Thursday, February 23, 2017

Evolution of Civilization

An interesting short article answering this question:

Why Haven't We Found Civilizations Older Than 7000-8000 Years?

The questioner wondered why, if our species evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago, it took so long for human cultures to make the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a civilized one.

Here "civilization" means the standard definition of settled city life with classes of people who specialize in various occupations. Several conditions are required for civilization to develop:

Most importantly, agriculture is necessary to produce enough of a food surplus to free some subsets of the population to specialize in other skills and be supported (through trade, patronage, etc.) by the farming class. Agriculture needs at least two preconditions, as outlined in the article—favorable climate and a critical mass of population (for agriculture to have a significant advantage over hunting and gathering; if a society is small enough that it can feed itself by hunting and gathering, there is no incentive to switch to the harder work of farming). Both of those conditions were fulfilled after the last Ice Age gave way to the present "interglacial" period we're living in.

"Civilization" in this sense is probably a prerequisite for advanced technology. To produce the kind of high-tech society we now have, you need people free to work full time in highly specialized fields of research, engineering, and manufacturing. Therefore, an SF author creating a space-faring alien culture has to give the aliens a home world and an evolutionary history that allow for agriculture, settled living, and vocational specialization (even if that worldbuilding never explicitly gets into the story). If the aliens come from a radically different kind of background, how they developed the capacity for space travel probably needs to be explained.

That article links to a Quora page exploring another intriguing question: Why haven't other animals evolved intelligence equal to ours?

Why Didn't Other Animals Develop Intellect Like Apes?

What are the minimum prerequisites for developing intelligence (once you get past the hurdle of defining "intelligence," of course)? As far as we can tell from observing ourselves and other animals with an intellectual edge over their closely related evolutionary counterparts, some of the factors seem to be belonging to a social species, having manipulative organs to interact with the environment, having access to abundant nourishment to support a big brain, and possibly being omnivorous (because having to search for food and determine what's good to eat encourages problem-solving). When constructing a sapient alien species, it's desirable to consider how they evolved to become intelligent, keeping these factors in mind.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 24 - Writing About The Future And For The Future by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 24
Writing About The Future And For The Future
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

The Index to previous posts in this series can be found at

Recently, I was told by a contact on Facebook who was systematically reading through my Star Trek fanfic series, Kraith
that Star Trek should have picked up my vision of Vulcan Culture when they came to "reveal" the world where Spock grew up.  I've been told that before, but this was a new reader currently living in the modern context.

Meanwhile, I followed the political developments as the Republicans won and the Democrats lost, not just the Presidency but in States and local contests up and down the ticket.

Officially, publicly, the professional politicians are telling their bewildered constituents how shocking, unfair, wrong, unprecedented, and just plain unacceptable these losses were. 

I was not shocked, bewildered, or even mildly surprised.  But I ranged far and wide among news sources (even abroad) and from long experience, interpreted the news media "story" or "narrative" in terms of what I knew about the players and the Constitution.

I understand (as few do) both Journalism and the Electoral College -- artifacts of my odd upbringing.

So I saw the "game" Trump played was for the Electoral Votes and never mind anything else -- it took him a while to get a grip on that process, but he swept up advisers who know what I know, and he believed them and altered course to scarf up all the Electoral Votes that were "low hanging fruit."  And he ignored the rest.

Meanwhile, any sensible person could see that Hillary won the popular vote -- and with good reason.  She ran a well funded campaign.  I have noted over decades that all you have to do to predict the winner of a Presidential Contest is to find out which candidate has raised the most money.  Then you can ignore all the noise that money makes with advertising. 

This works well on local contests, too.  The State and County nominees with the most money win.  That's it.  Follow The Money.  Nothing else matters.

At least it has been that way until 2016.  In many contests it did go that way.  But it is no longer a certainty.

If you, as a futuristic Romance writer, intend to write novels that can be read (as Kraith is being read) decades hence and still captivate and stimulate readers to their own creativity, then you should think long and hard about how the 2016 Presidency went.

Trump ran almost no TV advertising -- got almost no newspaper endorsements -- and spent money mostly on his airplane, very tiny staff, and huge venues for his overflow crowds.

Frankly, it beats me why anyone would go to such a "rally" -- to hear him say in person exactly what you've heard him say on TV.  After a while, he honed his pitch down to a boringly repetitive set of points woven around his random, stream of consciousness commentary. 

Now think about this thing he did with the hats.  Tiny slogan fits on front of the hat - his first appearance was with a white hat and that slogan.  He threw the hat, just like they do at the Stock Exchange when the Dow hits a milestone, like 20,000.

Remember all the posts you've read here on SYMBOLISM.  -- has links to previous parts.

Trump built a fictional world right before your eyes. If you want to gain greater respect and prominence for Romance as a genre, but science fiction romance in particular, for the concept of the Happily Ever After, consider what you can learn from what Trump did.

Remember Trump is a marketing genius -- not-so-terrific-products (often failing, often bankrupt) hitting TOP TIER, or just below that and making enough profit to offset losses on other products. 

Court costs of one "settlement" are just added on to the sale price of some other product of the business.  Likewise with "taxes" -- it is a principle of bottom line truth -- corporations don't pay taxes; customers do.  Tax on corporate profits is just figured into the sale price so the corporation makes the same or better profit.  It takes years to level it out because there is resistance by customers to paying more, but with time the corporation prices their product up to cover the taxes they pay, and the customers scream at the government to make the government stop inflation because the price of what the customer buy has gone up.

It is a game governments play, flimflammery misdirecting public attention.

In fact, it is a precise mathematical formula called Public Relations.  Using Big Data, this crowd management methodology is now targeting audiences with pinpoint accuracy.

Trump saw an audience that was starved for a product, and created that product, then sold it to that audience. 

Which product and which audience is irrelevant to you as a writer of fiction. 

Understanding the process of finding an audience, understanding what that audience wants before that audience knows it wants it, crafting the product to captivate that audience, and informing the potential buyers of that product where to find it --- those things you must understand.

Marketing Fiction In a Changing World is about foreseeing where the audience will be decades hence, way before that audience exists, and writing for that non-existent audience.

However, at the same time, you must craft your fiction for the current, contemporary, modern audience.  It has to be readable, understandable and about the modern issues.

Where the future's issues (themes) and the current reader's issues (themes) overlap, and where they differ (or conflict) will provide you with the big canvas against which to throw your characters.

Trump's campaign connected the past with the present and with the future.

Instead of compartmentalizing issues as separate things to be solved any-which-way was politically expedient, he connected all the apparently different issues into a coherent picture.

And he made the issues coherent by speaking incoherently.

It's impossible to follow that man's speeches unless somebody writes them on his teleprompter.  But he still includes -- makes up on the fly -- "applause lines."

Fiction writers who want to spin the most impossible (paranormal) tales and get readers to believe them should study speech writing - especially famous political speeches.

Trump captured the images, the symbols, churning through his audience's mind, and projected those images with conviction and power.

Hillary did the same for her audience, but with less power when speaking in person to audiences.  Why did she come across with less power?  Because the speeches were not in her own words.  She was smooth, polished, incredibly presidential, projecting a vision of how we all want our world to be.  She nailed the results we expect from a President.  And most of the time she was letter perfect - very studied, very focused on her audience.

So why didn't she win?  Her speech writers were even better at symbolism than Trump's stream of consciousness.

What really happened in this election - and how can you understand the Event and use it to write about the future in a way that will not seem "dated" to those who live in that decades-hence future?

Here's the thing.

They both won!

It was the Battle of the Titans - a classic Armageddon - and they both won.

Hillary won the popular vote and Donald won the power-vote.

Everybody loved Hillary, but everybody else trusted Donald to beat up their opponents.

This is shown clearly in the astrology of their Natal Charts.  Most astrologers missed it because it didn't seem important by most systems astrologers use.  But Hillary reached a lifetime peak of popularity on Election Day, and Trump reached a peak of unpredictable use of power, of explosive growth of power which will come into even higher focus on Inauguration Day. 

America elected a Champion, a Superhero. 

