Archive for June, 2002

Sense and Sensibility, Sarah, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure

Monday, June 24th, 2002

None of these were science fiction, but they still made me think about The Genre. Sense and Sensibility goes on for chapters and chapters with straight dialogue - I still feel a little displaced, days afterwards. The lack of description gave me the same feeling that most first-person stories do - I feel like I’m floating along a stream of consciousness, or in this case, a stream of dialogue.

The other thing that never ceases to surprise me when I read Sense and Sensibility is Lucy. She’s so bad. I invariably remember her as a stupid and possibly jealous girl; I forget that a significant portion of the dialogue is devoted to the verbal sparring of innocent Elinor and guilty Lucy. The trick of my memory seems to be the after-the-fact version of getting disappointed by the direction a novel takes (as with The Hemingway Hoax). I’m subconsciously rewriting Lucy in my mind.

Why do I want Lucy to be nicer, or at least stupider? I suppose I want the additional complication of Elinor’s doubt. As it stands, Elinor knows Edward loves her, not Lucy. While this is a suitable plot for the period, it is not the Form of the Love Story. Everyone knows that in a love story, the lovers must doubt one another’s love. (Edward doesn’t doubt Elinor, either.) I suppose it would at cross-purposes with the whole Sense vs. Sensibility theme for Elinor’s to be a love story proper, as it would be for Marianne’s to be a tale of endurance of misfortune. But give me a couple of years, and I’ll remember it as a love story again.

Sarah is the first of Orson Scott Card’s Women of Genesis series. I read it out of curiosity - I couldn’t appreciate the scriptural substrate of The Memory of Earth, so I thought I’d see how he treated the matriarch. The most interesting bits for me were the unfamiliar ones; judging from the afterword, those were lifted from Mormon scripture. The end, at the traditional time of Sarah’s death but without the death or the catalyst thereof, was perhaps the most interesting plot choice of the novel. I guess it’s the “hook” for the next novel - does Isaac live or die? (Resurrection always being an option, this is an open question.)

I’m not recommending Sarah, because it’s part of a genre that very few people care for - the epic novel. Someone out there was blogging about the epic and the novel - pardon me for forgetting who. It’s not a marriage that often works out. I suspect that the epic factor is what people who don’t like LotR don’t like about it. (For the epic without the novel, try the Silmarillion. For the epic novel without any redeeming literary merit, try The Eye of Argon.)

Taking the matriarchs and keeping them biblical in their virtues is not, I strongly suspect, the way to win over readers who don’t worry like Sarah about whether or not they still believe in Asherah. Card cannot humanize Sarah the way he does, say, Hagar, and so, just like in Milton, the rebel is the most sympathetic character. Better to reign in hell and all that.

Does this mean one has to be a hero to read an epic, or a saint to read Latter Day Orson Scott Card? No, not exactly - but one has to believe in heroism, or saintliness, at least for the duration. If the disbelief is strong, it will be hard to suspend, as a certain movie showed me recently.

Veronica, her roommate and I saw Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure back when it was playing in the Omni Theater at the Museum of Science. For those unfamiliar with the Shackleton Expedition, it was a failed attempt to cross Antarctica by dogsled in 1914. It was, in fact, one of the most stunning failures known to man.

This was how Shackleton advertised for his crew:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. –Ernest Shackleton.

The Endurance was trapped in ice for ten months, then crushed in a thaw. The crew camped on ice floes for the next five months, until they melted, and then set sail in their liferafts. They ended up trapped on Elephant Island - just a big rock, really - for another six months. Shackleton himself set off with five men for South Georgia Island, spending seventeen days on the open sea in a lifeboat, and then landing on the wrong side and having to hike over impassable mountains to the whaler’s town on the other side. And they made it, and every last man of them survived. (Let’s not discuss the dogs, eh?)

There are a couple of reactions one can have to a story like this - I’ll call them the Epic and the Non-Epic. The epic reaction is to be blown over by the sheer heroicism of a crew who survived 21 months in the Antarctic, doing the impossible not just once but over and over again - to be proud you’re of the same species as Sir Ernest Shackleton. If you’re a writer, there’s a side of wanting to write a story like this one, on some cold moon somewhere. The non-epic reaction is to berate Shackleton for trying to cross Antarctica in the first place - “because it’s there” is not sufficient cause for non-epic types. I won’t embarrass Veronica by saying which she chose, but that she’s never finished LotR is a significant clue.

NovelMaster Version 2.0

Sunday, June 23rd, 2002

Mike suggests Christopher Vogel’s The Writer’s Journey; it sounds familiar, but I tend to pick up bad habits from these how-to books so I’m trying to cut down. (That reminds me - it’s time to summarize The Wrong Prequel in the first sentence.) I was thinking that it might be instructive to take a good book (say, Komarr) and outline it after the fact, for a real-life example of subplots, viewpoint characters et cetera, but I was too lazy to do it today.

Instead I just wrote up my outline and tried to add subplottage. I’m not sure when I figured out that the sorta-bad guy would win after all. I may have been influenced by Charlie Stross’s description of his Bad Guys Who Study The Evil Overlord List, in a subthread of that thread on rasfc (rec.arts.sf.composition) about the wacky NovelMaster writing method: Writing a Space Opera: the blind panic method.

I need to write the first 40,000 words before I hit the blind panic stage.


Sunday, June 23rd, 2002

After six months holding at 20,000 words, I’ve decided that The Wrong Novel can’t go any farther until I figure out the hero’s in-laws’ political situation. This, unfortunately, means writing The Wrong Prequel, which has itself been holding at 300 words for nine months. This time, I’ve decided to do it the right way - make the outline, name the bloody characters already, and so forth.

So, of course, now that I’ve resolved to do something, it’s time to procrastinate. The best place by far for that is the newsgroups, in this case, the rec.arts.sf.* hierarchy. There I found a link I had to share: The Novel Blueprint from Daniel Steven’s Suspense Novel Workshop. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m glad I looked at it. I was worried that I was introducing the hero (a.k.a. VP #2) too late in the story, but it turns out he’s not supposed to appear until Scene #6. I’d almost introduced him too early.

Whew! That was a close call. Back to my outline…

By Any Other Name

Saturday, June 22nd, 2002

The sidebar of Naomi Chana’s blog has led me into strange, airy and meta-intellectual realms of blogging. I’m not sure I would want to blog that way myself - and I’m not sure I’m not already too meta for my own tastes. I’ve seen the warblogs, but I don’t think I could bring myself to opinionate on politics here - it’s just not interesting enough, and if speaking truth to ignorance doesn’t interest me, it’s unlikely to interest ignorance, either.

In her latest entry the ever-meta Naomi gets involved in a thread of the Higher Blogging about pseudonymity, in which she explains the origin of her own real-name pseudonym. Here I go and do likewise:

When I started writing fanfic, I was also forced by circumstances into pseudonymity - I was looking for a job and otherwise trying to be respectable, and this hobby (which frightens us, I dare say, far more than it frightens the real world) wasn’t one I wanted traced back to the legal me. Fortunately, I had a pseudonym ready at hand.

That’s not to say it isn’t my name, though. I’m holding a one-woman revival of Portuguese naming practices here in the New-But-Aging-Fast World, and why shouldn’t I? My own mother had no idea what her grandmother’s legal name was until I told her - all her life she knew her by a different given name and surname. She’s almost got me disbelieving what I know very well to have been her uncle and great-uncle’s (they were the same person) legal name. Yes, it’s difficult to believe that anyone could be named Alphonse in the twentieth century, but technically, it was the nineteenth century when first her great-grandfather gave out that monstrosity (along with an otherwise unused surname) to an official of the U.S. government. That was the last anyone but census-takers heard of Alphonse S—-.

So if I give an otherwise unused surname to my readers to protect myself, I’m far from the first Pereira to change names. In fact, I chose Pereira over several other family names because it was also the foremost of the classical Portuguese pseudonyms. I’m a hopeless romantic that way, and the alliteration didn’t hurt, either.

A name is not just a label, it’s also fame and reputation. If I give a biblical first name that doesn’t otherwise appear in my paper trail, and if people call me by it, who’s to say it isn’t “real”? Was the name by which my mother still remembers her grandmother her real name, or was it the forgotten name I found in a dusty old tome at the Massachusetts Bureau of Vital Statistics? Isn’t Marilyn Monroe still Marilyn, whatever her born name?

The right to pseudonymity is ancient and inviolable, and for some of us, it’s even ancestral and natural.


Friday, June 21st, 2002

The examples of non-feedback motives in my last post were not meant to
be exhaustive. Lori and Mike gave some better examples of motives, to wit,
some people post just to be read and some people post for emotional sharing.

Mike’s essay led me to wonder whether emotional feedback counts as feedback proper. I was surprised to find that I’ve been in
fandom so long I’d forgotten that our usage of the term feedback is rather
unusual. It can be found in business English (which might be better called
corporate slang), but not in Webster’s:

feedback n. (1920)
1 : the return to the input of a part of the output of a machine, system,
or process (as for producing changes in an electronic circuit that improve
performance or in an automatic control device that provide self-corrective
2 a : the partial reversion of the effects of a process to its source or to a
preceding stage
b : the transmission of evaluative or corrective information
to the original or controlling source about an action, event, or process;
also: the information so transmitted
- Merriam-Webster OnLine

I’m not looking for correction. Although I wouldn’t mind improvement and
I never object to constructive criticism, becoming a better writer
has not been my goal in writing fanfic. So on a deeper level than just rah-rah
email, I’m not in it for the feedback. Or rather, I provide all the
feedback I need - I fix what I want fixed, and I leave broken what I like broken.
(Said-bookisms, anyone?)

I get the most feedback, in the 1920 sense of the word, from my hit
tracker. I would have no idea how many
people were reading my fic on the web without the sneaky little perl script that
logs visitors, and I’ll never know what my readership on ASC is, between the
newsgroup proper, the mirror mailing list, the Trekiverse archive and Google
Groups. Hits are just a “partial reversion”, they’re nothing like a corrective
process. I put my stories on line before I started tracking, so I’m not
in it for the hits.

Then again, rah-rah email is just positive feedback, too. I’ve said in the
past that you can tell a lot from positive feedback - from what people say they
liked, even if they’re too nice or controversy-aversive to say what they didn’t

If P Then Q Revisited

Thursday, June 20th, 2002

I think I’ve finally wrestled the yellow into the format I want. When I reactivated comments, I took the opportunity to tweak the stylesheets one last time. The font sizes got out of whack back when I tweaked it to work better with Jurassic Netscape. There’s a massive WinIE5 bug for font sizes that I haven’t fixed, because the work-around is the ugliest hack I’ve ever seen. It’s an insult to CSS to hack them that way; I refuse. If you insist on using IE you deserve whatever you get (in this case, fonts that are one size too ).

Pardon the geekiness. On to the peeve of the day: a while back the partial logic test spread here from Lori’s blog (If P then Q). Today, I realized that one of my biggest fandom peeves is an example of the very same bad conditional reasoning.

Everybody has words or catch-phrases or old saws they can’t bear hearing trotted out time and again - the fingernails down the blackboard of the English language. I cringe whenever Catherine Asaro uses “gentle” as an intransitive verb, and I want to strangle someone whenever I hear, “If you weren’t in it for the feedback, you’d lock your fic in a dark closet somewhere instead of posting it on the Internet.” This classic of bad conditional reasoning starts with a good (which is to say, true) conditional:

(1) If you particularly want to get feedback, then you post your fic somewhere public.

For any conditional statement if P then Q, there is another conditional that follows from it: if not Q then not P. It’s called the contrapositive. The contrapositive of statement (1) is:

(2) If you don’t post your fic somewhere public, then you don’t particularly want to get feedback.

Statements (1) and (2) are equivalent, although one of them may seem more obvious or intuitive than the other. They are a single, simple fact of publicity.

No other statements can be derived from (1) or (2). Most notably, if P then Q does not, in any way, imply if Q then P. So we come to the old saw,

(3*) If you post your fic somewhere public, then you particularly want to get feedback.

Statement (3*) is not true. (That’s what the star is there for.) It’s the conditional fallacy discussed at length in the results of the partial logic test. Statement (3*) has its own logically equivalent (and therefore equally false) contrapositive:

(4*) If you don’t particularly want to get feedback, then you don’t post your fic somewhere public.

Statement (4*) is the more common form of the fallacy - slightly restated, we get the original peeve: “If you weren’t in it for the feedback, you’d lock your fic in a dark closet somewhere instead of posting it on the Internet.” Starting with the true statements (1) or (2), fans apply faulty conditional reasoning to get statement (3*) or (4*). Sometimes they take the form of an innocent statement about fandom, and sometimes they serve as a vicious accusation of status-seeking, but whatever the point to be made, it cannot be made with (3*) or (4*) because they are fallacies. (Specifically, the fallacy is the converse error or the inverse error, depending on which true statement you start with and which false one you end up with.)

That’s the end of the logical argument, but the notes on the Wason test mentioned that people still believe conditional fallacies even after they’ve been pointed out. So it’s helpful to give some counterexamples for (3*), keeping in mind that anything which disproves (3*) also disproves (4*).

The Newbie Example: Say you’re a rank newbie. You read fanfiction on the J/C Index, but it never occurs to you to send feedback. Sure, you see the email addresses at the bottom of the stories you read, but you’re still in a pay-per-fic mindset where reading requires no interaction with the author. Say, in addition, that you get inspired to write your own fanfiction. You’re a geek, you know html, so you make a website and put up your new stories. You may even add your email address, because that seems to be what’s done. If you’re the sort of person who skips past authors notes and steers clear of mailing lists, you could, conceivably, write and post several stories without expecting or wanting to get feedback for it. You post, but you do not particularly want feedback, contradicting statement (3*).

The BOFQ Example: Say you’re a bitter old fic queen. You got feedback in your heyday, back when the show was young and the fans had taste. You played the mailing list circuit and won awards - been there, done that, got the graphic. One day, when you’re slightly inebriated, you write a vignette for old times’ sake. You post it, just in case anyone’s interested, but you have no newbie delusions anymore. You know exactly how little feedback gets sent in your fandom; you’ve posted short pieces before and gotten not a single email for it. Nor do you consider the vignette significant enough in comparison to your famous 800k novels to deserve a line of feedback - you’re just tossing it out there to prove you’re still in the game. You post, but you do not particularly want feedback, contradicting (3*).

I’m probably the only person who has ever been accused of not liking feedback (and it wasn’t true). No one objects to getting feedback, but that doesn’t make feedback everyone’s overriding motive for writing and/or posting fanfiction. There are plenty of other motives out there: the muse, politics, practice, spite, building up a Big Name, trading in the fanfic potlatch, individual fic gift giving, honor, glory, and so on. Feedback isn’t everything.

This concludes today’s free logic lesson.

The Rest is Commentary

Wednesday, June 19th, 2002

I’ve been inspired by some comments on comments in
Naomi Chana’s blog to restore
comments to the blog. I’m not retracting my previous anti-comment statements
Say No to Blogback
Jemima, All the Time

I rarely take the time to read through comments in other people’s blogs,
mainly because
of the click-tax annoyance factor and the general diminishing rate of return.
With Moveable Type I don’t have to bother with clicking around my own blog -
it will automatically email me copies of all comments, which is lovely when
they’re nice comments, and highly annoying when they’re flames.
There are certainly enough fora available for flaming me without coming to
my blog to do it.

I don’t have much faith in blogging as a social activity, just as I
don’t have much faith in fandom as a social activity. I’d rather just read the fic
than go around in circles on mailing lists discussing ephemera, and I’d
rather see a single, pithy blog entry than bits and pieces of an argument
spread through the comments. Don’t even get me started on dual-blogging -
why make your readers click back and forth between your blog, your
livejournal, your blogbacks, your livejournal comments, and your secret
diaryland account? Is this the web or your personal production of Dante’s

But other people seem to like it in dribs and drabs. Asking people to
send email is about as effective as asking them to send feedback, so I was
rather surprised to get the email mentioned a few entries back. That someone
actually did make the effort to email has, paradoxically, made me want to
lower the bar on responses. Far be it from me to go against the blogging tide.

To rephrase my disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that I suddenly care about
my status in fandom or the number of people commenting here or linking me or
any such thing. I have not come into the ESFJ fold; I’m just providing a
usual and customary service.

Condescending and illogical comments may be deleted without warning.
Don’t make me say I told you so.

Why Anti-Meta?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2002

Late at night when I ought to be sleeping I end up surfing. Tonight the great http wave took me farther than I usually go and washed me up in an old entry of naomichana’s. She and Thamiris are people whose blogs I ought to track more. It’s a long entry, so here’s a representative sample:

Why, on a similar note, is it that every time the fan-related journals I read get into a long, satisfying discussion about the ethical or moral or metaphysical or historical or whatever implications of a favorite book or TV show, half a dozen people start whining that (a) we have made them feel stupid (without their consent? uh, whatever); (b) we have been mean and nasty and judgmental (this is said with no trace of irony); (c) we are stupid, and have been engaging in a pointless wankfest*** (usually a shorthand way of expressing (a) and (b) together)? And these aren’t the people engaging in the discussion; these are non-participants, either commenting from the sidelines or engaging in the hallowed tradition of YAGE (Yet Another Grand Exit) posting. Yes, of course, they have every right to announce their opinions (drat those civil liberties), but if a discussion bores me, I usually exercise my motor nerves and move on to another discussion. If I don’t feel like discussing something in detail (that does happen, sometimes, in leap years), I don’t. I find it odd and frustrating that people who are otherwise intelligent, friendly, resourceful human beings suddenly turn into cranky anti-intellectual zealots when enough of their acquaintances start showing signs of being interested in the dreaded “meta” zone.

I don’t think I can say it better, but I can say it shorter: why do people get annoyed by discussions that don’t interest them? Is there a law about being all things to all men? Fanfiction is supposed to be about Taking Things Too Seriously, after all. The pot is calling the kettle black, and the kettle just doesn’t get it.

Pardon me while I go link this woman right now. Here’s the line that pushed me over the edge:

I do indeed believe that God created heaven and earth, along with things that flower and fly and swim and creep and blog.

Your Guide to Lois McMaster Bujold

Monday, June 17th, 2002

Someone’s been reading my blog and emailed me with a question. (No, it wasn’t Who the [insert 24th-century equivalent] do you think you are, talking about [insert opinion] in your own blog?) I’ve immortalized the Q&A here in the blog, in case anyone else is interested.

What’s the best book to start with, reading about Miles Vorkosigan?

That’s a complicated question. The books are freestanding, but they are a series and it’s hard to say how much you miss by going out of order. Reading Memory after any of the subsequent novels gives away a significant plot point, but otherwise I don’t think skipping around is a big problem, unless you’re a spoiler-averse person. Then you’d want to go exactly in order. So, here’s the order, with recommendations and anti-recs:

LMB’s universe starts with Falling Free, a Nebula-award winning hard sci-fi novel that has nothing whatsoever to do with Miles or his family. If you’re looking for her space opera proper (Falling Free is a little too hard sci-fi for some LMB fans), then you can skip ahead to the next book in universe-chronological sequence: her first published novel, Shards of Honor. At this stage, Miles is just a gleam in his parents’ eyes, but the two books of the Miles-making period are very good (I think Barrayar won a Hugo), and they’re now available in a convenient one-volume edition called Cordelia’s Honor (Baen books, paperback).

The true Miles purist would start at the next volume, The Warrior’s Apprentice, though I believe the subsequent novel, The Vor Game, was better received. (Better received, with LMB, means it won a Hugo. Less well received means being on the final Hugo list.) Again, these two are now conveniently available in a one-volume paperback edition. I don’t recall the title - I gave the trade paperback edition of it I picked up (remaindered) to my sister to spread the addiction. You can get titles and shop on-line at LMB’s official site, (Several e-books and some free opening chapters are available as well.)

The chronology gets a little hazy at this point - there’s Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos, neither of which I’ve read. I hear the latter doesn’t involve Miles, or at least not much. The important volume of this period is Borders of Infinity, a novella collection. One of the novellas won a Nebula award. Borders of Infinity is a good book to start with if you’re just curious about Miles and wondering whether you’re up for the full twelve-novel commitment or not.

Next up is the clone period, consisting of Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance, in that order. The latter won a Hugo (yes, it does get tiring pointing that out after a while) and is, if I had to guess, LMB’s most popular book. It’s not very high on my personal list, but my taste is far from the norm. If you want a one-book experience, Mirror Dance is the one book to go with.

The next two novels made me believe in scifi again: Memory and Komarr. If I were going to recommend one Miles novel, it would be Memory. Komarr barely slips past it to be my personal favorite, but there’s too much Ekaterin in it for it to be representative Miles.

That brings us to present-day Miles. I read A Civil Campaign first - it’s rather comic for LMB and probably the worst place to start in the entire series. The current novel out is Diplomatic Immunity. I can’t speak for it because I haven’t read it, but I haven’t heard it’s a new favorite in the series. We’ll see how the Hugos go…

The Memory of Earth

Sunday, June 16th, 2002

After I stumbled over Orson Scott Card’s open letter about his Homecoming series, I had to try The Memory of Earth myself. I had an unsuccessful go once at the Book of Mormon, so I appreciated the opportunity to hear the story unencumbered by pseudo-King-James English far more than OSC intended anyone should. (Reflecting on the comparative literary merits of holy scriptures would probably not be wise. All I can say is, at least the Koran was short.)

I enjoyed The Memory of Earth, though possibly not quite enough to track down the other four volumes of the Homecoming series. Lifting the characters and plot from scripture sounds like a good, traditional epic plan, and the story rolls along quickly under this outside influence. The serialization of polygamy was especially apt. The novel’s moral focus was very sharp, of course, and Nafai’s pivotal decision a debatable one for us non-Mormons.

On the nitpicking side, the time frame was way, way off. I doubt a fleet of artificial satellites could remain in orbit of a planet with a lavendar moon for forty million years, nor do I believe human society could remain socially and genetically unchanged for that long, whatever the AI in the Sky. The cover-up of the source material was so good in general that I found myself unduly annoyed when the main characters took a more obviously Biblical jaunt into the desert at the behest of said AI in the Sky.

But that’s more nitpicking than the book deserves. OSC has evaded LMB’s line between sci-fi and fantasy, which she draws at the supernatural. Technically, an AI isn’t supernatural, but the characters react to it as if it were and the end result is more convincing than the explicit supernatural of LMB’s or Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy. (Let’s not even mention Gaiman, eh?)

I don’t consider the supernatural a hallmark of fantasy - it’s not required, and when something of that ilk is present, it can end up just as naturalized as OSC’s AI in the Sky. I don’t consider anything in LotR particularly supernatural, for instance. The Elves and even the Valar are integrated into the background. There are no burning bushes.

It’s not the supernatural but the unnatural that makes fantasy fantasy - the sheer lack of rational justification for elves and magic and rings and so on. (Note that I didn’t say scientific justification.) Fantasy is about what cannot be, science fiction about what can be. An invisible, divine hand moving the stars could be, but Middle Earth is purely, unabashedly counterfactual.

The moment you start justifying, say, Pern, with genetic engineering, you’ve moved into the realm of science fiction. Walter Jon Williams calls some of his work fantasy, but I didn’t see the counterfactual in Metropolitan and he doesn’t seem like the sort of person to write the fantastic. Nor, come to think of it, does LMB. She lets her deities do too much work, and that smacks of explanation. When she writes an elf, just one dying-immortal, fleet-footed, inhuman, unjustifiable elf, then I’ll enjoy her fantasy.

If you’re going to lie to me, then lie already.