My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the month “September, 2010”

Three Steps to a Better Plot

  1. What is the worst thing that can happen to your main character?  Make the villain do that to your MC personally.
  2. What is the best thing that can happen to your main character?  Have that great thing happen to the villain in full view of the MC.
  3. Write down 15 news headlines or gossip topics for your setting.  At least 3 of these will, with modification, be able to be dropped into your story to add setting flavor, connect your characters to the world they live in, and serve as minor obstacles along the way. I call this Headline Plotting (read more here).

Towers of Midnight predictions

Over at the Tor.com blog,  Leigh Butler posted a bunch of “feedback” tidbits while reading, sort of a liveblogging without the live part, and left us to guess just what each refers to.

  1. “I totally cannot decide whether to be pleased about this, or kind of freaked out.”
  2. “Okay, that may or may not have been quite a Crowning Moment of Awesome for _____, exactly, but that is unquestionably one of the coolest things that has ever happened in this series. All is forgiven, man.”
  3. “Is it possible to have a complete seal-clapping moment of YAY, and shriek in utter fannish outrage at the same time? Because I have a feeling I’m about to find out.”
  4. “This is suddenly seeming veeery familiar…”
  5. “Well, finally, I have only been asking for this for like fifteen years. This is awesome. This is—wait. Uh, what’s going on… what are they… what does that… oh crap.”
  6. “Man, it’s like a Barry White song up in here, except hilarious.”
  7. “Wow, and just when I thought it wasn’t possible to despise you more. Nice job RUINING EVERYTHING, ____. Gah.”
  8. “Oh. Er. So, I totally called that wrong. Am a bit red-faced now.”
  9. “Okay, so maybe – maybe – you have redeemed yourself a little bit here, ____. You are provisionally allowed off my shit list. FOR NOW.”
  10. “I think this is what they mean when they use the term ‘logical extreme’. About time, really.”
  11. “WHAT? That is… that is horrible. No, no, no, no. THAT HAD BETTER NOT HAPPEN, TEAM JORDAN, DO NOT MAKE ME HURT YOU. I need a cookie now. And a hug. I HATE YOU ALL. (But, uh, man. Good writing, right there. I never would have seen that coming in a million years. P.S. I STILL HATE YOU.)”
  12. “Well. I was kind of thinking that was going to be a bit more… dramatic. Or at least have a lot more yelling. But, you know. Okay then.”
  13. “Holy hell, _____ just had a Moment of Awesome. Of all freakin’ people! I didn’t even think that was possible.”
  14. “Oh for the love of Pete, _____, will you please DIE already? What’s it going to take, a nuclear goddamn strike? Sheesh.”
  15. “Wait, what the hell just happened? I am so confused. And also, what?”
  16. “HAHAHA I TOTALLY KNEW IT HAHAHAHA

So, here are my guesses:

  1. Demandred swears a blue streak because Rand inadvertently undercut his authority.
  2. Not-quite-crowning-moment-of-awesome for Elayne when she uses the OP to give herself a C-section to deliver the twins.
  3. Leigh wonders whether Moiraine will actually survive the escape from the ToG.
  4. Mat mouths off to the Finns, and nearly gets himself roped again.
  5. Moiraine rescued from the Finns (Her incident with the Red Stone Doorway was about 15 years ago now, so it fits) but the BA or Seanchan show up and throws an a’dam on her.
  6. Mat and Fortuona, on the back of a raken, with her Voice there to witness for protection.
  7. Supreme Ponce of Randland, Perrin. Gotta be. I’ll say he shows up and attacks the Band while Mat and Tuon are having “relations.” (Possible alternative: Cadsuane gets uppity yet again)
  8. Turns out he wasn’t attacking, he was protecting them from trollocs.
  9. Continuation of the previous. (Possible alternative: Cadsuane gives a heartfelt, meaningful apology)
  10. Cadsuane’s pride finally bites her in the ass and she gets put in her place by Min.
  11. Min dies. (Or Thom dies.)
  12. Rand and Egwene chat over tea and balefire.
  13. Berlaine
  14. Padan Fain goes down all Rasputin-style. Ten separate fatal wounds before he finally hits dirt. Or Lanfear v Moiraine rematch.
  15. Moridin and Rand trade places through T’A’R after Moridin gives Rand a combination of the Morpheus speech and the “We’re not so different, you and I,” speech. (Alternative: Perrin v Slayer in the Wolf Dream, and the fight spills out into the real world with both of them still wolves)
  16. Taim is Demandred.