Note that Trump had started to run for President several times, flirted with the media over the notion, and backed off.  This time he drew out the flirting and stretched and stretched, then made a production number (very SYMBOLIC) of declaring candidacy coming down the Trump Tower elevator (down, not up).  He could have held the news conference UPSTAIRS and been seen going UP in that golden elevator.  He chose DOWN. 

The hats, the slogan, the direction - all symbolic.

The slogan is a succinct (have you ever heard him be succinct?) declaration of the theme of the novel he is writing before your eyes.

He could have done this years ago, but chose 2015 -- why?  Because he found his audience -- not through his TV Show (APPRENTICE) -- but through those who don't watch the commercials.

Note how the amount of money spent on political campaigns has escalated in recent decades.  The advertising, robocalls, actual person calls, signs, billboards, TV commercials, online commercials, emails, -- all is done by hiring and paying people to do these things.  The best, most expensive, advertising experts who have sold terrible products at vast profits for failing companies, are hired for Big Bucks to hammer the public with the candidate's "message."

In the post-mortem of the election, the Democratic Party is dissecting their "message" to see why it did not produce the predicted votes in the correct places.

Hillary Clinton should have won -- and she did win by millions of votes -- but her message did not draw her voters to the polls in the exact spots necessary to win the Electoral College.  So the Democratic Party is considering how to change their message -- not their behavior or the hearts of their people, but just their words -- to make people vote for them.

Just like the Republican Party (remember how emphatically the Party rejected Trump? He ran against the Republican Party - with a plethora of traditionally Democratic "messages." ) had used the same Public Relations "tricks" to make people vote for their candidates, the Democrats blame how they phrase their "message" not what they do when in office.

Fiction structure works the opposite way -- what the characters do is weighted more than what they say.  Readers decode Character by Behavior - not words. 

Readers - in the past, in the present and probably in the future - are intrigued by a disparity between what a Character does and what that Character says.

Compare that Reader preference to the 2016 political campaign.  The term "Liar" was thrown back and forth (facts were distorted no more than usual, but exposure was much more frequent.) 

Each of the Candidates was vetted by the media, comparing what they had done in the past with what they said in the present.

The Candidate who had done what she was saying she would do in the future as President garnered more votes.  The Candidate who had done things in the past that were starkly at odds with what he said he would do in the future, won a strategic victory.

Look at Trump vs Clinton as the "conflict" line of a novel - the typical love/hate novel.  You know that Clinton attended one of Trump's weddings - and other High Society Events hosted by Trump.  They "move in the same circles."

Study the history of that and you will find a Regency Romance in there.  You could write the same story set in the Roman Empire. 

Why did Trump focus all his energy on rallies, not TV ads?  But more importantly, why did that stupid strategy work?

Was it Trump's message, or his target audience?  Was it his war-gaming the Electoral College?  The Democrats have always been great at war-gaming the Electoral College - they carried California, a whopping prize.  Why did they lose Pennsylvania? 

Figure out a theory of why the election went to Trump and turn that theory into a theme, project that thematic truth into the far future, and write a novel for today's contemporary audience -- and you will have created a "Classic" that will be appreciated in the far future.

Think historically - from way back in Roman Empire times to now, and into the far future.

Have "messages" changed?  Or have audiences?

The reason ancient Greek and Roman plays are still performed and studied is that the messages, the politics, and the romances have not changed.  The reason those plays pull small audiences is that audiences have changed.

To write a classic, figure out what the audience of the future will be.

To understand audience change, consider the evolution of the media -- the medium through which a message must travel to reach a given person who wants that message.

That is what Trump did -- he understood that audiences have changed, are changing, and continuing to change.  I'm sure he saw and understood the advertising numbers from The Apprentice garnered between 2004 and 2015.  He knew that TV Advertising effectiveness was on the wane, and other political contest results (votes gained per dollar spent) bore out what he was seeing.

TV Cord Cutters are on the rise - college age people generally just don't subscribe to Cable, and won't waste time trying to find an over-the-air signal.  They access news and entertainment streaming.

The younger people seem to still prefer printed paper books, but watch TV on phone, tablet or sometimes a TV screen attached to a little Roku or Apple box (maybe game boxes are more common).

Tivo lets you click to skip a whole run of commercials. Nobody watches commercials - even if they play, everyone talks or leaves the room.  TV commercials don't deliver.

But there's a bigger trend behind that than cord cutters or inattentiveness. 

The real reason broadcast or cable TV commercials don't deliver value any more is very simple -- the audiences for each show is shrinking.

Here's the century long trend.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Radio was being deployed widely, radio sets came down in cost, and slowly 3 Radio Networks knitted the country together, CBS, NBC, ABC.

At any given evening hour there might be as many as a bewildering 3 choices of what to listen to.  The shows had sponsors -- usually one product or company would sponsor an entire half hour show - (fiction, news, music, standup comedy, variety). 

Eventually, there were some local stations that weren't part of the nationwide networks, and some shows on network affiliates were not broadcast nationwide. 

TV per-empted the explosive growth of Radio, but the same Big Three networks prevailed.  In the 1950's there were many hours during the day, late at night, even during Prime Time that there was only one show on TV.  Gradually, that exploded as TV Sets came down in price and were deployed into every living room (yes, max one per household!). 

So at any given time during the 1950's and even well into the 1960's, people talked at work, over the back yard fence while hanging out laundry, in grocery store lines, everywhere about whatever show was on last night.

About a third of the country would have seen the same show.  There was no way to record a TV show, so if you didn't see it, you never would, and would be out of the conversation.  Radio kept going strong through the deployment of TV (just as it is strong today via Web Radio and Podcasts), and not everyone watched TV. 

Companies that sponsored TV and Radio sold products so well, the market - the audience - for that product basically created the Supermarket (a store that carried a wide variety of products). 

In other words, the Mass Market was born of Radio audiences - huge percentages of the total number of people in the country.

Old World War II movies will show you how Baseball (broadcast on Radio, then TV) was used to source passwords and identify "real" Americans.

All Americans had certain things in common with each other that were not in common with those living in other countries.

America was unified by Radio - then TV.  Mass audiences became targets of Mass Marketing.  Concurrently - right before, during and after, the turn into the 20th Century - fueling the perfection of PR, Public Relations.

We've discussed PR and its effect on our fiction marketing efforts previously: (with links to previous parts in that series).

So media (from the first "broadside" published in the 1700's all the way through Newspapers and magazines to the Internet) has knitted a whole country into one market, unified our thinking, given us all something in common with each other that prevails over our differences.

And with that united Market, that Audience, to study, mathematics and psychology unite with statistics to produce Public Relations, the art and science of hammering individuals into identical consumers of identical products (because mass production is cheaper so everyone can have what only aristocrats could afford a few centuries ago.)

Then, the very success of Television and "networking" local stations into national syndication, took that unified audience and fragmented it.

We are in a massive fragmentation trend right now.

With distribution via DVD turning into Amazon Prime Streaming, Netflix Streaming, Hulu, various cable systems offering "On Demand" -- and other methods of getting entertainment without commercials had become commonplace rather than a yearned-for goal.

In the 1960's, people used to videotape (VCR) record TV shows they loved, with a finger on the PAUSE button, to stop the recording during commercials, thus producing a commercial-free copy they could watch or share with friends.  Copying VCR recordings was deliberately (by VC R manufacturers under laws created under the hammer of lobbyists) prevented from making good copies of copies.  Each iteration degraded until you got mostly snow.

There is a market for fiction that does not come interrupted by commercials.

People, having gotten Netflix and a taste of commercial free TV, now take it for granted.

Theaters run commercials but not DURING movies. 

As a result of commercial-avoidance and the advent of vast diversity of entertainment sources (Game Machines, DVR, DVD, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Video, Tivo, or just hooking your laptop to your TV), and a proliferation content providers (Indie Movies, Foreign Movies and TV with sub-titles, all the networks, and now Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix Originals (and many more launching Originals) -- there is no appreciable percentage of the 330 million Americans that watch any given Show or Movie.

In 1964 there were fewer than 200 million people in the USA.  The TV show The Fugitive pulled 78 million viewers.  Typical audience size for a TV show that was wildly successful was about 60 million.  In 2010, when the population had increased 30% or so, it was 42 million.

The Presidential Debates of 2016 pulled around 84 million, considered record viewership, but percentage wise of total US, not so impressive.

126 million, maybe a bit more, voted.

