’ll just look at this short story).

What is the plot? A man wants to be king, so plots against the king, who is Conan. He arranges for an assassination squad. Conan has a dream where a God gives him a magic weapon. Conan defeats the assassination squad, except the last one is read to kill him before a demon appears, then Conan kills it with the magic weapon.

So, yeah, there’s a plot, but it’s not a very good one.

Why do we care about Conan? Is he a good king? We don’t know.
Where is the conflict?
Does anything bad happen if Conan is replaced as king? Sure, he’d be killed, but we know nothing about the country, or the people. Why should we care?
Does he do anything difficult to stop the assassination? No, a demon appears.
Does he do anything difficult or special to stop the demon? No, a god gave him a magic sword.

There was *one* bit of interesting development: Conan is nearly killed because he was shocked at the minstrel’s betrayal, and human emotion keeps him from striking the minstrel down immediately.

If anything, the most interesting person, the person who chooses and changes the most, is Thoth-Amon. He had power, lost it when a thief took his ring. He had to flee or be killed from the enemies he made when he had power. In disguise, he’s nearly killed by bandits, but his life is spared when he pledges to serve as a slave. Then his ring comes within his reach again…how does he react to the loss of power vs restoration of his power? That could be a fascinating glimpse into human nature. But he’s the bad guy, so we can’t care about him.

Now compare to Brust’s Jhereg (spoilers!):

Jhereg
An assassin is seduced by greed and ego to take a difficult job. He finds out the job isn’t as straightforward as he thought. If he doesn’t do the job, he’ll be killed. Then he finds out there’s a reason to hurry. If he doesn’t hurry, he’ll be killed. But if he hurries, he might be unprepared, and killed by the target. Then he discovers the target wants to die, but only a certain way. He finds out that if he does his job, his friend will be dishonored. Now, you may not care about the friend and his prized honor, but you can understand and sympathize with the assassin not wanting to force his friend to lose something important to him. Then we find out that the target is trying to destroy 3 of the 17 Houses of the Draegaera. Which the assassin would LOVE to have happen. Now isn’t that some some intriguing, major conflict to be resolved? The assassin has multiple reasons to want to stop the target’s plot, but also has multiple reasons to want the target’s plot to succeed. So he develops a plan, the one thing that could resolve all these conflicts safely. Then the plan goes wrong.

There is escalation of stakes throughout, which makes it a good plot.

Brust lets us get to know the characters, gives us some reason to care about the characters and what they want, makes even the target somewhat sympathetic, and then lets the struggles play out.

Now, to be fair, we’ve compared a short story to a novel. A novel will naturally be more complex, having more length.

So let’s bring in ERB’s The Land That Time Forgot.

The_Land_That_Time_Forgot

What’s the plot? A man is going to war. His boat is sank, he captures the submarine that did it. No way to run a submarine, unless you just happen to have experience piloting one…He just happens to make submarines for a living! He tries to get home, but gets lost. There is some conflict because there is a hidden traitor. He finds an unknown continent. No way to get in, unless you have a submarine. He just happens to have one! He gets inside, and there are dinosaurs inside. They are dangerous, and randomly grab someone. It just happens to not be the hero! Now they have food and water, but no fuel for the sub. Hey, they just happen to find oil! They still haven’t resolved the issue with the Germans, oh, hey, the Germans run off with the sub!

Oh, I forgot, there’s a girl. He loves her because she is beautiful. How do we know she’s beautiful? The author told us. She loves the hero, he loves her. He doesn’t trust her for a while. Oh, wait, he was wrong. She forgives him.

To be sure, there are some minor conflicts: the hidden traitor, the problem about the trust between the girl and the hero, how to deal with hostile prisoners.

But at no point is there much doubt about the outcome of any conflict. The hero is the leader because of course he is. He can command the sub because of course he can. When he needs to kill a dinosaur, of course he can. He can overcome the German commander one on one because of course he can.

Back to wikipedia:
A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story. It is often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with dramatic technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-developed reasons. An example of a plot device would be when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle. In contrast, an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself and saves the day due to a change of heart would be considered dramatic technique.

If I had to characterize The Land that Time Forgot, it would be that it is just a series of plot devices, rather than a plot. Or to the extent that it has a plot, it isn’t very good.

And it doesn’t get any better in the sequel, The People That Time Forgot. I set the book down when I got busy, and had zero desire to pick it back up again.

In its favor, there is a great What If aspect to the trilogy: What if there were a lost continent that had dinosaurs and primitive humans? Then what if the inhabitants recapitulated evolution as a personal development process?
Okay, the 2nd is way out there, and I don’t really see the reason for it, but at least there is a What If to explore.
These are milieu books: set up a world, then let the character explore the world, letting us see it through his eyes. The interest is in seeing how this world compares to ours, how the changes in the world cause changes in the humans, or in human society.

Except it really doesn’t. ERB gives us a series of snapshots, but the world never really becomes 3D.

Compare to Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky, where the question is “What if a bunch of young adults were stranded on a strange planet and had to create their own civilization?” Definitely a milieu story, but not *just* a milieu story. There is character growth and exploration of human nature and the nature of civilization.
Or compare to Larry Niven’s milieu stories, Destiny’s Road (what if people lived on a planet that lacked any natural source of a vital mineral?), the Smoke Ring duology (what if a society evolved in a weightless environment?). He tells a story with a plot, character that have goals and issues we care about, while *still* exploring a strange world. One of the interesting things about Niven is he wrote several novels about societies based on an Elite enslaving the Common People via monopoly over a scarce vital resource. He explores that theme over and over, in the two stories above, plus The Gift From Earth (human organs), World Out of Time (immortality), and probably more I can’t think of yet.

the-smoke-ring
Woah. Doesn’t this look like a world you want to see a writer explain, describe, and explore?  Hard SF for the win, baby.