We’ll find out how well I did in November. 🙂

DADT is social engineering

I was recently engaged in a debate on DADT, spurred by yesterday’s disappointing vote. While debating, one of the people said this:

If your purpose is to keep an effective military, this doesn’t help. If your purpose is social engineering, just say so.

(Bolding mine.)

That phrase stuck out to me. At first, I just passed over it and didn’t immediately respond, instead I replied to the other points being made. But as I thought about it, it occurred to me that this is what this debate is really about. There is a belief out there that repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and allowing gays to serve openly in the military is an attempt at social engineering.

Social Engineering via Wikipedia:

Social engineering is a discipline in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

(Not to be confused with social engineering that refers to tricking people into violating security protocols.)

Let’s make one thing clear. Social engineering isn’t by itself bad. In a democracy, one must persuade, inspire, and convince others that your side is correct. That is a necessary part of the process and democracy breaks down without the ability to freely share ideas with the obvious intent of convincing others that those ideas are good. Under a military dictatorship, all one needs is coercion, which is a form of social engineering premised on forcing others to agree with your ideas, be they good or bad, or else.

What this tells me is that opponents to DADT repeal see this as a form of coercion. They are being forced to accept the mandate of someone else against their will. They are being forced to accept gays serving openly alongside them, or their family members, or serving in their stead for those who are not in the military or a military family.

But this ignores the obvious truth: repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell increases total freedom of ideas and opinions. Homophobic service members and their families have every right under DADT to hate, loathe, and distrust gay service members. No law will ever take that away from them. The only “freedom” they will lose is the ability to harass and demean gay service members with impunity, since the gay service member cannot report the crime without outing themselves. That’s a “freedom” no person should enjoy, in the service or out. If DADT is repealed, homophobes have just as much right that next morning to hate, fear, and distrust gay people as they do today.

Obviously, this is still bounded by the normal military restrictions on speech and political activity; namely, don’t let anything you do interfere with your obligations as a soldier or the ability of other soldiers to fulfill their duty. That catch-all includes everything from religious proselytizing and political speech to showing up late.

So I posit the opposite: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the more coercive form of social engineering. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines can serve as openly Jewish, openly Muslim, openly an immigrant, openly non-white, and every anti-Semite, anti-Muslim, and national or racial purist needs to suck it up and serve alongside them, or leave the military. No one will form an all-white, all-Christian unit just to appease a few who let their prejudices get in the way of their service. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fixes in law the idea that homosexuals are a class of people where the burden is on them to make others “comfortable” with their service, rather than those around them to buck up and deal with it.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the social engineering platform of a shrinking minority, seeking to force others to adhere to their idea of what is right and what is wrong, rather than competing openly in the war of ideas like everyone else.

Lady Gaga said it right: if you have a problem serving next to a gay soldier, you are the problem and need to resign your commission, not them.

I read Brandon Sanderson’s The Gathering Storm in two days.

For those who don’t know, author of the Mistborn series and now the Way of Kings series Brandon Sanderson took on the daunting task of finishing Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, The Wheel of Time. To Sanderson’s credit, The Gathering Storm “fits.” It doesn’t stand out as another author’s writing; he captured Jordan’s voice perfectly.

He makes slightly more extensive use of italics to provide emphasis, and there are many scenes that seem to play out a little differently that one might expect. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. For example, Egwene’s plot in the White Tower, and Nynaeve’s quieter ruminations on Rand’s psyche. I feel like had Jordan penned that all himself, Egwene would have been much “harder,” and thus, less likeable.  Or it would have emphasized the wrong aspects of her mindset to highlight her struggle. Nynaeve’s personality seems completely different. She’s far more brooding, and does a better job of picking her battles. I feel like this is more the result of the author change than character growth. The character of Talmanes’s new sense of humor seems entirely the handiwork of Sanderson. In short, all of the characters are just plain more likeable than before.

On the down side, there are a few scenes that lacked the Jordan “ah ha!” touch. They suffered due to too much foreshadowing to the point of being predictable. Tam’s disastrous reappearance, and the announcement of the Hall of the Tower’s decision on the bridge of Tar Valon spring to mind. Each one suffered from just one line of misplaced dialogue in previous scenes that inched toward what the scene would be, and then just barely nudged it over the line into “obvious consequence” territory, ruining the surprise. For instance, if the secret meeting had ended one page earlier than it did, it would have served its purpose of reminding the reader who these characters were and what their role was behind the scenes without giving away their decision.