So while our total population has been growing, viewership of any particular item has been shrinking percentage wise. 

Audiences have been fragmenting, and skipping or avoiding commercials.

The Democratic Party did not take that into account in 2016.  They did better at it in 2008 when they exploited online advertising -- but Trump used very little online advertising (if you don't count Twitter).  He posted YouTube videos on his campaign website, and some went viral.  Mostly his Tweets made TV News.

And there's the crux of the difference.  Commentators have repeatedly analyzed Trump's style as "dominating the news cycle" -- dominating being the operative word.

Remember I said above that he was in an astrological transit situation of massive POWER and unexpected growth.  He won by DOMINATING -- and what he dominated was the part of the world he understands best - the media, and branding.

Branding is a sub-set of advertising.  Trump branded each of his opponents in turn with a sobriquet -- and because the one or two word label accurately described the person, his sobriquet stuck. 

With ever more outrageous and unpredictable Twitter-storms and offhand remarks at rallies, Trump had the media focused on his every minute because (in competition with the other outlets) they had to have a camera trained on him every second in case he "said something." 

Unpredictable and Dominant -- all in the Natal Chart and Transits in effect during this time.  His disastrous mistakes were also highlighted in the astrology. 

Hillary Clinton could not match him for outrageous -- even her biggest controversies did not dominate the news cycle as much as Trump's commentary on her controversies did.

Why did Trump do that?  Because he saw his audience, and showed that audience a potential future (just as any Romance writer shows readers the potential Happily Ever After, leaving out the sleepless nights and smelly diaper changes.)

The 2016 Election has become notorious for being a low-turnout election, just over 50% of the voting age population voted, and made the decision for all the rest.

Again, though there are a third more people than in the 1960's in the USA, the number of people who know any one, given, thing about current events is smaller.

We are a fragmented society. 

Hillary Clinton tried to Unite this society using expensive mass marketing techniques  -- Donald Trump assessed the fragmentation and used it to his advantage using targeted marketing techniques (techniques that are still being invented and perfected.)

In other words, Trump played to his future audience as well as the present one.  He created a "classic" with his Election Campaign, a unique work of art that probably will never be copied.

So, what you as a fiction writer can learn from studying Donald Trump, is pragmatic marketing.

It wasn't Hillary Clinton's messaging that failed, but her assumption about the uniformity of America.  Trump and Clinton are of the same generation - he saw the change, she didn't.  We are a fragmented culture and each fragment has its unique taste.  No single medium reaches all the fragments.  As we have splintered over a century of technological change, so also will we unite over the next century.  Write for the audience of 2100, a united audience, but take into account that your current audience is an isolated fragment. 

Will one of the current fragments obliterate all the others, leaving only one fragment to dominate?  Or will all the fragments drop their unique signature brands, and unite via what they all have in common? 

Study how the 1800's and the Dime Novel turned into the 1900's and 300 Cable Channels, all with 24 hour programming.  Reverse that trend using the futurology we've been studying.

Take an Ideal Future -- such as Happily Ever After or Love Conquers All, the core themes of Romance Genre -- and sell it to the fragment of the current market that is hungry for it.

 So Kraith was written in a time when the TV audience was more unified, and still hits today's audience that is almost as fragmented as the world was before the Printing Press -- only today we have instant world wide communications (with Google Translate and subtitles!).  Nobody was predicting this social shift.  Will you predict the next swing of the pendulum?

If you guess correctly, work with a specific fragment of your audience, and that specific fragment's Brand becomes the Uniting Element among all our fragments -- then your fiction will be read a hundred years from now, and people will wonder how come it wasn't more popular back when.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Librarians Getting Cosy..., Copyright in 2017, More!

My subject line riffs off Jacqueline's title for her series, but my definition for the purposes of this copyright-related blog is the 1.3 version from the OED  "derogatory, informal (of a transaction or arrangement) beneficial to all those involved and possibly somewhat corrupt".

Librarians seem to be getting cosy with Silicon Valley behemoths.

The Trichordist makes an exquisitely strongly-worded case that the American Library Association and other library policy organizations have filed at least a dozen amicus briefs against the interests of authors and other artists, and on behalf of those who violate copyrights.

Well, maybe the f-bomb isn't exactly "exquisite"...

There seem to be a lot of exciting old stories that might or might not be heard by The Supremes (SCOTUS) this year. Fenwick & West LLP provide a round up of the top four.

Two involve music and video, two involve fair use, one pertains to fashion. I can count. "Fair Use" is a much-twisted fig leaf  for permissionless innovators, and a defense of last resort.

Not of exclusive or even particular interest to writers is the latest from the TCPA. Apparently there are class action lawsuits against those annoying telemarketers who send unwanted text messages to cellphones.

McCarter & English LLP explain the situation to would-be telemarketers who might fondly imagine that if a reluctant recipient of their texts asks them to "please desist" and their bots are set up to only desist if the recipient texts "STOP", they are in the clear to merrily continue sending text adverts.

Mayer Brown LLP has a fascinating analysis of the copyrightability of recipes. Many writers include recipes in their novels. I have, myself, but I use my own unique ingredients and even more idiosyncratic terminology for measuring and manipulating them.

Finally, for today, the Law Office of Joy R Butler gives advice to small and large business owners on whether to stream or not to stream streaming service music in public places.

The bottom line is important. If you are a copyright owner who protects your own copyrights, respect the copyrights of other artists, musicians and songwriters.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Living a Fuller Life in "Second Life"

Tom Boellstorff, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Irvine (one of my graduate schools), has written a book, COMING OF AGE IN SECOND LIFE, about his experiences doing fieldwork in the virtual world of Second Life. Here's a summary on Goodreads:


He has discovered that people with disabilities such as Parkinson's disease can enjoy full mobility in Second Life and do things impossible for them in their physical bodies:

Parkinson's in Virtual Reality

He resists the conventional assumption that what happens in a VR environment isn't "real." In an article in the UCI alumni magazine, he's quoted as saying, "Even in our physical world, not everything we do is real. And not everything we do online is unreal." For instance, we can lose, gain, or spend real money online. If we learn a language online, we're still learning. Emotions aroused by virtual experiences are genuine emotions. In the NEUROSCIENCE NEWS article linked above, Boellstorff says, "Virtual worlds are online places of culture that impact life in the physical world."

In Second Life, an architect and clothing designer who can no longer create their arts in the material world can do so virtually. Fran, an 88-year-old woman with Parkinson's, dances and practices tai chi online. She maintains that her "friends in Second Life are just as real as friends in real life." Amazingly, she found that her physical strength actually improved as a result of her activities in Second Life. Some scientists credit this phenomenon to mirror neurons, while others are dubious of this explanation, but Fran does seem to have derived concrete benefits from immersing herself in her avatar's experiences. Jadyn, who loved hiking but can't do it in the physical world anymore, created a virtual equivalent of Yosemite in Second Life. Boellstorff designed an island called Ethnographia, where visitors "use art and building tools to work through their difficulties." As he explains it, "Instead of writing about your experience, you can build your own experience."

As far as visual realism is concerned, avatars still fall into the Uncanny Valley, however. They look like dolls or, at best, obvious CGI characters, rather than live people. You can view a sample by Googling "Second Life avatar images." But no doubt this limitation will be overcome in time.

Living inside a virtual world is a frequent motif in science fiction. I can imagine a future in which severely disabled people might choose to spend most of their time in Second Life or a next-generation equivalent. If the technology improves enough, some people might even "move into" the virtual world permanently (with the care and upkeep of their bodies provided for, of course).

The current plot thread on the TV series MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD features a similar virtual environment built by the antagonist, called the Framework, so advanced that it feels in every way like the real world. The antagonist has captured a SHIELD member, placed her in a permanent coma, and imprisoned her mind in the Framework, where (according to him) she's perfectly happy. He has also lured one of SHIELD's potential allies to his side by promising her a life within the virtual world as an alternative to her terminal illness. The SHIELD genius who created the prototype of the Framework as a safe combat training environment agonizes over his unintended role in the villain's acts. Another character agrees with him, declaring, "The line between scientist and mad scientist is paper thin." While that statement runs counter to the optimistic, science-positive worldview of classic SF, the importance of anticipating consequences remains valid, and every new technology has both good and bad uses. Second Life may function as an "escape from reality" for some people but a portal to a more fulfilling life for others.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cozy Science Fiction Part 3 - Point of View by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Cozy Science Fiction
Part 3
Point of View
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

In Part 1, we challenged Brian Aldiss's definition of Cozy Catastrophe Science Fiction

In Part 2, we attempted to provide easy, objective ways to identify Style and Voice

Now, in Part 3 we return to Brian Aldiss's definition and agree with it a little bit.