Both you and I cited Cherryh.

To be fair, Cherryh has some books without any real plot. Her Fortress series is just a self-licking ice cream cone. As is the Rusalka series. Both do provide some insight into human nature, the nature of fear and love, and how those are exploited…but after finishing each of those, I felt like I do reading ERB and REH: why did I just read that? What was the *point* of the story? In REH and ERB, it’s because I don’t care much about the outcome because there wasn’t much escalation of stakes, too many plot devices, and the characters don’t earn my care. In those two Cherryh series, it’s because after all those words describing so much action, nothing really changes in the world. I guess you could say that in Rusalka there was finally a restoration of normality, but I just didn’t care that much.

In contrast, Cyteen drags you into the lives of a brilliant-but-evil woman who is cloned, and how her clone reacts to the attempts to recreate the evil woman’s brilliant skills by pushing her personality towards evil, in connection with interactions with the young, sympathetic man the evil old woman deliberately abused…this is conflict, in that the man wants nothing to do with the clone because of his memories of the old women, but the clone is fascinated by the young man and has the power to force his proximity. Lots of personal conflict, tough decisions, changing character, people under pressure, sacrificial decisions, etc. A fascinating exploration how conflict, struggle, and pain are the challenges that stimulate growth, and the ethics of using those tools deliberately to try to bring about that growth in others.

Let’s make this even more complex, and bring in ERB’s John Carter. It’s been a while since I’ve read any. I enjoyed them okay when I was 15. I tried re-reading Princess of Mars 5 years ago, and got bored before I finished.

I won’t run through all the things I consider plot inadequacies, but I’ll hit a few points:
– Yes, there’s loyalty, in that Carter saves Tarkas’ life, and Tarkas returns the favor…but to me, that pales in comparison to Vlad Taltos’ considering it better to let himself be killed rather than force his friend to go back on his promise that guests are safe. Of course, Vlad figures out how to resolve that conflict, but Vlad’s loyalty is more poignant to me than the “You save my life, so I save yours” exchange.
– Yes, there’s romance, but just like in the Land that Time Forgot, we are told that Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful woman ever, so John Carter loves her and is blessed to earn her love. Yay. I don’t find it convincing or compelling.

index
…for all we know, Dejah Thoris could look exactly like this.

There are some things in the Barsoom series favor:
– It is based somewhat on the science available at the time (canals!)
– If you want a hero with superhuman strength, it makes sense that it would be an alien that grew up on another planet with 3x the gravity. This is good What If science fiction.

But consider this: how much more poignant, how much more depth, how much more interesting would the whole Barsoom cycle be if John Carter had been torn away from a wife and child, or (worse!) a young, pregnant wife on Earth?

That would make his attraction to Thoris a conflict. That would make his return to earth after asphyxiation a mixed blessing. That would add emotion to his every success on Mars: it all came at the expense of an innocent woman and child back on Earth…and yet, it wasn’t of his own choosing, he is powerless to go back (so why shouldn’t he make their loss mean something good for Barsoom?)…and since his complete disappearance means she is also moving on with her life back on Earth…?

That one change would deeply alter the Barsoom series, making it a truly sublime exploration of the nature of love, and purpose, and dealing with loss.

 

“No Real Plot” in ERB/REH Books

My Reaction to GOP’s Health Care Reform Proposal (UPDATED)

  • by Gitabushi

Bottom Line Up Front: It isn’t good. But it isn’t as bad as many people are saying. Reforming health care is harder than anyone is admitting.

So is the GOP Congress saying this is the final version of their health care goals? Or is it a transitory law to tide over until final law?

Because while I do, of course, want more market-based reforms, not sure we can get there in one single jump.

There is so much wrong with our current health care system.  It really is just Pre-Paid Health Maintenance Plans. This separates price from cost, which makes things more expensive. Moreover, it punishes those who are cautious with their health, and reward those who are reckless and consume more health care.  Imagine how much it would cost if vehicle fuel were sold under and “insurance” plan where you paid a monthly fee and could use as much as you wanted.  The person who commutes 5 miles a day in a Mazda Miata would be subsidizing the person who drives a Hummer 90 miles every day, takes long trips every weekend, and is a leadfoot.

So the first order of business is to wean the nation away from the current Pre-Paid Health Maintenance plans referred to as “insurance.”  But that’s only the beginning. We need:

  • insurance to pretty much be only catastrophic.
  • retail clinics where RNs triage for need to be seen by PA, who then triages for need for specialist. Basic check an illness isn’t serious for out-of-pocket money.
  • hospitals and doctors to publish prices and full fees for all treatment.
  • a system to allow people to be guinea pigs for new treatments *if they want*, i.e., the rich and the terminal, w/o lawsuit threat.
  • a total reform pharma laws so there aren’t perverse incentives in development, especially patent rules.
  • effort to get bulk of medical care shifted to out-of-pocket, to reduce paperwork overhead, increase competition, and increase choice.
  • plan resolve exploitation of “free” medical care to illegal aliens. At the very least, that means new, robust collection laws. Could also mean ensuring all illegal aliens leave. Can’t reform healthcare w/o it.
  • A cap to end-of-life costs. The tricky part is if you heal the problem, it won’t be the end of life. But when people pay for insurance (even catastrophic), they don’t want to be told a cost restriction prevented them (or their loved one) from getting treatment. We need to get people used to the idea that there is a reasonable amount that others will be willing/able to pay to save a life, but beyond that, the costs should be borne by the family and friends that love them most. Because as in most things in life, there are few easy choices, and with each choice comes drawbacks and other unpleasant consequences.  Part of being an adult is deciding which unpleasant consequence is the easiest for you to accept.