I think the other major factor that makes me love this book is that it finally, finally, FINALLY wraps up all the plots that started five books earlier in the Path of Daggers: Cadsuane’s goal, Rand’s hardening and apathy, Rand’s madness, Perrin vs Masema, Perrin and Faile, Egwene vs Elaida. All of them are finally resolved after being dragged out for fucking ever. The only one that isn’t is Elayne’s troubles in Andor. This is the opposite of Crossroads of Twilight which served as an 800 page prologue (which featured its own 100 page prologue. . . ) to Knife of Dreams. We also get the hints that Mat and Thom are finally going to the Tower of Ghenjei in book 13. About time. I feel like the Mat plot in KoD (the Tuon romance) could have been done entirely during CoT, leaving KoD to be about visiting the tower.

Huffington Post Science Fail

Robert Lanza at Huffington Post attempts to inject science into philosophy yet again:

But according to biocentrism, reality is a process that involves our consciousness. In contrast to dreams, we assume the everyday world is just “out there” and that we play no role in its appearance. We think they’re different. Yet experiments show just the opposite: day-to-day reality is no more objective or observer-independent than dreams. The most vivid illustration of this is the famous two-hole experiment. When you watch a particle go through the holes, it behaves like a bullet, passing through one hole or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave and can pass through both holes at the same time. This and other experiments tell us that unobserved particles exist only as waves of probability.

Science Fail. Like Deepak Chopra and his absurd quantum healing ideas, the author intentionally or unintentionally misunderstands the concept of “observation” as it relates to quantum physics, and, like Chopra, uses that misunderstanding to shoehorn quantum physics’ legitimacy into his pseudoscience. While there may be yet-unknown relationships between our conscious experience and the laws of space-time, we don’t need feel-good, self-centered philosophy polluting the questions.

Transmedia Brands

Simon Pulman gets it.

I’d post quotes and commentary, but I think for today, this will stand on its own without comment. It’s like learning there’s a name for something you’ve been doing without thinking about.

Empress of Mijak: The Villain Protagonist

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If you are looking for dark fantasy, look no further. Empress by Karen Miller, first in her Godspeaker trilogy (the others being The Riven Kingdom and The Hammer of God) is emotionally draining, and uncompromising in its presentation of a dusty and bleak world. Miller has crafted a world and society so alien to her readers, and done so with such a loving attention to detail that it borders on author masochism, that it is difficult to imagine how anyone could relate to it.

The story follows Hekat on her rise from nameless slave to the eponymous empress, and as the tagline of the book states, “she will be slave to no man.” Just unfortunately co-dependent on them.

The first thing that struck me was how much I disliked the protagonist, Hekat. And I am not alone. For the record, I disagree with a lot of the reviews that consider this a failing of the book. In fact, it’s utterly brilliant. Hekat doesn’t start out unlikeable. Her exceptionally humble beginnings as a nameless “she-brat” sold into slavery by a father whose misogyny borders on caricature sets up a character that you want to root for. You want to watch her triumph over this awful hand she’s been dealt.

And boy, does she ever. The epic spans roughly thirty years, chronicling her rise.

Each achievement Hekat has on her rise to power, each word of praise, each message from her god, strengthens the woman’s sense of pride and self-assuredness until she is hard as stone. But as Hekat becomes less likable, and less relatable, Miller does something genius: she shifts the focus of the book from Hekat, to her son Zandakar and her one friend, Vortka. Both were already well-rounded characters, and they save us from Hekat’s growing madness just in time. Their point of view also gives us an external perspective by which to judge Hekat’s actions even within the internal morality of a very warped culture. While a reader would be appalled from page one by the world, when Hekat’s actions begin to appall them, you know she has crossed the line.

As a woman who rises from lowly beginnings to rule a nation with strength and cunning, some have compared her to Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. (Satima Flavell of the Specusphere also includes a brilliant observation that similar women arise throughout history and are always east of the Dardanelles) But I feel the character is more like that of Olympias of Epirus, better known as the mother of Alexander the Great. Like Olympias, Hekat rules Mijak using her husband’s authority until his death, and then her son’s while he is away on a war to conquer the world in her name.

But more startling to me was the cycle of co-dependence she falls into with the men in her life. Thanks to the window into her mind via the book’s POV, we get to see, rather than speculate, what her motivations truly are. At times, she is explicitly, desperately seeking the approval and admiration of the men in her life. First, her father, a man as nameless to her as she was to him, for whom she feels only hatred and disgust. Her purpose early in life is defined in comparison to him, and that squalor that she seeks to forget for the rest of her life. Then when Trader Abajai praises her, she comes to need that praise and approval. It feeds her pride. When he “betrays” her, her attentions shift to the warlord Raklion. When she has used him to lift herself up first to warrior in his retinue and then to his bed, her attention shifts to her son. From that moment, Raklion is dead to her and her life revolves around her son becoming the warlord; Raklion is only useful for his ability to conquer Mijak so that her son may inherit it. All the while, she is repeating the mantra that she is precious, first to the men, and then to her god. Even as empress, she doesn’t achieve any real measure of independence from the men in her life; even though she has power over them, she is emotionally beholden to a man at all times.

Thus, the tragic irony of the novel’s “slave to no man” tagline.

Yet, all those who say they hate Hekat, and hate the book because of it have missed the point: you were never supposed to like her, or identify with her. At most, you can empathize with her one real moment of loss which comes, no joke, on the very last page. At most, you can empathize with her feelings as a mother for what she is going through in that moment. But that still isn’t the point.

Empress is a story about the birth of a villain.

And when you view it with that perspective, it is an amazing profile in tragedy brought about by pure, undiluted hubris. It’s similar to the new Star Wars Trilogy. When you view all six movies together you realize it isn’t about Luke, it’s about Anakin’s rise, fall, and redemption. This is a tragedy that sets up a character who you want to see get what’s coming to them in the future novels.

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As far as the setting, I had a hard time liking it. I don’t think I was supposed to like it for the same reason I didn’t like Hekat: it’s a world that by its very nature will inevitably give rise to someone like her. The original cover of the book, with the original title Empress of Mijak tells more about the woman and the setting than the U.S. cover: It depicts Hekat on her scorpion throne sitting in her godtheatre toward the end of the book (though the woman in the chair seems a bit young still). But I like the U.S. cover style when viewed with the entire series.

If you haven’t read Empress, you’re missing out on one of the best villain origin stories in modern fantasy.

Red Light Properties Review

Title Page

While browsing Tor.com yesterday, I came across a graphic novel they had put up in their stories section. It just finished its run, so all 21 chapters are available as of yesterday.

Red Light Properties

Concept: spirit medium and exorcist expels ghosts from haunted resale properties.

Why it’s cool: I’m not a fan of the story, the characters, or the art. Just not my cup of tea. However, what Red Light Properties does well is presentation. They nail it. The navigation of the book reveals dialog bubble by dialog bubble, panel by panel rather than page by page. It’s a very original way of presenting a graphic novel, and a method I wish more web comics used.

Why it works: The story is based on suspense and revelation, so the use of bubble-by-bubble reveals merges the natural flow of conversation with the inability to skip ahead and ruin a big surprise. It also solves the problem many comics face of inconsistent page flow. It’s completely unambiguous what order speech is taking place in.

It also works because it presents the art, unobstructed by speech/thought/narration bubbles, then the page fills up with words. So much of a comic’s art is lost to word space, and this solves that problem nicely.

It won’t work for every web comic. Classic three/four panel comedies have a format that works for them already, and most writers are meta enough to use the flow as part of a joke. This is definitely more for classic graphic novel presentation.

Site Changes

One thing I would like to do is build a community around the Delmyria setting. I’d like fans to be able to do more than just read and comment. Disclaimer: Nothing I say here should be construed as giving license or ceding control or ownership. But I’d like to set up a license structure (not necessarily Creative Commons but definitely inspired by the openness) that allows fans to build on what I create.

I’m experimenting with BuddyPress plugin that adds many social networking functions to a blog. I’m not satisfied with the forum features it includes, however. I prefer any number of other purpose-built forum software packages to this. It reminds me too much of the Facebook discussion boards which are woefully lacking in both user and moderator control.

I also plan to have a wiki. I had one hosted here once before, but it was for personal use and removed.

In terms of actual news, “Mercy Killing the Dragon” has been revised and is now being submitted. I’ve added a yet untitled short story to the list. The new one focuses on a Kroh’chuk warrior and their traditions.

Polyamory in SF/F – Star Trek: TNG and Wheel of Time

Recently, over at the Tor.com blog, there was an article lamenting the absence of polyamorous relationships in science fiction and fantasy. The piece gets a bit repetitive in parts as Mandelo pines for more examples of plural love, but the questions posed near the end (one explicit, one implicit) struck me:

In space, why does the two-person relationship stay the norm? I’d like to see more collective relationships developed between people living together in shuttle environments, for example. Close quarters are bound to produce some interesting variety in liaisons and emotions. In a second-world fantasy, it would be one more part of the created universe to have the regular structure of relationships include three or more people for a family unit.

As far as science fiction is concerned, the situation I have encountered most frequently with regard to polyamory is the gene pool angle. From hardcore “science fact” speculative fiction to flashy space operas, the issue is treated in one of two ways. In the first, it is treated with sterile, clinical disregard for sentimentality attached to sex, and for some reason, everyone goes along with it emotionlessly. The other, with a wink and a nod, men offer serious reasons (note: gene drift and shrinking gene pools are serious issues in isolated communities) but in reality are grinning like 14 year old boys at the thought of repopulating the species with as many women as possible.

For example, a classic moment in Star Trek: TNG: (Jump ahead to 4:40. The timed embed isn’t working)

When the episode aired, the very notion of suggesting polyamory on prime time television was controversial. This is before we had shows like Big Love dedicated to handling the topic in a more realistic way. So on one level, I appreciate Star Trek: TNG’s effort in shifting the Overton Window on polyamory just by bringing it up. But the scene itself is dripping with stereotypical behavior. Even Dr. Pulaski can’t help but grin here. (To be fair, it seems she can’t wipe that smirk off her face no matter how serious the topic is.) Topping it off is the only plausible reaction: Picard rolling his eyes at the absurdity of it all as something between genuine character response and audience surrogate. He lampshades the silliness being displayed, and in the one redeeming moment offers the suggestion that the other delegate is just scared of the ramifications of uniting their societies, not of the polygyny specifically. He desperately gives the audience hope that this is still a serious topic being dealt with maturely, only to have that hope dashed by the delegate declaring that it is “repugnant.”

Oh well.

As far as fantasy, Mandelo’s article missed the granddaddy of modern fantasy epics: the Wheel of Time. In it, Rand al’Thor falls in love with not one, but three women: Elayne, Min, and Aviendha. He spends the better part of Fires of Heaven whining about this predicament (as do several of the women who pine for his return). Eventually, he ends up married to all three, and them to each other.

Cop out.

How do you know it’s a cop out? It’s easy. It’s far too easy, to the degree of being unbelievable. The women are all such good friends that they readily and wholeheartedly jump into it. And from that point forward, none of the relationships is ever truly explored in any meaningful way. Aside from moments of longing for one or the other, there’s no window into the reality of their relationships. There’s nothing domestic about the relationships; the problems of the world supersede all else to the point where the relationships are conveniently about sex and longing. We don’t need lurid details of whether the women bump uglies without Rand around. But the effect of the absence of detail of any sort beyond the Rand+Woman of the Day coupling is a rigidly compartmentalized set of three relationships independent relationships (no matter what is said about how much the women care for each other). He’s married to three separate women, in three separate relationships, not unlike wife-and-mistress-and-mistress. We never see anything normal or relatable about how they interact as a polyamorous unit, so there’s no way to really treat them as such.

The end result is the “Luckiest Man Alive” phenomenon. Again.

So, what would the best way to handle it be? My feeling on it is to build it into the world on day one if you are going to explore the topic at all. Don’t even “explain” it. Just have it present. If it’s a fantasy world, have the MC’s parents in a polyamorous relationship, or someone in their village, or whatnot. The fact that they are in a polyamorous relationship should, at that point, be treated like any other relationship. It doesn’t need explaining, or excusing, or further comment. Just make it an unobtrusive part of the world, as everyday and normal as trees.

I’m not saying it should be done this way to avoid criticism or opposition. Quite the opposite. If it is explained thoroughly, or treated as something “special” enough to warrant a long description, then it becomes an author soapbox, where the author is shouting, “SEE? THIS IS NORMAL!” The best way to show something is normal is to treat it as uninteresting from the perspective of the characters.

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