For the most part, Romance Genre tends to avoid catastrophe of the planetary kind.  Of course, today, we have Global Warming to figure into any novel set in the next century or so.  And NASA is using the threat of giant asteroids striking Earth to bring awareness of their space program's importance (which I think is even more important than that).  Meanwhile, we also hear about Earthquakes and Super Volcanoes (California's "Big One" seems more likely every day.)  And all of this ignores the prospects of a global war rooted in religion or political power struggles.

So there are plenty of catastrophe scenarios dangling over our heads -- yet Romance abounds.

Science Fiction often deals with a collapse of civilization due to catastrophe -- in the 1950's, science fiction focused on destruction of Earth by atomic bomb.  That threat is back again.

So how do you write Science Fiction Romance without embedding your characters in so much catastrophe that they appear stupid if they ignore the world because they're suddenly in love?

As I pointed out in the previous two posts in this Cozy Science Fiction series, Gini Koch has answered this question with an ever escalating galactic invasion of Earth and Earth as a political football in some game being played by her version of E. E. Smith's Arisians.  Gini Koch's characters find love, fulfillment, and produce children while defending Earth very effectively.

This is a formula worked out in Hollywood during the popularity of World War II movies, and we've seen it used in Viet Nam War movies -- the TV Series M.A.S.H. had plenty of "cozy" relationships among the medical team where it was not even Romantic Love but sincere friendship.

Brian Aldiss observed of British science fiction - in the recent aftermath of World War II which pounded England to rubble in spots - that the tendency was to write about characters who were more aware of each other than they were of the collapse of civilization around them.

We've seen this in many U.S.A. writer's takes on how things would go here after a total collapse of services.  You either tell a tale of striving to survive or a tale of Love Conquers All - can't do both.

Now, why is that?

Maybe if you add Romance to Science Fiction, telling the tale of catastrophe conquered by Love is just exactly what Cozy Science Fiction is best at?

If you want to tell the tale of the catastrophe, you generally have to use many points of view.  The "hero" or "protagonist" is the catastrophe or the response of civilization to that catastrophe (politics may enter into it, as well as the Media.)

When you divide your 100,000 words of novel space into a plethora of points of view, you lose the space needed to reveal the internal psychology of a Character that makes them prone to derive this (or that) lesson from the Events of the Plot.

In other words, even though each point of view character has a story - the plot becomes so overwhelming that you have no space to tell the story inside the most interesting character.  In fact, you have to space to convince the reader that the character is interesting.

So if the Catastrophe and its consequences to Humanity is your Protagonist or Antagonist, you don't have space to reveal enough story to make the Plot convincing.  In other words, "cozy" requires a lot more wordage than "action."

If the Protagonist is "saving the world" - their attention is wholly on the gigantic, overwhelming threat, not on the inside of their own minds and feelings, which is where Story resides.  In other words, the novel is all plot and the story is left to the reader's imagination.  War stories and Action fiction require that structure.

Today's modern science fiction trends are starting to include Love Stories, and in some cases, Romance.

Here are some examples of Action Science Fiction, written by men for men, which include Love Story -- and a hint of Romance -- and thus show us the direction in which Cozy Science Fiction (with or without catastrophe) might yet take.  These novels are not, in any way, shape or form "Cozy" -- but they illustrate how point of view can be used to create Cozy Science Fiction that can sell to the mass market.

Mike Shepherd's series I've reviewed here is still broadening a story of Galactic War And Politics -- even Invasion By Alien Species included.

Here's #14 in the Kris Longknife series, BOLD:

This series is so popular, it has a spinnoff about one of the minor antagonists of the Kris Longknife series -- Vicky Peterwald (a princess kid just growing up learning to run a galactic empire).

 In both these novel series set in the same galactic-war universe, the protagonist and main point of view character is female, in charge of things, makes decisions that impel other Characters to do things and people to die, lives to regret and learn.  In both cases, this Protagonist Character is focused on the external Catastrophe, but does not ignore or neglect their love life and all the emotionally maturing lessons gained from it.

Note that this plot/story trick is possible only in a long series of long novels -- pay attention to how long the novels in Gini Koch's ALIEN series are, and compare to the more ordinary length of the Kris Longknife and Vicky Peterwald series novels.  The amount of "action" (fighting, space fleets maneuvering, politics) in Kris and Vicky's lives is emphasized more than the battle sequences in Gini Koch's novels.

One way to tie Characters to the Catastrophe (which they cause or avert or just suffer and survive) and still incorporate a cozy romance is to have a vast canvass and a lot of words is to feed the deciding Characters information from various farflung sources such as a spy network, a turncoat, hackers listening in to enemy communications, and the Media.

The Vast Canvass produces a lot of information during a catastrophe - as well as disinformation and just plain noise.  The writing techniques needed to keep this information stream both realistic and entertaining to the reader are the same techniques used in Mystery Genre -- Detective Fiction, Police Procedural, lucky amateur detective, and any Mystery subgenre.  It is a combination of active searching by the Protagonist and accidental discovery or incoming Media items where significance lies in the other information the Protagonist has.

If some of that incoming information shades, textures, explains or reveals details about the Romantic Interest, (maybe some embarrassing secrets, too), and if the Romantic Interest is involved in generating or averting the Catastrophe, you have a Love Conquers All novel in the making.

SAVE THE CAT! (the screenwriting book I keep referring you for clues about novel structure) warns us, "Keep The Press Out Of It."

But to tell a tale of catastrophe on a galactic size canvass, you need incoming information on developments far-far-away.  The main characters, Protagonist, Antagonist, Romantic Interest, will be choosing actions based on media reports that hear (or somehow do not hear, or get on their phone-alerts).

Writing contemporary or near-future settings today requires at least some of your characters to have the ALERTS enabled so they will be informed of local impending catastrophe (such as tornado, flood from a broken dam, etc.)

But to get those alerts, you need "location services" enabled so the alert knows where you are and gives you specific warnings.  Many techs advise against enabling location services (for good reasons!), so you may have some characters who get alerts and others who do not.

What a Character does (plot) depends a lot on what they know or don't know.  One major suspense technique using the "tight point of view" of just one character and what that character knows or does not know, is to let the reader know things their favorite protagonist does not know.  If you tease the information into the story at the right pace, the reader will be rooting for their Protagonist to find out the bit of information.

If the information is something that affects 'the public' -- such as "The Dam Broke! Run For High Ground!" or "There was a fatal 50 car pileup on I-5 half an hour ago just north of the Grapevine."  And the reader knows that the protagonist does not know that the romantic interest character was in that pileup.  "Location Services."

News media or social media, flash-mob, or opportunity to make $50 by carrying a protest sign in some march before media cameras, is information that a Character would use to determine an action.  All of this information may come to your single-point-of-view Protagonist via professional media sources (the New York Times) or via social media (Breaking News App, Snapchat).

So if the world starts falling apart around your Character's head, what does the Character do?  Check phone, Tweet?  Dash to the rescue of his brand new Romantic Interest?  Or maybe his ex-wife and kid?

Catastrophe and Romance seem utterly immiscible until you add Science Fiction.

Science Fiction is a kind of fiction-surfactant, a foaming, slippery soap that causes oil and water to mix easily.

This is also true of Paranormal, Fantasy, and all the sub-genres of science fiction.  With or without a catastrophe, the science fiction genres are all amenable to the "Cozy" treatment.

Here are two novels by Elise Hyatt

in Mass Market paperback from Berkley Prime Crime Mystery

-- which I reviewed here:

Elise Hyatt is a pen name -- when you adopt a distinctive "Styel or Voice" that is appropriate to one genre but not another - you need a pen name specific to that genre.

There are 3 novels in this series so far.  They illustrate how ugly, strange, twisted murder events can fit neatly, smoothly, warmly into a Cozy Mystery.