It takes time to get massive, cumbersome health care system to shift to the free market-based solutions. This can’t be done in just a few weeks.  Particularly since there are powerful lobbies that want to prevent market based-solutions from taking away their golden parachutes.

Even worse, the public itself is a huge part of the problem.  We are never going to improve health care until we get people to grasp Medicaid doesn’t improve health outcomes. Of course, this also needs to be understood by people who have enough money to never be on Medicare. We need everyone to understand that just having medical coverage is not health. Health insurance is an illusionary security blanket that people want, and will give up rights and money to the government to get it. That illusion is part of what is making it so politically difficult to repeal Obamacare & reform healthcare system.

Imagine they repealed Obamacare completely yesterday.  The first thing that would happen is the news organizations would be screaming about all the people who are no longer covered. They would be doing their best to stir up panic.  Repealing Obamacare wholesale would push most of the population to consider (and perhaps embrace) Single Payer, just to have that illusion of security.  It would be a political disaster.

The most likely outcome is Democrats would take back Congress in 2018. I do not have confidence that President Trump would veto Single Payer with such an obvious mandate; he doesn’t have any history of commitment to free market principles, and pretty clearly seems to want to be remembered as a President that served his people. Giving them Single Payer when they seem to want it would satisfy his ego.

So we can’t just throw 10s of millions of citizens into a free market system. That would be a political disaster that would most likely lead to Single Payer.

What if we go back to the previous system?

Was anyone happy with the previous system?  It was still a Pre-Paid Health Maintenance system. We still had spiraling costs because price and cost were not obviously linked. Democrats would demagogue the crap out of it.  It seems like it would end up in the same place as no plan at all: Democrats take Congress, and we get Single Payer.

So I’m okay with some incremental changes for now, or a transition plan. But yeah: I’m not happy at all if this is their final plan.

The Good Points:

Right now, I think there is no personal mandate. The mandate is to insurance companies to provide to anyone. They had to keep a penalty in so that people wouldn’t wait until sick before buying insurance (which destroys the benefit of risk pools). But the penalty is from the insurance company for letting your insurance lapse, not from the federal government for not buying insurance.  That’s slightly better.

Still, I agree with Ben Shapiro’s conclusion: “you’ve actually created a gradual cementing of key elements of Obamacare.”  They just made Obamacare into GOPCare. But how do we *get* to market-based health care system with *real* reform w/o losing Congress and getting Single Payer?

My best suggestion is to spend the next three years in preparation: write legislation that encourages Retail Clinics.  Pass Tort Reform.  Deport enough illegal aliens that the rest self-deport, lowering the stress to the ER system and the cost to the hospital system.  Pass laws requiring hospitals to post prices, so competition can begin.  Then right after the 2020, then drop the big law that gets rid of any health insurance except catastrophic, caps heroic efforts, establishes tax-free health savings accounts, and pushes all the previous preparatory market-based reforms to 11.

Then sit back and demagogue to the hilt all the successes and improved health & cost outcomes.  This is one area the GOP always fails: they seem to not have a plan to sidestep the Democrats’ ally in the mainstream news media industry.  Trump has shown them how to use social media to get directly to the people; the GOP Congress needs to spend the next three years before they drop the big Reform Law preparing their PR blitz.

One other thing: Perhaps grandfather in anyone over 50?  It is easier to wean the young from government health care, since they are mostly healthy, by and large.

Side Note:

I had little confidence in Ryan since the Omnibus last year. I had little confidence in him. He’s like meh to accidentally good. And yet, he’s *still* better than Boehner, and Boehner was *still* better than Pelosi.

I think this stinky turd of a reform bill is more due to the House than the Senate.  So we need to focus on finding ways to express our displeasure to the House. The best way is to get them out of office.  But we need to primary them with strong GOP candidates. NOT give Congress to the Democrats.

Final thought:

I maybe skipped over too many steps. What I’m trying to do is figure out how to make free market solution politically viable.  I don’t see how to get there from here, right now. And I’m willing to give the GOP more time to prep the battlespace to make it easier to pass a successful (and thus, lasting) free market solution to our health care system.

 

My Reaction to GOP’s Health Care Reform Proposal (UPDATED)

Trying to Write Part 4

Part I, Part II, Part III

11.

Nothing but mud and bones grew in the garden. It was an open air courtyard in the center of the keep surrounded by sheer stone walls, un-interrupted by windows or design of any kind. Single door was the only way in or out.  Crows swollen from feasting on corpses left to rot peered down from the their perches at the tops of the walls at their next meal chained to the lone wooden pillar in the garden. He yet breathed with head hung low dripping from the cold rain that beat against his body, mouth speaking words that only he could hear:

Weave and Spin

Hammer and Forge

My life your work

Crafted and shaped

Instrument of your hand

To live is to serve

Until upon your Mountain

I am born again

He finished his prayer and hung silently listening to the rhythm of the rain dancing on stone in the dark. The door to his prison opened and man stepped through, lantern in hand. He wore the armor of the guards, dual short swords hung at his sides. Orren raised his head to greet his new visitor.

