Archive for December, 2002

Book Guilt

Sunday, December 22nd, 2002

Lori passed along a link to the secret life of non-readers, so I thought I’d blog about reading guilt.

I think I was born with book guilt - even when I was reading The Cat in the Hat I felt that I ought to be up to Pippi Longstocking already. Book guilt led me to voluntarily read Paradise Lost in high school. I still have a healthy guilt about the classics, but I’ve never felt the need to read the new mainstream literature. My book guilt ends at WWI with Goodbye to All That, which has saved me no end of guilt over the years.

I’ve read about 70 books this year, most of them science fiction or fantasy. In a way that’s reading for work - I started back into sci-fi with such literary devotion not because I thought I’d missed gems like LMB (though I had), but because I wanted to write in the genre. My muse needs a constant supply of good examples to keep her fresh.

I’ve found that writing is a great reliever of book guilt - I’d read Robert Browning, I can say to myself with a straight face, if only I weren’t so busy revising this fanfic novel. I’m a producer, not a consumer. That excuse also covers a multitude of unread fanfic.

So, how about a book guilt meme? Feel free to up the numbers if you’re guiltier than I am.

Name three classics mouldering on your shelves:

  1. Os Lusíadas, Luís Vaz de Camões, the epic work of Portuguese literature, by the Portuguese Shakespeare - also an example of foreign language guilt
  2. The Faerie Qveen, Spenser
  3. The Divine Comedy - true guilt extends beyond Dante’s Inferno, not that I’ve read even that much

Name three works of modern literature you managed to avoid:

  1. Anything by Barbara Kingsolver
  2. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  3. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Name three novels you read but wish you hadn’t:

  1. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence
  2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  3. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Name three books you skimmed your way through or never finished:

  1. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  2. The Golden Bough, abridged edition, Sir James George Frazer
  3. Eyeless in Gaza, Aldous Huxley

Name three famous fanfics you’ve always meant to read:

  1. Iolokus (XF)
  2. The rest of Talking Stick/Circle (VOY)
  3. The Glory Days series (VOY)

I sense hostility…

Saturday, December 21st, 2002

Welcome back to MBTI theatre. Last time, we saw Jemima torn between two rival spellings (extrovert vs. extravert). This week, she addresses the next two letters in the MBTI alphabet, S/N.

The biggest divide between personality types, I believe, is that of perception. Sensing types (S) trust the input of the five senses, while intuitives (N) prefer to listen to the unconscious, with its flashes of insight into the world. An S is a realist who lives for the present, while an N dreams of possible futures.

S types distrust all indirect experience, even the spoken or written word, so it’s surprising to find them on-line at all. The Internet depends almost entirely on writing. I suspect a great deal of hostility towards on-line discussions, either from trolls or from milder anti-meta types, comes from the S’s basic distrust of imaginative discourse.

The controversial muse, bringer of inspiration directly from the unconscious, is an N phenomenon. The extreme S is likely to deny the very possibility of inspiration because it is alien to their personality type. Careful descriptions of the world and the characters as they are, is, perhaps, the province of the S - it’s hard for me to say because I’m an N, in a fandom particularly attractive to N’s and correspondingly unattractive to S’s.

I’ve always considered an interest in science fiction the surest marker of the N type - it hasn’t failed me as a predictor yet. Sci-fi is the literature of a certain personality type. Fanfic, when it explores the possibilities left open by a sci-fi or fantasy show with AU’s or fresh adventures, is N; when it repeats rote romantic stories that have little to do with space, wizardry or vampire-slaying, it is S.

I’m rather attached to the theory that S’s cause bad pairing fic to happen, because otherwise I’d have no explanation for it at all. That leaves me no excuse for my own badfic, though - there isn’t enough S in me to fill a thimble.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Friday, December 20th, 2002

The Die J/C Die contest is now open for voting. (Some characters did die, but not J or C.) There are two categories with 16+ entries each. Seema and I are both entered, so there’s plenty of C/7 for all.

Speaking of contests, I’m currently wondering whether I want to enter the Writers of the Future contest, one of the biggest contest/anthologies in the sci-fi genre. I meant to enter for the last deadline but was too busy. The next deadline is coming up, but this time I’m more concerned than before about the contest being run by the Church of Scientology. Yes, their money is as green as anyone else’s, but at what cost in human potential was it tithed?

Compared to WotF, SNW is a moral cakewalk. Fanfic should, in principle, be free, but if I were hard up for money or publicity, I could stomach entering the contest and risk becoming a cog in Paramount’s large pay-per-fic machine. Analogously, I’d rather write open-source software but if I needed a paycheck I’d write it for money.

I’m not sure I’d take a job with the Church of Scientology, however.

The Introvert as Extrovert

Thursday, December 19th, 2002

Free stuff of the day: Fractal Desktop designs, linked by The Free Site.

I’ve made a new Anomaly category for weird science, exotic syndromes, and personality typing. Tonight I’m finally starting my long-promised foray into online personality types, with the first letters of the MBTI alphabet: E/I.