The style and voice are Cozy -- the world the protagonist is embedded in is challenging.  Other characters are inside the cozy warmth -- the nasty Events are outside.

The entire trick of taking an ugly, violent, sick-minded world and embedding a nice, clean, optimistic and bright Character into that world, producing a Cozy effect lies in how POINT OF VIEW is handled.

Point of View is one of the component elements in "Voice and Style" -- just as the worldbuilding is.

In our everyday reality, we can view our catastrophe-threatened world from one point of view or another.  Each point of view creates a different sort of atmosphere or impact, significance and meaning of the catastrophe.

Consider Star Trek's various Captains, but particularly Captain Kirk -- right in the midst of all plans going awry, of immense stakes in a game of pure chance, Kirk's attitude was bright, optimistic, zestful, even happy.  Jokes flew thicker in midst of disaster than at any other time.  That is not unrealistic.  It is how winners behave under pressure.

Kirk's point of view showed us a world that, though fraught with threats, was actually "Cozy."  Of course, he never really "got the girl" so broadcast Trek didn't qualify as Romance -- but it did spawn vast amounts of genuine Romance genre fanfic where Kirk, Spock and everyone else got a cozy love life.

To achieve the tight point of view that allows for Cozy stories, you set your 'camera' of the mind on the shoulder of a Character who sees opportunity where others see catastrophe.

It is that simple.  The single point of view narrative gives the most possible power to the "Cozy" dimension, sharing with the Reader a warm, smooth, easy, no-need-for-emotional-defenses approach to life, the universe and everything.

Take a huge, ugly threatening tsunami of Events destroying civilization, put a Character into that world who see, understands, comprehends, and fully credit's the destruction with all its due fear and awe, and tell the whole story through that single Character's eyes -- very tight point of view, not one single comment straying from it, -- and tell that story as a Cozy Science Fiction story.

Make the reader scared of the Events -- and assured of the Love Conquers All outcome.

If you can pull that Cozy effect off, you can motivate readers to approach their real life with more optimism, assurance, and even joy.  That kind of attitude toward handling grim realities attracts True Love.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 12, 2017

When Is An Infringer Not An Infringer?

You know the old riddle: "When is a door not a door?" "When it's ajar." (A jar).

For too long, Safe-Harbor-seeking "tech" companies --that rely on free money from exploiting copyright infringement by their often anonymous users-- have been protected by allegedly left-leaning Courts, and copyright owners have been frustrated.

Some of the allegedly ridiculously, maddeningly progressive judges have argued that a copyright owner can only make a case against the unknown and elusive copyright infringer who originally uploaded the copyright infringing material in question to the Internet. This (according to their alleged folly) would not include side-loaders, or persons who snagged illegal stuff from the Internet and then shared with others. It would not include downloaders. It would not include allegedly immoral or amoral idiots who firmly believe that "information" "wants" to be free and that anything on the Internet is "free to snag".

Moreover, some allegedly truly overreaching copyleftist judges have tried to suggest that beleaguered copyright owners need to prove that the copyright infringers knowingly and intentionally infringed copyright. Others of the same ilk, allegedly, would like to say that an infringer is only an infringer if a Court has found him (or her) to be an infringer.

Thank goodness the Second Circuit has more sense! It has found that copyright owners do not have to prove "unlawful intent" if they want to invoke the DMCA. The Second Circuit has found that "downloading" can be copyright infringement (and uploading can be copyright infringement).

As for repeat infringing...? Good sense and the plain words matter again. To be a "repeat infringer" one must "repeatedly" upload or download copyright infringing material...  (The Second Circuit added "for personal use". Hopefully, there in no loophole there for those who upload or download other people's copyrighted material for profit).

For a more moderately worded and legal analysis, please take a look at J. Alexander Lawrence's excellent blog under the aegis of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Not surprisingly, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Twitter are not happy with the Second Circuit's opinions in this matter.

Another blog article of interest is by Ulrika E. Mattsson of McDermott Will & Emery

And then, there is ebook lending.  Europe is more fair to authors than is the USA. The recent Directive states that the author (of an ebook) shall have the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit rentals and loans of their book(s).  However,  member states (in Europe) may derogate from that exclusive right in respect to the PUBLIC LENDING, providing that authors receive fair remuneration.

For more info, read the article by  Greenberg Traurig LLP

Unfortunately, as far as I know, authors in the USA do not get paid when sites that profit from ebook lending by virtue (??) of paid advertisements and Amazon affiliate commissions link up Amazon customers who wish to lend an ebook to a stranger (why???) with strangers who wish to borrow a particular title from a stranger instead of buying it or borrowing it from a public library.  I tell you, I fail to see how that sort of arrangement is in any way similar to handing a favorite paperback to a close friend because the lender suspects that the friend would never pick up that book for themselves.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

PS. Some writers do not know this, but if one is going to write something that might hurt someone else's feelings, it's a good idea to sprinkle "allegedly" liberally.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Writers Reading

Kameron Hurley's column in this month's LOCUS discusses how "crucial" it is for writers to be avid readers. (It doesn't seem to be available online yet.) Titled "If You Want to Level Up, Get Back to the Basics," this article focuses on "the basics" of what drew us into writing careers in the first place, a love for books. Hurley is "shocked" to "hear from other professional writers that they don't read anymore." I'm shocked, too; I had no idea this was a widespread phenomenon.

Some writers deliberately refrain from reading in their own genre to avoid being influenced by other authors' works. I see their point, but what about the opposite hazard? If you don't stay familiar with what your peers in your genre are producing, how can you be sure of not re-inventing the wheel? You might create a novel with a plot too similar to one published so recently that no editor will want yours. Furthermore, from my viewpoint, if you write in a particular genre, you must love it. If you love it, how can you NOT keep reading it? Also, in a sense the total body of work in any field comprises a conversation; every new article, story, or book responds to others that already exist. Don't you want to join the dialogue rather than working in isolation? (Consider how many vampire novels are homages to or subversions of DRACULA.)

Every interview I've come across with an author who doesn't read in her own field while working on a project, however, notes that she does read voraciously in other genres. Not to read at all, though? I'm astonished, not in a good way.

Hurley recommends reading widely for several reasons, one of them practical—"to stay on top of the field" for the sake of her own career. To keep advancing, she needs awareness of the state of the industry. Also, taking time "to study the novels of others" can help a writer break out of repeating her own mistakes by "writing the same book over and over." Writers can improve their own style and plot skills by analyzing the techniques used by authors they admire (as Jacqueline discussed last week). On a less tangible level, reading a great book can be "energizing" (and also sometimes "depressing" because of the "humbling" effect, but that reaction can inspire a writer to "level up" in her own work). Hurley highlights the importance of "getting back in touch with what you loved about reading in the first place" and reminds us that reading "teaches us empathy and fosters wonder."

What about the lament of many people that they don't have time to read? Hurley notes that "relentless engagement with media streams" ate up much of her reading time until she cut back on that activity. Even before the present widespread immersion in social media and Internet news, though, I often heard people claim they didn't have time to read. To me, that's like saying you don't have time to eat, have sex, sleep, or breathe. If you love reading, it's not a chore to fit into a schedule; you just do it. A while back I saw mention of an online "challenge" to read fifty books in a year. My immediate reaction was, "Good grief, that's less than a book a week." I typically read at least three books each week (depending on length, of course), since I always have two (or sometimes more) going at once. I read in waiting rooms, in vehicles when someone else is driving, on the exercise bike, at meals whenever I'm eating alone (most meals except for weekend dinners), in bed, and during commercials if watching a TV show "live" (also during most action scenes, which usually baffle me anyway). I take a book along almost every time I leave the house, just in case. Doesn't everybody?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Cozy Science Fiction Part 2 - Style and Voice by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Cozy Science Fiction
Part 2
Style and Voice
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Last week we introduced the concept of "Cozy" Science Fiction - a broad category to which Science Fiction Romance might belong.

I pointed at a series of Cozy Mysteries -- a mixture of Mystery and Romance with emphasis on Mystery, by Debra Burroughs, The Paradise Valley Mysteries.

These are very good reading!

Woven of the same, "What is really going on here?" plot dynamic is Gini Koch's Alien Series (read them all even though they are very long).