“You must be the flayer. I’d tell you not to waste your time, that I have no knowledge that could aid you, but I doubt you’d listen. I imagine with a name like the flayer you probably enjoy your work too much to be dissuaded.”

“Keep quiet” he replied. “I am no flayer. That degenerate fetishizes his knives too much to be caught dead with them in the rain. I have come simply to ask you a question.”

“And what might that be?”

“Was it truth you spoke in the great hall? Have you power to vanquish the one that dwells beneath the mountains?” the man said.

“The power is not my own, but I am it’s conduit. Darkness flees at the name of my master. With who am I speaking?” Orren replied, confusion in his voice. Then he recognized the man as one of that stood guard upon dais of the master’s throne

“Does it matter who comes to free you?” The man said as he pulled a set of keys from his cloak. A moment later Orren was loose.

Orren rubbed his wrists and stood. “I suppose it does not, but should we die this night I’d like to know the name of the man for whom I will advocate at the gates of my Lord’s feasting hall.”

The man handed Orren one of the swords that hung at his side and spoke:

“Much blood will be shed this night, may it not be our own. My name is Berek. Follow me”

12.

Berek extinguished his lantern as soon as they entered the corridor that led to the garden and they raced along the damp stone, extinguishing every torch they passed that lit their way.

“I sent the guard on duty away on an important task, an important task that does not exist. He will realize my deception soon and alarms will be raised. We have little time.”

Berek navigated the labyrinth that made up the halls of keep without hesitation. Even had Orren freed himself of his bonds he would have been hopelessly trapped here in the winding hallways, a structure designed to confuse and disorient. They came to an abrupt halt by the a large wooden door flanked on either side by torches. Berek extinguished both of them, then he knocked.

“‘Berek, captain of Lord Zathen’s guard requires entrance. Official orders.” He shouted.

There was a rustling from within, the sliding of a deadbolt, and the door swung open. Orren stood in the shadows to the side of the doorway, sword in hand.

“Who is in charge here?” Berek barked, surveying the room before him. Swords and battle axes hung on walls next to shields and mail, they were nothing if not well armed. Three men sat at a round table playing cards, faces full of shock at seeing their captain unexpectedly.

“I…I am” said one of the men as he jumped up from his seat, spilling ale on the cards laid out on the table. “Forgive me, I did not know that you were coming.”

Berek frowned. “We will discuss playing cards on duty at another time. I’ve come to retrieve the armor and weapons confiscated from the prisoner. Our Lord wishes to study them.”

The guard squinted. “I was commanded not to release these arms to anyone, not unless the Master himself comes down here to retrieve them.”

“I catch you neglectful of your duty and now you are also calling me a liar? Perhaps you would like to see the flayer when he is done with our visitor?” Berek said moving his hand to the hilt of his sword.

“I mean no offense captain, but he will have my head without his direct order. My head is much more useful attached to my body.”

“That’s not what your wife told me” one of the men from the table interjected, causing the other guards to roar with drunken laughter. The head of the guard made an obscene gesture and threw his mug of ale at the offender, then turned back to Berek.

“I will go myself up to the throne and verify the orders. You can wait here with the other guards.” he smiled and started for the door. Before he could take two steps Berek drew his sword and removed head from shoulders in one swift movement. There was a moment of calm as the headless body crumpled to the floor. The blood streaked faces of the remaining two card players stared at their captain in disbelief, the head of the third player rolled with an almost comical wobble to their feet.

“Should have just given me what I came for.” Berek sighed.

Shock turned to rage on the faces of the living guards and swords were drawn. Berek was surrounded for a brief moment before Orren appeared in the doorway and ran his sword straight through the chest of the unfortunate fellow at the door. He kicked the now limp body off of his blade. It was now an even fight but not a fair one for drink had slowed the movements of the remaining guards. A few clashes of steel, screams of agony, and the fight was finished.

Berek walked over to the headless body and searched through the pockets. A moment later he produced a ring of keys and tossed them to Orren. He pointed to a chest in the back corner of the room.

“Put on your armor. More will be here soon and they aren’t likely to be drunk, just angry.”

13.

With armor donned and weapons in hand, Orren and Berek stepped out once more into the dark corridor. Berek had traded his short sword for a large double bladed axe. “We might have to hack our way out of here, this will help” he had said with a grin. Orren’s travelling bag was also recovered. His runic stones were all accounted for, but the flask was emptied of its contents. He would have to find a fresh water source when they escaped this wretched place.

They raced through the endless inky black, extinguishing all light as they passed. Darkness swallowed their path, there was no going back. Noises that no human could, or should, make could be heard behind some of the barred doors as they passed, they pressed on. Neither man spoke a word. Then Berek stopped suddenly. He remained silent for a moment then turned and spoke:

“Ahead is an entranceway to the keep. I thought it known only to myself and the master. Someone else has opened the door. I thought we had more time.”

Orren grinned. “The time for skulking in the shadows has ended it seems. Let us go to meet our fates beneath the light of the stars, the eyes of our ancestors.” Orren walked past Berek and out into the night. Berek hesitated for a moment in the black hall. He muttered to himself as he drew his sword and followed the foreigner out into the night, “At least it stopped raining.”

14.

They came out to a stretch of flat ground flanked by tall trees.  Across the clearing directly in the path of Orren and Berek stood was tall tussock grass swaying in the night breeze. Beyond that were the mountains. They were free.   

“Let’s go before we are seen” Berek said. The began their way across the clearing when Orren stopped. He reached down to the pouch that hung at his side a flipped open the flap. The four stones were aglow, pulsating slowly, blue light emanating from the bag.