MBTI critics rarely stick at the distinction between extroversion and introversion. The continuum is clear and most people can identify both themselves and others as either extroverts or an introverts. Technically, E/I isn’t about sociability per se but about whether a person is more interested in the outer world or the inner life.

I started wondering about E/I on-line because E/I determines whether one prefers to use the judging or perceiving process in one’s interactions with the outside world. Never mind the J/P dominant/auxiliary process technobabble for the moment; the question I found myself facing was, Is the Internet the outer or the inner world?

I concluded that on most counts, the ‘net is the inner life. There are little clues, like our habit of referring to the off-line world as RL (real life), no matter how much of our real energy and real time we devote to the virtual life. There are big clues, like the prevalence of virtual extroverts who are introverts according to the RL MBTI. (Seema, can I use you as an example?)

The determining factor, though, is the mediating nature of the net. Real extroverts prefer immediate contact with real people in the flesh, rather than asynchronous communication through writing. Stop and think of typical extroverts you know in RL - are they ‘net fiends? Everyone I know who has a net.problem is a classic introvert in RL. Otherwise, they’d be out there in the bar scene, associating with Real People.

So we are all introverts here - and yet an on-line introvert is an oxymoron. If you don’t communicate on-line, you fall below the radar and you aren’t even here. So we are all extroverted here, if we are here at all - I’m brash and yellow with unsought enemies on-line, despite my RL introversion.

What happens if an extrovert does happen to get involved in, say, on-line fandom? Would she morph into a troll? I don’t think so. I think she’d be just a flash-in-the-pan AOL user that comes along, tries to chat but can’t quite grasp the lingo or the appeal, perhaps makes some contacts with people she can meet in RL, and goes away again. Extroverts have better things to do with their time.

Next time on MBTI Theatre, S/N

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Kiln People

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Ad of the day: Looking for Dr. Right? - a dating service spotted in Scientific American

Over Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to read some of my old children’s books. I started with A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. I recall liking the series when I was young, but the first volume didn’t stand up to a re-read. It wasn’t quite as well-written as I expected, but my real problems were with the plot - or rather, the Plot. The batty old lady who couldn’t tell the children anything definite reminds me too much of an angelic Cigarette Smoking Man.

Madeleine L’Engle is part of a very sci-fi subgenre typified by C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy - fiction that mixes science with the fantastic, but a very particular fantastic. I read the Earthsea trilogy after my disappointment with L’Engle - now there was a nicely put-together world, in which the odd laws of magic meshed with the medieval setting. Fantasy, the genre, is rarely fantastic the way Alice in Wonderland or Kubla Khan are. While it works for a child’s dream or an adult’s pipe dream, the fantastic does not mix well with science fiction themes.

I’d like to blog a bit about how Christian themes seem to shade into the fantastic, not just in the Space Trilogies but in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Last Battle and the works of Charles Williams and George MacDonald, but it’s getting late. If anyone can think of an example of non-Christian fantastic sci-fi for me to compare to the Christian entries, please leave a comment with the author and title and I’ll come back to it later.

David Brin is not the sort of person from whom one expects religious themes, and during the majority of the drawn-out plot of Kiln People he leaves the soul more or less alone as he pursues his mystery plot. The novel is a rather gripping mystery at the start, but it bogs down in the middle (and a thick middle it is). The plot resolution is perhaps a bit too baroque for a proper mystery, but the real difficulty lies in the soul-centered wrap-up. Brin is a devout materialist, a point he makes clear early and often, so when he’s left standing alone at the end of the novel with his Soul Standing Wave he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it.

Describing the truly alien is the problem of sci-fi. You can get away with a hands-off approach, such as Catherine Asaro used when she never accurately described the game of quis, if the alien subject matter is new.
When your new alien realm is one traditionally pertaining to religion, however, it’s going to take a whole lot of technobabble to turn the inherent mysticism of, say, the soul, into materialism. If you just stand aside, as an author, and let silence speak for you, that science speaks Buddhist or Christian visions of the soul. It does not convey your new materialist mysticism - perhaps because materialist mysticism is an oxymoron.

Ayn Again

Tuesday, December 17th, 2002

You are…Ayn Rand

This charismatic cult leader used science fiction as one of her recruiting tools for new converts.
Which Science Fiction Writer Are You?

Is it so hard to find a picture? Objectivism isn’t a cult, as far as I can tell. It’s politics and philosophy and a deep, abiding distaste for 98% of mankind, but it’s not a cult. Cults brainwash and use their members. I doubt you can have a cult or a religion without faith, which Objectivism forbids: “I urge the readers to use their own judgment as to whether a particular article is or is not consonant with Objectivist principles. Remember, it is a fundamental tenet of Objectivism that one must not accept ideas on faith.” –Ayn Rand

Normally, I wouldn’t bother to defend Rand - she’s quite capable of defending herself even from beyond the grave - but in this case the quiz result is egregiously misapplied. Everyone knows which sci-fi writer is also a charismatic cult leader who recruits with his works: L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. For the inside scoop on Scientology qua cult, see Operation Clambake.


Tuesday, December 17th, 2002

As anyone who has ears to hear has heard, Cardinal Law resigned from the archbishopric of Boston. He tried many months ago, but the pope rejected his offer the first time.

Victims’ groups, please don’t lambaste me for this, but the person I feel most sorry for in this undying local scandal is…Pope John Paul II. I imagine what a loop this whole sordid mess threw him for - because the pedophilia story is not, at its bottom, about the Roman Catholic Church.

Consider the Crusades, or better yet, the Inquisition. Those were events the Church fully intended to occur, planned out, went out and did, and blessed people for participating in (provided they were at the right end of the Temporal Arm). The Pope has apologized for all that, hundreds of years after the fact, but for the intevening centuries such things were church policy.

It’s never been church policy to molest little boys. Priests who join (or found) NAMBLA are not the result of aggressively-interpreted Biblical texts or canon law. This scandal is uniquely American and, especially, Bostonian.

On the American side, consider a superficially unrelated phenomenon - the co-education of the all-male colleges. The Citadel aside, this social revolution was completed by the mid-seventies. In fact, the last few bastions of the Y-chromosome fell precisely because all-male schools had begun to attract a certain kind of student. A decade or two later, the all-female colleges felt a similar statistical pinch - the applicant pool dropped sharply, driving schools like Wheaton to co-educate.

What, then, did the all-male priesthood attract after the fifties - a period of American history when the marriage rate was higher than ever before or since? The church has suffered from declining vocations for decades since. As any college-admissions officer knows, a declining applicant pool means a declining quality of applicant.

Add to that the sexual revolution, which gave everyone ideas and, perhaps more notably, led to such openness from victims of abuse. I assume victims are quieter about the whole matter in countries where being a victim attracts less moral support. I’m not saying that’s a good thing - I’m just explaining the Only in America aspect of the scandal.

There are little scandals scattered across America, but the big scandal is Only in Boston. Only in Boston do we have the Boston Globe, and only in Boston did we have an archbishop who was the clerical equivalent of Billy Bulger, with Paul Shanley playing his not-estranged-enough brother Whitey.

Family comes first here, and then the law. At least, it’s been that way for a long time. I hear things are changing, but I’m not sure I’d turn in Veronica if she were on the lam. I certainly wouldn’t do it over some trumped-up Federal charge like racketeering.


Monday, December 16th, 2002

DocBook is intended for technical documentation, so it’s missing quite a few features I’m looking for in a fanfic management system. Specifically, it doesn’t handle verse and drama, though they’re essential for songfic, filk and screenplays.

Fortunately, there’s the Text Encoding Initiative, the somewhat dusty academic standard for marking up classic texts. Here are a few links:

ChetSev V

Sunday, December 15th, 2002

Site of obscure interest: la Fée Verte - everything you ever wanted to know about absinthe but were afraid to ask

A couple of contests closed today. I’m still working on my J/P fic, so I was unable to enter TomKat 2002. To make up for it, I finished my ChetSev series as threatened and submitted it to Die J/C Die. (No characters were killed, only relationships.) For those of you who’ve suffered through the first four parts, the last one is also available on its own page: Every Word I Said. I didn’t have time to add either to the index, and I’m not particularly proud of this last-minute, unbetaed addition to my old series of C/7 episode additions.

Read at your own risk.

Trek Remakes

Sunday, December 15th, 2002

Weird science site of the day: Hole in the Water answers the unasked question, Why do people get sucked into the vortex of a sinking ship?

By the way, filk radio has changed over to holiday music - but not your average holiday music. So far, Santa has gotten arrested, and now the song is about why (and I quote) Christmas sucks. The Trekathon is over, but Trek is eternal.

While waiting for The Twilight Zone to come on last week I was subjected to part of an Enterprise episode clearly ripped off from the TOS classic, “Elaan of Troyius”. I understand that TNG also stole Elaan for “The Perfect Mate.” I never cared much for TNG, and ENT is too similar for my tastes, with its bland cast, milk-run diplomacy, and recycled TOS plots.

Nemesis spoiler space…

Don’t make me say I told you so.

Tonight, I saw a remake of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. I’m a sucker for a handsome, genetically-engineered genocidal maniac with a Captain Ahab complex. Joachim wasn’t nearly cute enough this time around, but the doomsday device was lovely, complete with the requisite unusual waveform and yet another new kind of Trek radiation. Is there a list of those (and the particles - oh, the particles!) anywhere? Best of all was when the semi-human first officer designate sacrificed himself to save the ship, conveniently leaving his katra behind.

Speaking of first officers, I have to ask: is there any character more universally hated in Trek than Will Riker? The audience groaned whenever he did anything (or anyone), and I can’t believe there was anyone there besides me grossed out simply because Troi belongs with Picard. (If you don’t believe me, go read Lori’s Captain and Counselor series.) That being said, it wasn’t an ensemble movie the way The Wrath of Khan was. Nemesis was about Picard, the Anti-Picard, Data, and the Emergency Backup Data (so Veronica dubbed him), with a touch of Geordi for technobabble and some beating up of Riker to satisfy everyone’s deep-seated urge to punch the idiot’s lights out.

All-in-all, it was an even-numbered Trek movie.