Both pit worthy heroic Protagonists against impossible odds in a bewildering situation with cross-currents of the emotional dynamics of human (and non-human) relationship.

And we ended up at an Israeli (English subtitles) TV Series, Srugim, which is essentially Prime Time Soap -- somewhat like the TV Series Dallas, but without the ultra-rich tycoon and morally questionable wheeling/dealing.

I postulated that while Brian Aldiss may have been correct about "Cozy Catastrophic Science Fiction" in British Science Fiction of the 1840's, he completely missed the vast potential of the "Cozy" concept in genre fiction.

Now we're going to delve deeper into defining exactly what "Voice" and "Style" really are and how to perfect your own.

Lately, you've seen the emergence of the Cozy Mystery via Amazon -- and if you are an inveterate mystery genre reader like I am, you notice a wonderful difference between your standard Detective or Amateur Sleuth or Police Procedural, open or closed form, and the "Cozy" mystery.

The difference is not the presence of sex or romance or even just Relationship.  The "Cozy" dimension is much more complex, and thus has vast potential because so many aspects of "Cozy" have not yet been fully explored in novels.

The advent (in 2014) of the surprise hit series, Srugim, illustrates that modern audiences are ready for "Cozy" to spin off sub-genres from every genre, including TV Soap.

Cozy is not the same as Intimate.  An Intimate Relationship is based on knowledge about each other that is not shared with anyone else -- in other words, on Privacy.  A Cozy Relationship requires the dimension of relaxation.  There might be Intimacy (with or without sex or romance), but there might not.  A Cozy feeling is a "warm" feeling, positive emotions flowing freely at the surface, such as approval, admiration, bonding.

Cozy implies no need to be defensive - so it is a "barriers down" or "unguarded" relationship.

"Unguarded" is the Relationship the writer of a Cozy variant tries to create between the Reader and the Characters.  There can be conflict, surprise, even shock, plot twists gallore, threats, and overwhelming odds, and the adventure can still be Cozy if the Reader can feel the Characters affirming the Reader's personal traits that the Reader admires most.  In other words, the Characters validate the Reader's Self.

The Cozy genres don't require the reader to hatch an ambition to become a 'better' person -- to be tougher, smarter, faster, more self-reliant, more heroic or dominating.

Any personal growth a Reader covets after a Cozy novel will come easily, without sweat and strain -- easy and natural.

So how does a writer induce this feeling of unguarded emotion in a Reader?

The technical mechanism that sets the tone of a novel is actually inside the details of things like word choice, syntax choice, pacing, sentence length, and the rest of the components of Style.  But Cozy is not just Style, but also "Voice."

A lot of beginning writer essays have been published about how urgently necessary it is for a beginning to "Find Your Voice."  These articles don't define Voice because, though every reader can hear it, few writers have any idea what Voice is or where it comes from.

It is often assumed that Voice is a property of the writer, personally, not a learned skill.

Well, just like a singer's training, a writer's Voice is innate and trained.  Within each range of Voice, there are levels of training to strengthen and project that Voice.

In learning to sing, "voice" exercises to strengthen the vocal cords start right at the beginning -- but after puberty.  During and before puberty - before maturity - the training is more about notes, scales, tempo.

It works that way with writers, too.  You start reading lots of novels, maybe in a lot of genres, and coming back to favorite authors or genres.  You start to sing your own song, maybe with fanfic, or poetry, or just recounting funny stories over the dinner table.  Many writers start by drawing pictures with crayons when they are maybe 5 years old - telling a story in pictures before they have the words.

Sometimes a writer has had several novels published before they "find their voice" -- because it does take practice, exercise.  Voices strengthen with time.

As with a singer, the writer's voice is formed of many components.  Each component has to mature and strengthen.

When the writer is ready to master their Voice and find the Style best suited to that Voice, there is an exercise that works.

It is very simple.  Go back to the youngest reading years, find (maybe in your own library, boxes in the back closet, books you kept all this time) the novels or stories you loved the most, re-read the most, reveled in the most.  Make a pile of books that gave you the feeling that you want your readers to garner from your work.

Style and Voice are very personal -- but just as with a singer, the difference between amateur and professional is the ability to de-personalize the skills.  If you are to give, you must give-up what you are giving.  Oddly, after you've given it, you end up having more, so it is not something to worry about.

So find copies of your favorite novels -- cheap reprints, copies you are willing to ruin.

If you can't acquire paper copies, you can use e-books because color-marking words is possible in the Kindle versions.

There are two parts to this exercise workout.

1) take 4 colored highlighters and mark each sentence, each word in your favorite novels with one of the 4 colors:  

A) Description
B) Dialogue
C) Narrative
E) Exposition

STYLE is the pattern that will emerge as you color in page after page.

2) Set the book up beside your keyboard and copy-type the whole book.  Keep your eyes on the printed words, and type them into your Word Processor.  Just type your favorite book.  (note you can't SELL this copy -- you have to destroy it once you're done -- but the objective is not to make a copy, but to connect your eyes, brain and fingers in a living rhythm, choice of words, sentence length, an intangible vibrancy.

VOICE is that vibrancy - that timber and tone that transports you into the fictional world.

Characterization, worldbuilding, plot, story, theme, and all the elements we've discussed as being part of what the writer's mind does before the idea for the story pops up, all combine to create STYLE and VOICE.

That's why it is not productive to start searching for your Voice before you've plumbed the depths of these component techniques.  A level of maturity and facility with handling yourself has to be achieved before Voice Training can produce commercial grade results.

Any child can SING -- in fact, infants sing!  But that's not the same as playing Carmen in the eponymous opera!

So if you have done these classic exercises of highlighting the components of sentences in your favorite books, and then copy-typing a few books, then when it is time to "find your Voice" or develop your Style, or perhaps change Voice and Style to launch a new byline in a new genre, you just do the exercise again.

If you are looking to create a new byline in a contrasting genre, you will use a different stack of books.

One way of identifying Voice is to contrast two different authors.  I recommend using Andre Norton's YA novels for one of the pair, and contrasting her novels with any other writer you are studying.

Voice will become instantly apparent when you compare against Andre Norton.

Here is one of my favorite novels by Andre Norton:

I read STAR RANGERS 16 times before I lost count, and reread just parts, trying to figure out how to get that effect.

I loved the book so much that on one visit to Andre Norton's home, I challenged her to write the sequel, but she insisted she didn't intend to do that and told me to write it myself.  That story is in the introduction dedication to the first novel in my Dushau Trilogy.  You can read it using Amazon's Look-Inside feature, or read the whole novel free on KindleUnlimited.
Dushau by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
With LOOKINSIDE -- click the look inside logo, then scroll UP to read the Dedication.

Use Amazon's "smile" feature to direct a few cents to your favorite charity without paying more for the Amazon product!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Good Take-Down (DMCA related)

This week, I had a most excellent experience of the Take-Down kind with Scribd.

A Google Alert  informed me (a daily occurrence) that one of my works had been uploaded to the internet for free distribution by a French-speaking user rejoicing in the improbable name of "treaczoyrossu(date redacted)".

The "(date redacted)" is minor editorializing on my part. To my knowledge, my works have never been lawfully translated into French or any other foreign language.

I followed the link to Scribd, and after establishing a good faith belief that my copyright was indeed being infringed, I discovered this page on the platform.

Below the blurb is a very easy, mostly pre-populated form for copyright owners to use. It was quick, simple, and effective. Within a few hours, the page was down. If your work is being shared without your permission on Scribd, use the site. Don't bother paying any of the pirate hunters.

The Copyright Alliance would like you to share your experiences with Take-Downs and Bad Actors.

Please complete the Copyright Alliance survey no later than February 17, 2017.

It's a "Survey Monkey" survey; they known when you have done it (even if you switch on your PVA and try to do it again from a different part of the world... I know that, not because I was trying to cheat/troll but because I wanted a good link to post for you all, rather than a "you've-done-this-survey" link.)

And now for the "Good Catches" of the week, aka other interesting blogs and articles you might enjoy, if you are not watching sports today:

Artist as underdog

The Accountability of Web Platforms

More on Accountability

On the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch and his significance for authors, the Authors Guild opined guardedly in a recent newsletter. Judge Gorsuch "is more likely to interpret the copyright law, including DMCA provisions dealing with online piracy, in accordance with their plain meaning (whereas many courts in recent years have stretched the provisions far beyond their plain meaning in order to protect technology platforms)..."