“We are not alone.” Orren said with grim look upon his face.

“Indeed we are not. There in the grass.” Berek pointed the tip of his sword at the swaying tallgrass. A lone figure stood where the blade pointed, dressed in a long shredded shawl like that of a beggar. It stepped into the moonlight that illuminated the clearing and threw off the shawl. Orren’s grip tightening around his pike and he felt his jaw clench.

“Rather we’d have run into the entire barracks than him.” Berek said, spitting. Orren believed him.

Before them stood a man grinning madly wearing naught but a small cloth to cover his loins. He was lean and pale, almost sickly looking if not for the tight muscles that rippled beneath his skin, or at least what once was skin. His body was covered from head to toe in ancient script from the infernal language; words from the deepest of frozen hells, spoken only by the many tongued abominations that dwell there. Dark prophecies, blasphemies, horrific tales from the abyss had been carved into his flesh. His skin was but a monstrous scar, a walking testament of primeval malice.

In his hand was a dagger, a black blade attached to a gnarled wood handle. Orren could see it clearly in the moonlight, but no light reflected off of it. The blade was alive. He could feel its presence, and it could sense him.

“She was promised blood, she was.” The scarred man hissed. “I get to keep the skin but she takes the blood, your blood” He pointed at Orren. “Don’t put up too much of a fight and maybe we’ll kill you quick. Maybe. She always gets what she wants. It’s been too long since I’ve had to hunt my own prey.” He grinned, mouth full of teeth filed into razor-like points.

15.

“The blade…” Orren said. “I have seen its like before. It is not of man.”

“I’ve seen it before too, and I’d prefer to not be skinned by it. We have the advantage. Hurry before he calls for aid!” Berek shouted as he advanced quickly towards the scarred man.

Berek moved like a charging bull, an avalanche of steel and fury. He swung his blade at his foe but cut only the air. His opponent was quick, quicker than any human should be. His movements were almost arachnid in nature; limbs outstretched and dashing angularly from one point to the next. Before Berek could turn the abomination was behind him, a moment later and the stygian blade was brought across the armored shoulder before it. Metal and flesh split open like the seam of grainsack had been cut. Blood appeared for a moment…and then stopped. The wound was immediately blackened, as though a searing heat had cauterized it.

The ghoul jumped back a few steps before his now kneeling victim and held out the dagger. Not a trace of blood or flesh could be seen on it.

“Ohhhhh she likes you. Lots of fight. We will enjoy draining the life from you one cut at a time.”

He began to step forward with blade outstretched when the hook of Orren’s pike caught him from behind, hooking his right side. Orren pulled with all his strength, spinning the antagonist around to face him. A sound like metal scraping stone could be heard. The flayer glared at Orren, then reached down and unhooked the pike from his side. No mark from the blow could be seen. Any other man would have lost his innards from the force with which Orren had struck.

“She has remade me in her image. I am darkness incarnate. You can no more strike me down than you can the shadows that haunt your dreams. And you do dream don’t you? I’ve seen them. We’ve seen them.” He said ,curling his lips into a sneer. Then he charged, swinging his dagger. Orren was able to lift his shield in time and the black blade bounced off the woven strands, staggering its wielder. The flayer regained his footing and stared at the armored man across from him. His eyes narrowed and the grin he wore until now was no more. Uncertainty was now in his eyes, uncertainty and rage.

Orren slowly advanced. With shield raised he absorbed blow after blow from the demon blade, pushing that tattooed man back further and further. Orren left no opening for him, corralling him with pike and shield, always at his front. The flayer cursed and spit like a feral cat, blows harmlessly bouncing off the holy shield, ever retreating. They were now almost to where Berek kneeled. He was conscious, but his face was covered in sweat and pain. His eyes met Orren’s for a moment, and then he smiled. Berek grabbed his sword and lunged towards the legs of the assailant. At first glance it appeared to Orren that Berek had missed, the blade entering the space between the torturer’s legs. Then he jutted the handle of the blade forward, disrupting the cursed man’s balance.

Orren saw his opening and lept forward, bowling the flayer over onto his back. He landed atop the foe and pinned the evil weapon beneath the shield. The demon’s free hand raked across Orren’s face. Blood poured down and stung his eyes, yet he remained firm in his positioning. With his pike Orren slashed at the flailing limb, but he could only fend off strikes. No lasting damage could be done to anywhere the text of damnation was written. Berek saw the struggle and crawled over to aid. He managed to pin the other hand of the ghoul and for a moment all was quiet. Then the flayer began to laugh, a cackle straight from the bowels of the demon serpent itself.

“You going to hold me here forever? Why don’t you tell me a story while we wait? HMMM? Tell me of your family foreigner. How are they doing? Would you like me to tell you?” The flayer howled with evil glee, teeth glinting in the moonlight.

Teeth….teeth. There is no writing on the teeth.

Orren lifted his pike and with the butt of the handle began to slam it on the open jaw of  his captive. Teeth splintered and broke beneath the onslaught, howls of laughter turned to howls of pain and the sound of gargled blood. Then Orren reached down into the pouch at his side and pulled out one of the stones, still pulsating with light, and shoved it into the bloody maw of the flayer. The flayer began to choke and tried to spit, but orren held his mouth shut with his knee and his nostrils closed with his mailed fist. He swallowed and the stone was gone.

The flayer’s eyes opened wide and his face became twisted with agony. He opened his mouth and coughed up smoke and black tar like substance.

“We should probably get clear” Orren said to Berek. He stood up quickly and dragged his companion away . As soon as they released the hands of their captive he sprang to his feet, both hands raised to his throat, dagger lying in the grass beside him.

“WHAT DID YOU PUT IN ME?!? WHAT DID YOU DO!?” he screamed through coughs of smoke. “GET IT OUT!”

He shrieked in pain and began to claw at his stomach to no avail. Then he saw the dagger in the grass. He picked it up and plunged it into his abdomen up to the hilt, then dragged it clean across the width of his body. Black liquid poured out as he shoved a hand inside the gaping wound. He dug through his bowels as Orren and Berek looked on in horror, and then produced the small stone, still glowing.

“I’ve got it…I’ve…got it.” He said in a voice barely above a whisper. He looked at the two men before him and smiled, then crumpled to the ground.

Berek and Orren sat in silence for a moment staring at the carnage before them. The words carved into the flesh of the now dead man began fade before their eyes, and then disappeared. The black knife was gone.

“Did you know that making him eat that rock would do…that?” Berek asked, still staring at the corpse in front of him.

Orren shook his head “No…but…I knew he wouldn’t like it very much.” He walked over to the dead man and pried the stone from his crooked fingers. He wiped some black gunk off of it in the grass and placed it back in his pouch. They were no longer glowing.

“We should go. Can you walk?” Orren looked at Berek.

Berek stood slowly, wincing in pain. Then he smiled, “I’ve had worse.”

Trying to Write Part 4

Civility

As much as I may hand-wring about overaggressiveness from the Pulp Revolution crowd (I still prefer to think of myself as a moderating voice rather than a scold), I have to say that at least most of these folks conduct themselves with a level of decorum that seems to be absent in other quarters.

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory about “my own side,” I’ve seen very little objectionable behavior from “us.” Sure, there’s some shitlording and sometimes you’ll see some bad language, it’s true. But I have yet to see anyone write off a good faith effort to engage. Dialogue and debate are welcome.

I bring this up because of an encounter Alex of Cirsova had yesterday. Summary:

 

(Updated – thanks for clarifying a point here, Alex)

– Dude writes a blog post about the Arthur C. Clark Award and his thoughts on the SFF genre.

– A commenter mentions Cirsova magazine’s contributions to the genre.

– Cirsova pops in to elaborate about his SFF magazine.

– Dude replies back observing that the Cirsova website has a Gamergate banner.

– Cirsova affirms this.

– Dude replies back accusing Cirsova and/or its fans of being misogynistic fascists. Unprovoked.

– Cirsova makes a graceful exit.

– Dude takes a parting shot.

– I drop a post mocking Dude’s lack of civility.

– Dude calls us self-serving Nazi pricks.

You can see the archived image here.

I think, in the long-run, this kind of thing can be good for us. The average observer, seeing this, is going to conclude that Dude is an asshole. It’s the same kind of poor behavior we see from the likes of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, or the Trump protesters. Sorry guys – setting cop cars on fire and smashing Starbucks windows is not going to win you any prizes, nor will it ingratiate you with the public.

This, I think, is part of the reason the pendulum swung to the right this election cycle. Bad behavior is not rewarded.

I mean, who comes out looking badly here?

capture

From where I’m standing, it’s not Cirsova.

Even if it *were* ok to punch Nazis in the face, you can’t just declare everyone who disagrees with you to be a Nazi. Eventually you’re going to punch someone and either (a) get hauled off or (b) get the shit kicked out of you.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Civility

Untitled Novel, Teaser

  • by Gitabushi

The McCoy’s Story, Chapter 1: Beverly

Beverly woke, feeling groggy, not sure where she was for a moment.  Her bleary eyes blinked the world into focus.  Metal, glass, tile.  People hurrying past.  Voices over an intercom: “Flight 262 to Washington Dulles International, now boarding Zone 3.”

Beverly pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes.  Zone 3?  That was her boarding group.  She stretched, picked up her backpack and purse, stifled a yawn and stood up.  She shuffled over to the line, then fished her boarding pass out of her purse.  Another yawn rose, and this one would not be denied.  She covered her mouth, but despite her best efforts, this one was audible.

The man in front of him turned around at the sound.  “Tired, huh?  Well, you’ll get some sleep on this red-eye, as long as there are no infants near you.”

“Yeah, I just flew in from China.  I’ve already been traveling for 22 hours.  I couldn’t sleep on the plane earlier, but I just caught a nap there in the waiting area.  I think it made me feel worse.”  The line moved forward a step.

“Wow, long trip!  Where are you headed?”

“DC is my last stop.  Good thing.  I feel like a zombie or something.”  A few more steps forward.

“You’re not sick, are you?”  The man looked like he wanted to sidle away.

“No, I loaded up on vitamin C before the trip.  I’m just tired.”

They reached the flight attendant, and the conversation died.  As he was looking at Beverly’s boarding pass, she heard some yelling down the foyer, maybe 10 Gates away.  The flight attendant glanced past her shoulder, a puzzled look on his face.  The sound of commotion increased, and Beverly turned to look.  She couldn’t see anything at this angle, and she wasn’t willing to step out of line to see better.  The attendant motioned her to go on, and she smiled faintly at him as she walked past.  Just as she entered the jetwalk, she heard what sounded like a scream, and a loud report like a firecracker.

A gunshot?

No way.  Beverly shook her head.  Guns aren’t allowed in airports.

20 minutes later they were in the air, and Beverly was fast asleep.

***

She woke again as they were making the final approach into Dulles, then dozed until they pulled up to the gate.  Lack of sleep and disruptions to all the normal biological cycles made her feel groggy even after she gathered her purse (no carry-on, for the win!) and staggered off the plane and up the walkway.

Her luggage would be arriving at the very last turnstile.  Before walking down there, she stopped off in the Ladies Restroom.  She sat in the stall, staring at nothing, trying to will herself fully awake.

She heard someone stagger in, then stumble over and push at her door.

“Taken!  Try the next one.”

More pushing at the door.  The groans sounded a little urgent.

“Hey!  Taken!”

Whoever it was seemed to take the message, and stumbled into the stall next to hers.  She could see the woman’s feet, rather large in tennis shoes, in the 12-inch gap.  She saw a hand reach through and paw in her direction.

“Out of toilet paper?  Okay, hold on a second.”  Beverly unwound a big wad, reached down and held it out.  The other person knocked it from her hand.  Fine, I don’t care, Beverly thought.  Some people just have no gratitude.

She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands, took several deep breaths.  She pulled out her cellphone and held the button until it began to turn on.  She stood up and had just gotten the door open when she felt her foot grabbed.  She looked down in time to see a man’s head stuck through the gap between the floor and the stall divider, and saw him sink his teeth into her ankle.

blinding pain–

“SON OF A BITCH!” Beverly yelled, and dropped her phone as she yanked her foot free.  She aimed a kick directly at the side of his face, heard his head bounce off the base of the toilet.  She opened the door and ran out with her purse.  She heard the man struggling to get out of the stall behind her.

Out of the restroom, she picked out a security guard a few dozen yards away.  She ran up to him.

“A man just assaulted me in the ladies restroom!”  She pointed back the way she had come.  She had to repeat it again before he understood.  He looked grim and began to walk in that direction, lifting his radio to his mouth as he went.

Beverly hesitated a moment.  She didn’t really want to wait around and see the guy.  Just thinking of him gave her the creeps.  There was something funny about his eyes.

She also didn’t want to wait around to repeat her story a dozen times to the police.  She knew that she should do her part to get a jerk like that off the streets…but she was exhausted, and just wanted to go home.  At least she could pick up her luggage first.  That would also give her more distance from the bathroom.

She walked another couple hundred yards to the luggage turnstile, which was already turning with a few pieces forlornly waiting for owners.  Hers was already there, too.  She grabbed her suitcase, then heard a scream and turned to look back at the bathroom entrance.

A struggle was ensuing between two security guards and the guy.  It looked like one of the security guards was down with the guy on top of him, and the second security guard trying to pull him off.  As she watched, the second guard pulled the assailant off of his buddy.  The guard on the floor wasn’t moving at all.  The creep turned in the second guard’s grasp.  It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like the guy was winning!

Beverly felt a bolt of terror in her heart.  She turned and hurried toward the exit.  She looked back as she reached the door, saw the guard fall to the ground and saw the man stagger in her direction.  She pushed out the doors as fast as she could, scrambled out onto the sidewalk.

She looked for the economy parking lot bus stop.  There!  And her lot color was already there.  As she ran toward it, dragging her suitcase, it started to pull away.

Then the driver must have seen her, because it stopped and the doors opened.  She clambered on board, yelled, “Go!” and collapsed into a chair.  She looked back at the baggage claim door but didn’t see her assailant emerge.

Her ankle throbbed.  She pulled her foot up to the seat, looked her ankle over.  She winced as she pressed and explored the bite area.  Was the skin broken?  No blood, at least.  That seemed impossible with as bad as the bite hurt, but maybe her jeans got in the way?  The way it hurt, she was going to have one hell of a bruise.

When the bus reached her stop, Beverly raced to her car, jumped in, and locked all the doors. She sat, shivering with reaction, for about 15 minutes.  She transitioned directly from panic to exhaustion, however, and woke herself when her head lolled forward.
She shook her head to clear it, glanced at her watch, and estimated she had lost only about 20 minutes dozing.
“Better I get back home as soon as possible and crawl into bed for some good sleep,” she said out loud, trying to wake herself up.  “I just hope I don’t nod off on the road home.”
Not many cars were on the road.

At one point, she saw someone walking across the freeway ahead of her.  She slowed slightly, until she saw that he would pass safely across before she reached him.

Within about 40 minutes, she was turning the key of her Eckington neighborhood townhome.  Three levels, 4 bedrooms, all hers.  Well, after another 27 or so years of mortgage payments, as she liked to say to friends.

She stripped her clothes and showered as rapidly as she could.  She checked out her ankle, rubbed some soap on it, but no sting of an open would.  Sure enough, though, it was already turning purple. The sky was just beginning to lighten as she stumbled into her bedroom and slipped into bed.  And then out of bed again to close the heavier curtains, to make sure sunlight drifting in between the slats of the blinds after daybreak didn’t wake her.

She set the alarm for a little over 6 hours later, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited to fall asleep immediately.

35 minutes later (as confirmed by the bedside clock), she was still waiting.  She started the self-hypnosis technique she had learned back in college, and before the second set (backwards from fifty), felt that curious falling sensation that accompanied entering sleep when completely exhausted.

***

Untitled Novel, Teaser

Asimov was an asshat, but so what?

Time to write another tedious defense piece. But I feel compelled to argue with people on the internet – thus is my curse.

I’m not going to go into an explanation of the Pulp Revolution right now (though that warrants a post in the near future), but suffice it to say there is a growing contingent of bloggers, tweeters, indie authors, podcasters, and literary critics who have come to know and love classic and pulp Scifi/Fantasy. Like any group of enthusiasts, we spend a lot of time chewing the cud. When we’re not reading or writing, we tend to be reviewing, discussing, and/or trying to preach the gospel.

And while the other activities in which we engage can contribute to the last one, I think spreading our message and drawing new fans into the fold is the most valuable service we can render. I suppose we go about this in different ways. I see positivity and enthusiasm as the most effect recruiting tools. When I found the Cirsova blog and then Jeffro’s, I felt like I’d struck gold. Here were a couple of guys who clearly loved the stuff they were writing about, and it was infectious. Jack Vance sounded awesome, and as a result I wanted to read him.

Now if the first blog posts I had come across at those two excellent destinations had been about how Harry Potter is trash, or maybe a top ten list of overrated authors listing five of my favorites, well, fair or not I probably would have been turned off and clicked away. And then, because I am a frail human being who is susceptible to hurt feelz, I would have lost out. My awakening to the classics could have been prevented (or thanks to Kaiju’s influence, perhaps just delayed). In most cases, shitting on something that someone likes isn’t going to attract them to try out your brand.

And so I first put forward that we as a movement and even as individuals are at our best when we’re touting the great and the good. Criticism and righteous indignation of course have their place. But if we want to draw more people to us – not just the disillusioned scifi fans of decades gone by, but fresh blood robbed of this stuff by the SFF generational gap – let us also exercise restrain and thoughtfulness. If you see yourself as a solider in a literary war, I’m not proposing you offer your enemy succor. Rather I am pointing out that when throwing bombs or fireballs, you may not have full view of the blast radius. If that doesn’t give you pause, or if you deem the payoff greater than the risk, or if flinging fireballs just feels good and you don’t care because they have it coming, well. Not much I can do about it – wage on, I guess.

So let’s get to the title of this particular post.

Among some fans of older SFF, Asimov has been a popular punching bag for a while. They say he doesn’t deserve to be called one of the “Big Three” scifi writers. They say that the Golden Age of scifi is a misnomer. And you know, I don’t disagree.

Well, some of my Pulp Rev friends have been taking a turn with Asimov. Some people are even writing stories about the evils of his ilk. And you know what? We’re each entitled to our own opinions.

I think the grievances being put forth against Asimov can pretty much be condensed thusly:

  1. He was a pompous asshole
  2. His name has been undeservedly hoisted above better writers
  3. He was a godless leftist punk
  4. His stories didn’t uphold traditional heroics
  5. His stories were boring and he was untalented

 

As to the first accusation, I would say that from what I’ve read and gathered, this is the case. But so what? Most typical SFF fans don’t go digging for quotes and manifestos and essays. They want to read an entertaining story, and being an asshole doesn’t disqualify one from spinning a good yarn.

isaac_asimov_on_throne

Second – this is also probably true, but difficult to objectively prove. Maybe an argument can be made based on sales numbers or some such metric, but this would be a purely quantitative indicator. Though I agree with this second statement, I wouldn’t assert it as fact.

Third – Again, yes. But again, how does this matter? There were godless, leftist punks whom the Pulp Rev crew likes. I like to point to Fritz Leiber.

Fourth – This is true, and a great argument for why you don’t like Asimov, or how he’s brought down the genre. But does it lessen his writing talent or the impact he’s had upon science fiction? I’d say not. And while many of us may prefer stories with a traditional good guy who beats the bad guy and gets the girl, there are other forms of entertainment. Silence of the LambsBreaking BadThe SopranosScarfaceOcean’s ElevenFight Club; Beetlejuice. There are plenty of popular stories and characters that don’t conform to the formulas we most enjoy.

Fifth – This is purely subjective. Many people, including myself, have enjoyed some of his stories. “A fan of the pulps cannot enjoy Asimov’s garbage” you may say. Then how do you explain me? I am a fan of the early Foundation books and the Daneel Olivaw/Elijah Bailey stories.

To me, the war between pulpy, actiony raygun romance and hard SFF is asinine. It’s like telling someone they can only like hard-boiled detective crime fiction or else legal thriller, but not both. One cannot enjoy both epic fantasy and fairy stories.

Say what you will about Asimov, but his writing was interesting enough that he still has many fans.

The fact that Asimov was a petty, obnoxious, intellectual, craphead of a man doesn’t matter to people who just want to read a fun scifi story. I’ve read that Lovecraft held and voiced many anti-black and anti-Catholic opinions. But that doesn’t make the Cthulhu mythos any less cool. Nor should it. I hold the same to be true for Asimov. Where a sharp mind (probably honed by regular political and literary analysis) may see Foundation as a story of an intellectual class lording over a people incapable of ruling itself – the ultimate elitist big government! – others of us just see a future story with cool fake science, planning, and problem solving. Doesn’t have to be sinister.

If the messaging you dislike is in your face, I can understand and respect taking a pass. No one wants to fork over their cash to someone who’s spitting in their face. But for many of us, Asimov and a lot of these writers aren’t in our faces. Maybe that’s because we’re blissfully unaware, but you know what they say about ignorance.

If you don’t enjoy Asimov because you find his stories boring or overbearing or loaded, I can understand that. But that doesn’t make him a bad writer, nor unworthy of literary accolade and recognition. For my part, I find Stephen King to be highly overrated. I found the Stand, for example, to be way too much buildup for a disappointingly paltry payoff. But I also recognize that he’s a SFF giant, and I’m not about to tell millions of people that they’re wrong and I know better. Just rubs me the wrong way.

And putting my money where my mouth is, I guess now I have to acknowledge that, HP, the Force Awakens isn’t garb. I simply didn’t care for it, on the whole. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

Asimov was an asshat, but so what?