The newletter was mailed to Authors Guild members. I cannot find it online, but there were invitations to forward the entire newsletter to others, or to "share" it on Facebook.

Some stock advice from very savvy musicians:

Spotify: (Two intriguing stories, one mentioning a $200,000,000 class action lawsuit)


And, my take on the following article is that it looks like the Copyright Office, funded by the American taxpayer, is being used to facilitate copyright infringement on a massive scale.

Final reminder:

Take the DMCA Survey Here

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism (or Zoomorphism)

Sapient animals in fiction and film range all the way from creatures that live and act like their real-life counterparts but communicate with language among themselves, as in BAMBI (the book, not the Disney movie, which anthropomorphizes the characters a bit more) and WATERSHIP DOWN (in which the rabbits have myths and legends as well as speech) to what a friend of mine calls "zoomorphic humans," characters who look like animals but for all intents and purposes are human, as in the Arthur cartoons and the Berenstain Bear series.

TV Tropes has a page exploring this range:

Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism

The creatures in MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH behave much like "normal" animals and birds, aside from the intelligent rats whose human-like minds are explained by the scientific experiments performed on them. The animals in the Narnia series present a special case, since most of them are natural beasts like the animals in our own world, but the "talking animals," uplifted by Aslan, interact as equals with human characters and sometimes wear clothes and use technology. The animals of the all-animal Redwall world behave like people but retain some of their species traits, especially the conflicts between prey and predators (almost all of whom are portrayed as villains). ZOOTOPIA, set in another world with civilized animals and no human beings, makes a conscientious effort to "show their work" as far as species traits are concerned, including drawing the various types of creatures more or less to scale. And, of course, the fraught relationship between predators and prey is central to the plot. The animated stuffed toys of the Winnie the Pooh series act in most respects like people but with some token nods to their animal natures, such as Owl living in a tree and Rabbit in a burrow. The animals of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS occupy roughly the same level. They live in a world where none of the human characters seem surprised to meet what C. S. Lewis called "dressed animals." Snoopy in the "Peanuts" series began as fairly doglike and gradually became more anthropomorphic. The Disney cartoons present the odd situation of some "animals" being essentially zoomorphic humans, such as human-sized Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, while others—e.g., Pluto, who's smaller than his master, the "mouse"!—are simply animals. Chip and Dale, the chipmunks, lead a natural tree-rodent lifestyle but seem able to understand and speak the language of the more anthropomorphic characters.

What does an author gain by portraying almost-human characters as animals? In the highly didactic Berenstain Bears stories, the characters' ursine appearance and names probably offer the "spoonful of sugar" needed to make the "medicine" of the lessons go down easily with the target audience. Child readers can enjoy being taught through stories because of the distancing effect of the animal guise (as well as the light, humorous approach to most of the problems). In the GET FUZZY comic strip, the dog and cat behave like unruly children rather than pets, even more so than the comparable characters in GARFIELD (which at least act canine and feline part of the time). The cat, Bucky, is even expected to clean his own litter box. The dog, Satchel, appears to be mentally challenged. Bucky is downright sociopathic in his disregard for the rights and feelings of others, especially Satchel. If these creatures were human children, the family would be in therapy. By drawing them as pets owned by a put-upon bachelor, the cartoonist can pass off the strip as humor. (As you may guess, I find it more unpleasant than funny.) Similarly, classic cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny can get away with actions that wouldn't be accepted as funny from human actors, because Donald and Bugs are nominally animals.

C. S. Lewis addresses this question in regard to THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. He suggests that making the characters animals allows the author to give them the incompatible freedoms of both adults and children. Mole, Rat, and Toad (who's more anthropomorphized than the others) enjoy complete independence, like adults, but they're free to "play" all the time with no need to work for a living, like small children.

When animal characters have any degree of human-like intelligence and personality, they satisfy one of the desires often fulfilled by extraterrestrial aliens—they let us imagine interaction with nonhuman people. As Tolkien says, animals are like foreign countries with which humanity has broken off relations; we yearn to connect with them.

Speaking of animals, happy Groundhog Day (aka Candlemas)!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cozy Science Fiction Part 1 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Cozy Science Fiction
Part 1
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

You all know the genre sub-division called Cozy Mystery.  I've been reading a lot of those lately, and enjoying the amateur detective/Romance genre blend. 

Here is a gorgeous example of a Cozy Romantic Mystery series.  

This is by the justly famous writer, Debra Burroughs.  

And boy are these great novels!  Fabulous series. Highly recommended.

The Paradise Mystery series starts with the lead Character, Emily Parker, facing life after her husband is murdered.  Beset by financial ruin and major trauma, she takes over her late husband's private detective business -- and begins to unfold, unwrap, delve into, and discover layer upon layer of "my world was never what it seemed to be."  She deemed herself "happy" -- and now finds what she thought her life was actually was only a thin, brittle facade.  She becomes a scientist of sorts, insistently researching the truth of the matter of her husband's death (and many other mysteries).  

So this series starts with a life catastrophe of the main character, but the world around her is stable.  The world is not what she thought it was, but it holds still while she figures out what is really going on.

"What is really going on..." is the main theme of the Alien Series by Gini Koch.  I've just finished reading her ALIEN NATION:

I find these two series, while very different, have a similar feel to them.
In the Paradise Valley Mysteries, the main Character's world has fallen apart leaving a shattered mess of apparently disconnected mysteries preventing her from building a new life.
In Gini Koch's Alien Series, the main Character Kitty finds "love at first sight" practically on the first page of book 1, and that love sucks her into situation after situation that is not what it seems, though the catastrophe she must avert each time is very real, and very destructive.  
Story is always about the point in a life's arc where things go wrong, go badly, go strangely, or just go to pieces.  Take Bilbo Baggins -- nice, stable, safe life until magical adventure comes calling.  Where the conflicting elements meet is where the story and the plot begin.  And sometimes your biggest conflict is with an ally.
So science fiction, often about combat or war, very commonly starts or contains a catastrophe.  

Here is a quote from a website page about Cozy Catastrophe Science Fiction:

What is Cosy Catastrophe Science Fiction?

The Cosy Catastrophe, or Cozy Catastrophe depending on where you learned English, is a narrowly defined sub-genre that was hugely popular in the 1950s and 60s, especially in Britain. The term was first used by Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, describing John Wyndham's books: “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”

More generally, Cosy Catastrophe features an upheaval that significantly changes the world, usually many many people die, but the event itself is rather short lived and the characters in the story don't dwell on it. The world itself is an everyday sort of world, it's familiar (and therefore “cosy”), it's even sometimes a bit of a retreat—a new life where you get to quit your day job and steal luxury cars. The world may be falling apart, but you can still enjoy a cup of tea and rejoice in the fact that you don't have to deal with your boss on Monday.

-----end quote----------

I cheerfully disagree with Brian Aldiss whose scholarship and fiction writing are impeccably British and unquestionably the foundation of the science fiction field.

I also disliked John Wyndham's novels -- not because they were badly done, but because they do not depict the essential realities of the world that I see.  

My disagreements with the 1940's founders of science fiction are mostly a matter of taste.  I see Aliens as potential Romantic Interest -- and maybe more than just interest.

And so while these great men have established the field of science fiction, and while I grew up reading their work, I see the world as energized by love, and driven toward union and family.  A stable world arises from stable love.  

"Happily Ever After" is one form of stability.  

So I see a market for science fiction where the Characters are fully engaged in their world, as Debra Burroughs and Gini Koch both depict.  Catastrophe may come to a Character's personal life, or to the world they live in, but in every instance the real story happens when the Character dives into the Catastrophe and sets things right again by doing the Impossible, thus changing the definition of Possible.

Where the Characters' actions affect their world, and where love conquers all (not where love retreats from all)  is where Science Fiction, Mystery, and Romance genres come together.

Not all science fiction plots contain a catastrophe - though that is a sub-genre that becomes popular in bleak times - but all science fiction contains a mystery and a voyage of discovery, an adventure outside ordinary life or what the Character has considered to be ordinary even if it is not.  Kitty, Gini Koch's main character, is always greeting the bizarre, unreal, monstrous challenges as "routine."  That is the attitude of the Science Fiction Character -- strange is normal.

This Brian Aldiss definition of Cozy Catastrophe Science Fiction does describe a popular, extant genre.  But here, on Alien Romance, we can explore the Literature of Ideas where the Idea we write about is Love Conquers All and the Idea that Happily Ever After is possible, even perhaps inevitable.

Mystery has always been a sister-genre to science fiction aiming at the same target audience.  Mystery and Science Fiction both appeal to people who love to think, puzzle, analyze, and play games with the writer to see if they can figure out the solution to the question the writer is posing before the Characters do.

In Mystery, it may be "who-dun-it" or maybe "why-dun-it" or a jousting match between detective (professional or amateur) and a criminal (mastermind or less).  Gini Koch does create marvelous Criminal Masterminds! 

In Science Fiction, it may be "how can we do this" or "how did "they" do that?" or "that's impossible -- unless..."

Science is all about mystery - about following clues and unraveling the tangle of Natural Law to make sense of reality.  And Mystery solving uses the scientific method.  

Fiction is all about people -- human or not -- who have problems they regard as formidable.  

The writer's job in fiction is to convince the reader that the Character's problems actually are formidable -- and pose the question, "What would you do in her place?"

In Romance, the question the writer poses is narrower, but because of the narrow focus (this guy or that one? This woman or that one? This spouse or none? Where is the path to happily ever after, behind door one or door two?) the issues Romance deals with are vastly more complicated, more complex, more nebulous and more urgent.  

Mystery, Science Fiction, Westerns, and Fantasy or Paranormal Romance are all "fiction" first.  

To have a story, you must have a Character who is living through events that impact the Character's sense of identity.  As the Character changes Identity to adapt to his/her new reality, the Character is said to "Arc."  Traits mature, but don't change or disappear.  A Nag will continue to Nag -- but about different things.  A Complainer will continue to Complain - but more effectively and efficiently.  

The "genre" label appropriate for any given Character's story depends in large part on the target market - on the group of Readers who buy that story, enjoy it, and look for more like it.  Remember, Hollywood and Publishing are always looking for "the same but different."  That's how genre develops.

Right across all the genres, Mystery, Science Fiction, Westerns, Thrillers, International Intrigue, and Fantasy/Paranormal, we see how the Character's initial idea of their identity changes under the impact of discovering that what they thought was so is in fact not-so. 

This discombobulation, consternation, cognitive dissonance element does not appear in all Best Sellers, or Literature that is not considered "genre."  A lot of people do not find it fun or amusing to be confused or disabused of their certainties.  Science Fiction readers love that feeling - "Oh, was I wrong, or what!"  Or they love to watch other people be astonished.  You see this in the Romance genre, too.  

For example, the "confirmed bachelor" who is convinced Romance is imaginary and he'll never marry is ripe for a "Love At First Sight" experience.  And the woman he "sees" is very likely also self-sufficient and settled into a career that has no place for "him."  The two collide with fireworks.  

As they re-arrange their self-images, they must re-arrange their lives, create a "we" out of "me."  

The thing with Romance is that it deals with Happiness -- or maybe just the pursuit of happiness.  The Romance master theme is "Bonding With Your Soul-Mate Leads To Happily Ever After."  

In the favorite, best selling theme structures of Romance genre you find implicit assumptions that The Soul is real -- that humans are more than animal bodies -- and that "Happiness" has to include some satisfaction on the Soul Level Of Existence as well as physical comfort.  When you leave the Soul Mate element out of the worldbuilding, you end up with soft porn, not Romance.  

One theme is that a woman must have a fulfilling career -- a sequence of positions in life which, when traveled through, produce Soul Satisfaction.  That's a "theme" as we have discussed exhaustively.  

An alternative theme would be that female humans do not have souls.  Or that if they do, being female means careers can not satisfy their souls.  Any anti-feminist statement you find outrageous enough to write about will do for a theme. 

If you're writing Science Fiction Romance, the worldbuilding would then include Aliens who a) have no souls, b)have souls and don't know it, c) have different sorts of souls, d) are reincarnated human souls either rewarded or punished for behavior when human by being reincarnated as this type of Alien.  

"What if ...?" Souls are real?  The reality of Souls is a thematic premise. It can be treated as Paranormal Romance, or nuts and bolts science fiction.

"What if ...?"  Souls are created by God, creates one branch of themes -- and another "Souls are not created by God because there is no God," creates another branch of themes.  

We saw "Souls Exist But Not Created By God" handled very well in The Flicker Men, which I reviewed here. 
 I reviewed this is some depth here:
THE FLICKER MEN is a brilliant science based presentation of the concept "soul is real,"  a must read for Romance writers - mostly because it is not Romance.
Another way to find a readership to target is to study TV Series that flash to popularity then disappear without being copied.  Usually, several such TV Series will appear and vanish before one genre-bender like Star Trek comes along.  

Watching TV for the presentation of what you might term The Romance Problem (how do you sell the Happily Ever After premise to those who can't accept it?) can be instructive.

I stumbled upon such an odd TV Series on Amazon Prime last year.  Puzzling over why I liked it, I decided it was Cozy Science Fiction (not catastrophic).  

It is about a group of unmarried twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who have substantial education and careers -- men and women alike, formidable people.  These are the sorts of people who make great Science Fiction heroes.  

Their adventures are "cozy" in that they don't involve space battles, explosions, destruction derbies, or fight-for-your-life situations at the core of their adventures.

Their trying, angst-focusing adventures are into the land of speed dating, coffee dating, dress up dating, or just trying to find someone to date.  At first, they are not looking so much for Romance as they are for someone to marry and settle down with.  

The TV Series is called Srugim, a Hebrew word meaning crochet or knit, the kind of stitching used to make an Israeli yarmulke.  The show is in Hebrew with English subtitles.  
When I was in college, I used to spend a lot of time in the campus theater where they showed foreign films in various languages, often without subtitles.  I loved it.  Today I watch streaming!  

So we in the USA have this foreign made TV Series, aimed at a foreign audience. Can you imagine a richer research environment for the Alien Romance writer?

You've seen the Cozy Mystery burst onto the scene, and decades ago Brian Aldiss defined the Cozy Catastrophe Science Fiction as being about people ignoring a catastrophe around them.  Romance often does that -- vanquishes the real world for a time.  

Maybe it is time for the Cozy Science Fiction genre to blossom, and I think the documented popularity of this TV Series import, Srugim, is indicative of how ripe the USA audience is for this type of show.  Yet, there aren't that many imitators easily found.

Here is an article about this HIT TV SERIES - that just vanished without spawning a genre (yet).

... Accurate portrayals of Orthodox Jews in American films or on television are hard to come by. Good female characters are especially rare, usually appearing onscreen as either oppressed or unnaturally saintly (see “A Price Above Rubies,” “A Stranger Among Us”.)

But “Srugim” (written and directed by Laizy Shapira, himself an observant Jew) comes with complex female characters who have commitment issues, religious struggles, and romantic baggage (a lot of romantic baggage). Modern Orthodox young, single professionals can finally see themselves on onscreen. Although created by a man, the show is especially good at portraying the female characters’ complicated relationships with their tradition.

In the first episode of the series, Reut, the high-powered accountant, is seen both dumping a suitor who is uncomfortable with her salary and reciting Friday night Kiddush to the amazement of the men at the Shabbat table. While openly feminist, Reut is constantly being drawn to what she sees as a more normative Orthodox lifestyle. When she pretends to be married to another character in order to help him keep his job, she outwardly mocks her “fake homemaker” identity but inwardly is wistful.
----------end quote------

Do read this article with an eye to how it portrays the life and struggles of a human woman swept away to an Alien Planet, trying to find a stable identity.

Srugim is a TV Series about contemporary human beings in their workaday world, but illustrates just how to create an Alien Romance novel.  Still, it was a surprise "hit" and even bigger surprise that it is popular in the USA, too.  "They," the professional purveyors of entertainment, have no idea what they are dealing with when they touch our field.  

You may still be able to find this TV Series on Amazon Prime:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg