Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where Expert Romance Writers Fail

I often hang out at chats on twitter, especially those frequented by writers and fiction readers/viewers.

#scifichat is held at mid-day on Fridays (Eastern Time) and goes for 2 hours. Near the end of #scifichat on June 4th, 2010, the moderator asked the 7th of the 8 Questions in the format:

@scifichat #scifichat Q7: Can we envision a day when all disabilities are overcome? Utopia, or dystopia? #disability #progress #scifi #fantasy #books 12:31 PM Jun 4th via API

@PennyAsh Q7 I would say dystopia is more likely #scifichat 12:34 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

All my inner alarm bells went off reading @PennyAsh's comment. She's a Romance Writer. She thinks dystopia is more likely.

I've found that she and I share a lot of interests in common, books, TV shows. She's been writing fantasy romance, vampires, steam punk, and other SF/F stories. She's well trained in how to cast a story into a plot line.

Yet, the moderator's question during a discussion of Disabilities in SF triggered a lazy reversion to a non-thinking, non-SF, non-imaginative answer.

True, in the reality we live in, dystopia seems to be the norm, and "more likely."

But this is #scifichat and that means it's about science fiction and fantasy and imagination.

The point of reading the literature of the fantastic is to learn to think "outside the box" - to break through cultural blinders -- to contemplate the impossible, the improbable, the unthinkable, the "unlikely" -- and to use those thoughts to change the world in such a way that those limits don't exist anymore.

In the 1950's, if you thought humans would actually walk on Earth's Moon, you were considered somewhere near the edge of sanity. Your opinion on everything else was automatically discounted. What was known to be impossible, was indeed impossible because it was known to be impossible (and disabled people were not treated well at all.)

In the 1960's - the decade of the first Star Trek TV series - not only was the idea that we could walk on the moon now considered possible and even do-able, but the idea that anything was actually impossible became suspect!

The 1970's was an era when even unfettered male dominance of everything important could be changed.

Science Fiction has been defined by an attitude, a "Sense of Wonder" that is deeply rooted in a philosophy that says:

What Humans Can Imagine; Humans Can Do

And the corollary is true. If you can't imagine it, you can't do it.

Science Fiction led the way out of the 1950's into a Golden Age for SF where more and more titles sold more and more copies - where real SF finally came to TV (not kiddie fare, and not comedy like My Favorite Martian, but Real SF like Star Trek).

The teens who grew up on SF novels that acknowledged no limits to the imagination, created the Internet, the World Wide Web, and many generations of computer chips, to wireless networks, and on and on into massive connectivity, not to mention GPS and Satellite weather reports (if you don't remember the 1950's, you don't appreciate today's weather reporting at all).

All that progress turned on just one tiny bit of philosophy.

If you've been reading my blogs here, you know that I place an inordinate emphasis on Philosophy.

Philosophy is far more important in human personal existence, cultural existence, societal existence and even the existence of our entire technological Civilization, than most people can imagine.

Writers, however, all have to be world class philosophers.

The entire art and craft of worldbuilding, and the whole power of the writer's knack of sucking a reader into a world not their own, rests on artistic manipulation of philosophy.

Philosophy turns up in every nook and cranny of a story, but dominates the THEME component.

There is one philosophical point that is the prime signature of the SF Genre, and it is bedrock basic to Romance Genre as well.

It's a very simple point, which means it's far more profound than most people would ever want to believe. Very personal.

It cuts to the quick. It twangs the heartstrings. It makes life worth while. It scares the shit out of most humans, so they won't think about it. I just said it above - do you remember or did you skip it?

What Humans Can Imagine; Humans Can Do

And the corollary. If you can't imagine it, you can't do it.

Now how does this apply to both SF and Romance?

Look at Star Trek: The Original Series. Captain Kirk was the only one to graduate the Academy having passed the Kobiyashi Maru exam.

How he did that is revealed. He cheated. He saw it was a no-win scenario, held in his heart the absolute conviction that there is no such thing as a no-win scenario, and he CHANGED THE RULES (hacked the computer and changed the program) so he could win.

That incident so defines Star Trek as PURE SF (despite all the compromises necessary to get it onto prime time TV where SF was totally disallowed) that the incident is recounted in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

In the movie, produced forty years after the first TV show, we see the young Kirk of an alternate universe rig the computer simulator and win the Kobiyashi Maru test.

It is made clear this is an alternate universe, so they could have just said this Kirk never cheated to win his commission. But they kept that incident intact because it defines the character. All Kirks in all universes think this way because it defines Kirk, and defines Star Trek as SF.

"Kirk" is the essence of science fiction because he does not accept limits on what is possible. If necessary, he'll change the structure of reality itself to actualize what he imagines.

Think hard about that attitude.

It's a very powerful philosophy, but it's also very dangerous. Scary.

Think about it, and see if it isn't the essence of what makes humans human, and that very essence is what scares (terrifies) many people, possibly to the point of being disabled in the ability to Love.

From the caveman inventing the wheel (which was independently invented, I think three times in different parts of the world) to some college students and professors inventing the internet -- just for fun, just to play computer games they programmed, toying with the stuff they worked on seriously in their day-jobs -- humans refuse to accept "impossible" for very long.

Now, think about the core essence of Romance.

Essentially, Romance is the pathway or open doorway to HAPPILY EVER AFTER, the HEA ending. You can't get to HEA without going through Romance.

What's the point of all the heart-rending, harrowing, emotional roller coaster plot if it does NOT produce an HEA ending?

Any sensible person will tell you that the HEA ending is a ridiculous cliche because in "real" life, it's impossible. Because! It's ridiculous because it's impossible.

Ho-ho!

We have found a juncture, a point of identity between SF and Romance as genres.

Both kinds of stories must end at achieving the IMPOSSIBLE -- and thereby changing the very definition of what is possible.

Once "the impossible" has been achieved, it becomes possible, and the boundaries that circumscribe our mental lives must expand to include this new achievement.

Philosophically, SF and Romance are identical.

So why is Romance still unworthy of vast public respect?

See my blog entry (also based on a Twitter conversation - this one on #scriptchat )
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-do-they-despise-romance.html

Read the comments on that blog entry and you'll find a comment about the HEA ending.

Note that if it's true that both SF and Romance must generate endings that violate the absolute boundaries of consensus reality, then the two genres are not now and never have been separate genres.

So there's no such thing as SFR.

You can't "mix" genres that are already identical.

If you mix two things that are identical, you end up with more of that one thing.

So SF has "proved itself" by having moved the boundaries of reality for many people now living. So they accept this new reality of iphones and thus most SF no longer seems ridiculous or crazy.

But apparently, no such "proof" yet exists for Romance.

Well, look at the state of the Family in the USA (maybe worldwide). Divorce is commonplace, over 50% in some demographics. And a famous couple ostensible happy for 40 years just announced a separation.

"Falling in Love" has led to bitter disappointment for many who married because of a romantic experience.

In their reality, there is no such thing as HEA.

And they've convinced all their friends and family there's no such thing as an HEA.

Anyone who believes there is such a thing as an HEA in real life is as "crazy" as those idiots in 1950 who kept writing stories about humans walking on other planets.

So, why do people accept "hard evidence" (the divorce rate) to "prove" their belief that something is impossible?

Hard evidence showed that people could not go into space because there was no material that could withstand the forces required to climb out of the gravity well of Earth. Not only that, but hard calculations showed clearly there was no fuel that could provide the thrust. The whole idea was stupid because it's impossible to do it.

So a generation got to work and produced materials and fuel, and political backing to get funding -- and we did it. We did the impossible. We did what had only been imagined by crazy people.

Do people today perhaps think that imagining the internet and making the Web happen is just about the Web, and not about human imagination?

Do they think the change in "reality" was just a fluke? Now we just adjust to a new reality, and it'll never change again -- certainly not as a result of crazy people imagining stuff?

Do they think "reality" is now fixed and you just have to live with it -- even if they are Star Trek fans, even Kirk fans?

How do people get such fixed notions about what is possible?

Do you suppose it's inculcated by the fiction they imbibe in youth?

And where does that fiction come from?

Writers.

We have a whole new generation of writers (and their near-cousins, editors) trying to find a way to make a living within the rules set down by a publishing industry now suddenly owned and operated by big corporations who think publishing should make a profit. (it never has in human history, but they're determined to do the impossible)

Therefore, in their pursuit of the impossibility of a profitable publishing industry, they have laid down the law about what is or is not possible in the fiction they've published.

Writers, accordingly, are trained by their editors to produce fiction that conforms to those rules of what is possible.

It's not so much the rules themselves that are sacred, but the entire attitude of conforming that has become untouchable.

I was astonished to run into that hard, fast, shiny, impenetrable barrier on (of all places!) #scifichat on twitter -- the one high-tech playground where one would suppose the philosophy of the internet founders (imagine the impossible; do it) would hold sway.

Of course the 140 character limit on twitter is not my native mode of expression, but I did my best and still had a hard time breaking a mental barrier composed of *EPIC FAIL* of writerly imagination.

You want to figure out why Romance doesn't get the respect it deserves as a genre - read this exchange I accidentally started in answer to @PennyAsh's comment on dystopia being more likely.

Think about the "impossible" HEA, where the HEA is a type of "Utopia" and think about how and why general readers reject all of romance because of the HEA while fans of romance read it because of the HEA.

Should we shrug and wall ourselves off into our own little corner of the universe? Or should we analyze what's really going on?

I had no intention probing for data to analyze when I made the following casual remark in answer @PennyAsh's response to the moderator's question about dystopia and utopia.

And I suspect few on #scifichat were thinking what I was thinking when I made this remark -- that the inability to "love," to fall in love, or to experience ROMANCE, is actually a very serious handicap, a disability of the most crippling kind. I said:

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat Frankly I'm more for utopia as a VISION -- but it's not the utopia that fails but the envisioner.

This started a long-long exchange with several people -- none of whom apparenly understood what I had meant (in 140 characters) by failure of the envisioner. All of these answers are (to me) clearly confined within a tiny box created by our culture's assumptions which must not be challenged.

So @MoonWolf95 commented back at me:

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg One man's Utopia is another man's Nine Hells #scifichat

to which @PennyAsh answered

@PennyAsh @MoonWolf95 I agree, in a utopia we do not grow #scifichat

My hair stood on end. Writer's *EPIC FAIL* of imagination! How in the world can you discuss such abstract philosophical matters in 140 character bursts? So I said:

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat Naturally I disagree - at point of UTOPIA we actually finally START TO GROW (species infancy now) STARGATE ASCENSION
12:43 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg exactly, human nature will out. #scifichat
12:44 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat utopia concept - think Lensman Series, Arisians, visualization of the macrocosmic all. A utopia does growth starts
12:44 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

The next question was dropped in by the moderator:

@scifichat #scifichat Q8: Can cybernetic interfaces be a #disability themselves? #scifi #cyberpunk #computers #robot #science
12:45 PM Jun 4th via API

I thought that was the end of that exchange on Utopia. Nope.

@GeneDoucette #scifichat Utopia for ALL would A: be boring, B: be impossible to believe. Utopia for some at the cost of many would be more believable.
12:46 PM Jun 4th via web

Gene Ducette is a writer I'm going to be reading soon. David Rozansky answered my comment.

@DavidRozansky @JLichtenberg Brave New World? #scifichat
12:45 PM Jun 4th via TweetGrid in reply to JLichtenberg

So I'm thinking the Romance genre HEA really is saying "you can have this too" - i.e. Utopia for all. Boring? Impossible to believe? Enforced like BRAVE NEW WORLD?

*EPIC FAIL* of writerly imagination. How to explain that in 140 characters? And I'm talking to the smartest, most imaginative people around. How could this be happening?

Another writer/artist I'd just met last week, @MoonWolf95 adds:

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg One man's Utopia is another man's Nine Hells #scifichat
12:43 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@MoonWolf95, as @PennyAsh, likes the same books, authors, TV, that I do.

So @PennyAsh answers:

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Utopia makes a wonderful vision problem is there's always someone who wants to enforce their vision on all #scifichat
12:47 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

And I'm thinking, "No, not in a real Utopia there isn't." But that's unimaginable, unthinkable, and probably unpublishable, right?

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 @PennyAsh #scifichat "1's utopia; another's hell" - see, that's failure of writer's imagination! Stuck in past.
12:47 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

While the whole discussion veered into the next question and topic, I was stuck on this Utopia vision problem.

@JLichtenberg #scifichat 2 create NEW SF take unchallenged ancient truth and CHALLENGE IT (1 man's utopia; another's Hell)
12:48 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

Remember, every post of mine goes to maybe 1200 people who aren't "listening" to #scifichat and so have no clue what I'm talking about. So I often RT (retweet) the comment I'm answering AND try to include the nucleus of the comment in my comment so it makes sense "out of the blue" to someone not interested in SF. Most of my followers are interested in writing and the whole entertainment industry from creation to business model.

So I said:

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat But what if NOBODY wanted to force their vision on others? THAT is essence of an SF question. WHAT IF...?
12:49 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg We need things to overcome otherwise we stagnate. It's a catch 22, utopia achieved breeds dissatisfaction #scifichat
12:49 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg The cycle starts all over again #scifichat
12:49 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

David Rozandky caught up with this side-chatter while main discussion went on with Disabilities and technology.

@DavidRozansky @JLichtenberg So Utopia, like myopia, is a vision disabiltiy. #scifichat
12:49 PM Jun 4th via TweetGrid in reply to JLichtenberg

And another writer chimed in answering me:

@madpoet @JLichtenberg I wouldn't call that a failure of writer's imagination. I'd call it an acknowledgment of human nature. @PennyAsh #scifichat
12:49 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

But I was busy answering David Rozansky:

@JLichtenberg @DavidRozansky #scifichat Yes, a "vision disability" afflicts our readers, and SF writers job is to open their eyes to unthinkable possib
12:51 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to DavidRozansky

To which @PennyAsh replied:

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg I'll have to ponder this more :) might fit in my Frankenstein story #scifichat
12:51 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

And I finally saw and responded to @madpoet

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat the whole point of SF/F is to NOT ACKNOWLEDGE LIMITS OF HUMAN NATURE - go where no man/person has gone b4
12:51 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

And another writer chimed in (side-topic kept exploding)

@teresajusino @JLichtenberg #scifichat Not an ancient truth about SF so much as a truth about human nature. & yes, you can ignore that in SF, but why?
12:50 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

Why!!??? Ignore???? Oh, no, no -- but how to answer that?

@JLichtenberg @teresajusino #scifichat no, not "ignore" human nature, QUESTION OUR CONVICTION ABOUT WHAT IT IS. Always question!
12:52 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to teresajusino

And to @PennyAsh I finally answered:

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat Yes, it's definitely a Frankietein archetype challenge
12:52 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@GeneDoucette @JLichtenberg I think I'd like a definition of "utopia" before going on. #scifichat
12:53 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

The rest of the folks had been discussing disabilities created by technology, so I connected the two threads of discussion thusly:

@JLichtenberg #scifichat disability created by science - the scholarly conviction that we KNOW human nature
12:53 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

Again I was challenging the entire concept of "the impossible" being set up by academics, experts, or "everyone knows."

Meanwhile MoonWolf95 has been thinking hard:

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg But human nature can be considered a disability by itself too? #scifichat
12:53 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

But I was busy answering @GeneDoucette

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat tweet-size defn of utopia is opp of dystopia, I'd guess
12:54 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

@madpoet is still pursuing another line of thought and everyone's talking at once:

@madpoet @JLichtenberg Then we're no longer writing about humans at all. One branch of SF is the exploration of human reaction to the new. #scifichat
12:54 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@DavidRozansky @MoonWolf95 That's flawed thinking, don't you think? #scifichat
12:54 PM Jun 4th via TweetGrid in reply to MoonWolf95

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 #scifichat human "nature" could be a LIMITATION which say, soul-spirit could fight to overcome. ESSENCE OF STORY IS CONFLICT
12:55 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@GeneDoucette @JLichtenberg because if it's a variant of "everyone's happy and content" well... #scifichat
12:55 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

David Rozansky makes a brilliant remark

@DavidRozansky Utopia is world of no problems. Impossible to reach, yet we as humans always progress to solving problems. Paradox? #scifichat
12:55 PM Jun 4th via TweetGrid

@PennyAsh RT @JLichtenberg: @MoonWolf95 I see it more as a cycle moving society to the next level, either up or down #scifichat
12:56 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

And I finally got back to @madpoet

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat this chat was about how disability is treated in SF/F which means not limited to "humans" no?
12:56 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

@PennyAsh @MoonWolf95 Resistance to change and stagnation #scifichat
12:56 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Absolutely or what if no one wanted to rebel? What if no one wants to have a revolution? #scifichat
12:58 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@MoonWolf95 @PennyAsh Oddly I finished a convo w/char in that very position this morning. #scifichat
12:58 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to PennyAsh

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat well, yes, "what if" there's no conflict -- crippled writer thinks "but must have; so can't be true" -- but WHAT IF???
12:59 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

I was trying to jar everyone out of their writerly training (that I'd participated in drumming into them) - THERE MUST BE CONFLICT and there is a very short menu of where to find conflict.

I was trying to get them to imagine Utopia and some serious thinking was going on in some minds.

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg I have my romance theme for Frankenstein, this will give a nice framework #scifichat
1:00 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

I was grinning as I answered @GeneDoucette

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat I disagree. Utopia doesn't have to be boring. Can be huge challenges, projects, things to learn, levels to master
1:01 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

The moderator calls TIME! And I was way, way behind by this point.

@scifichat Tweet! That's the official end of #scifichat. But feel free to keep the conversation going.
1:01 PM Jun 4th via API

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat I got onto Utopia just being my usual abrasive, contrary, disagreeable self. Whatever "everyone" knows is untrue!
1:02 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg If you know this, by your own logic it too must be untrue :) #scifichat 1:03 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

Oho! I seem to have gotten a point across in 140 characters or less!

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 #scifichat precisely - now you're getting it!
1:04 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

But, no, not yet as Gene has been thinking like a well trained writer who carefully stays within publishable bounds:

@Gene Doucette @JLichtenberg but where is your conflict? Heroes are nominally non-conformists. #scifichat
1:05 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat mtlitudinous conflicts in utopia - think ARISIANS vs. BOSKONE
1:07 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Almost makes me want to write a utopian story :) #scifichat
1:08 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

Oho- SUCCESS! @PennyAsh is getting my point - thousands of novels about dystopia, not much about utopia except ones that reveal the flaw and destroy the Utopia or show it up for a sham. Utopia is Virgin territory (you should excuse the pun) for SF writers!

@madpoet @JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette Hang on - Boskone was a utopia? #scifichat
1:08 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

I do love talking to people who have read the books I've read!

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat -- no Arisians had evolved to a point where their lives were utopian (from our POV, not theirs)
1:10 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg My to be written list is getting longer #scifichat
1:11 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg There's another good utopia/dystopia question, who's pov are we in? #scifichat
1:11 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

I also love talking to writers - whose point of view indeed! Love it!

@madpoet @JLichtenberg weren't they secretly manipulating humanity to develop the children of the lens? #scifichat
1:12 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat Yes, Arisians bred human (and other) Lensmen to combat Boskone which ALSO manip'd human history 1:13 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

@GeneDoucette @MoonWolf95 Fair enuf. I find utopian societies inherently unrealistic, and so tend to look for proof of dystopian underpinnings #scifichat
1:14 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to MoonWolf95

@MoonWolf95 @GeneDoucette To be honest, I think a Utopian society would implode from within naturally #scifichat
1:15 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to GeneDoucette

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat yes, and idea human nature is unchangeable and inescapable is preconceived idea
1:15 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@MoonWolf95 @GeneDoucette But it comes back around to the potential causes, both of Utopia and its fall #scifichat
1:16 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to GeneDoucette

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat a real disability would be the 1 human whose "nature" was NOT what we learn in Lit classes frm Shakespear etc
1:16 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg Enough so that whatever breaks out of the cycle of human nature by definition will no longer be "human" #scifichat
1:17 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Good point :) How about utopia from the pov of those unhappy with it #scifichat
1:17 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@GeneDoucette @MoonWolf95 yes. Being discontent is an important aspect of being human. Either human and not utopian, or vice versa. #scifichat
1:17 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to MoonWolf95

Now earlier, discussing how to pitch novels @GeneDoucette had answered something I said with this comment:

@GeneDoucette @JLichtenberg ..I did that when I started with "okay, my narrator is a 60,000 y/o man." But I HATE the delimiting nature of genre #scifichat

"hate the delimiting nature of genre" - you all know where I stand on that, but I didn't have any time to open that topic with @GeneDoucette. His comment stuck in my mind, but I mis-remembered and attributed it to @madpoet so addressed this comment to @madpoet.

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #scifichat U dislike "genre delimiters" so I led U OUTof a limit U didn't know U were in (I'm so mean)
1:19 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

Then I went back to bugging @MoonWolf95 (who didn't deserve it)

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 #scifichat Well, are we so parochial that whatever breaks out of cycle of human history is so OTHER to be non-human?
1:20 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Yes, not "normal" to be dissatisfied with your society/situation #scifichat
1:20 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg To be honest - yes. Look at MacCaffrey's "Pegasus", or X-Men comix #scifichat
1:21 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat POV of those unhappy with utopia - THAT is failure of imagination
1:22 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg So far yep :) Still pondering :) #scifichat
1:23 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat "old us vs. them question" -- precisely my point OLD QUESTION. We need NEW QUESTION.
1:24 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

Of course I was thinking of a Romance genre new question. But others were finally thinking.

@madpoet @JLichtenberg Would it be fair to say that the Utopians would regard that unhappiness as a disability? #BringinItBackAround #scifichat
1:24 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg "We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us" - us vs us question :) #scifichat
1:25 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @madpoet #BringinItBackAround #scifichat in a routine ho-hum SF story, Utopians wld regard unhappiness as disability.
1:25 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to madpoet

And more writers thinking hard-hard-HARD.

@Agiliste @JLichtenberg: @PennyAsh #scifichat "old us vs. them question" -- New Question: What if THEM is the way to go. Rampant individualism?
1:26 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@MoonWolf95 So what if a Utopian considered their world/life to not be Utopia and it should go further? #scifichat
1:26 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 #scifichat "us vs. us" also been done to death and studied by academics. Give them something they can't understand
1:26 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg The WHAT IFs are beginning to come together... #scifichat
1:26 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @Agiliste #scifichat "What if THEM is the way to go?" now Ur thinking SF/F!!! Don't stop thinking. Say what has never been said.
1:27 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to Agiliste

@PennyAsh I like it RT @Agiliste: @JLichtenberg: @PennyAsh #scifichat New Question: What if THEM is the way to go. Rampant individualism?
1:28 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

@GeneDoucette @MoonWolf95 Fair enuf. I find utopian societies inherently unrealistic, and so tend to look for proof of dystopian underpinnings #scifichat
1:14 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to MoonWolf95

@MoonWolf95 @PennyAsh That's what we *do* at the end of the day - we play "What if?" with the Universe. Better than dice :) #scifichat
1:28 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to PennyAsh

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat YOU GOT IT - U find utopia unrealistic. NOW write what would convince U you're wrong
1:29 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg Here's a WHAT IF: Utopia has achieved immortality. What if you don't want to live forever? #scifichat
1:30 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 @GeneDoucette #scifichat MoonWolf shld then write what would PREVENT utopia from imploding, see my point?
1:30 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@JLichtenberg @PennyAsh #scifichat "what if you don't want to live forever" -- that is routine, grind the crank, writer-ly thinking. Find a NEW QUESTION
1:31 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to PennyAsh

@GeneDoucette @MoonWolf95 yes. Being discontent is an important aspect of being human. Either human and not utopian, or vice versa. #scifichat
1:17 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to MoonWolf95

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat what if human nature changed so that discontent was NOT necessarily integral (it is now - show us NEW)
1:32 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg You'd only end up with a paradox discovery - anything you do to preserve Utopia only hastens its collapse :) #scifichat
1:33 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @MoonWolf95 #scifichat SF thinking means to CHALLENGE that wall in Ur mind saying "only leads to collapse"
1:34 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to MoonWolf95

@DavidRozansky @JLichtenberg Human trait of needing to search for new things is vital part of us. So seeking unobtainable utopia is...utopia. #scifichat
1:35 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@GeneDoucette @JLichtenberg Now that's a nice writing exercise. #scifichat "NOW write what would convince U you're wrong"
1:35 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg The crank is grinding :) have a fledgeling plot in mind #scifichat
1:36 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@Agiliste RT @JLichtenberg: @Agiliste #scifichat now Ur thinking SF/F!!! << The voices in my head are suggesting that may head towards Mad Max...
1:37 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

@JLichtenberg @GeneDoucette #scifichat having new horizons could be utopia -- but WHAT IF UTOPIA IS ACTUALLY ATTAINABLE?
1:38 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to GeneDoucette

@GeneDoucette @JLichtenberg I think the Talking Heads said it best: "heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." #scifichat
1:38 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to JLichtenberg

@JLichtenberg @DavidRozansky #scifichat Here's a heretical thought - suppose our world 2day is actually utopia for humans? (been done, I think)
1:39 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to DavidRozansky

@MoonWolf95 @JLichtenberg Utopia is what you decide it is for you. The rest of the world can go find its own :) #scifichat
1:39 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat in reply to JLichtenberg

@DavidRozansky Can't wait to put #Dystopia on the list for #scifichat topics.
1:41 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

@MoonWolf95 *wonders if @JLichtenberg is a clone of Jubal Harsaw* *grins* #scifichat
1:42 PM Jun 4th via TweetChat

(no, actually I'm just mean and relentless when I get into a writing brainstorming session)

@PennyAsh So does Utopia = Happy and Dystopia = Unhappy? Methinks not :) #scifichat
1:44 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck

@johndejordy Utopia is attainable for the individual, not a group because everyone's concept of what it might be differs. #scifichat
1:44 PM Jun 4th via web

@PennyAsh @johndejordy But what if it is attainable for a group? #scifichat
1:48 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to johndejordy

@PennyAsh @JLichtenberg So, what if the only people granted immortality are lifers. The general public isn't allowed it #scifichat
1:51 PM Jun 4th via TweetDeck in reply to JLichtenberg

@johndejordy That is why I say utopia would be for the individual. Mine would is simplistic, to live without any physical pain - and ice cream #scifichat
1:57 PM Jun 4th via web

We were all posting so hot and heavy that twitter blocked us out of posting more. The chat only went an hour or so beyond the stopping time!

Look over that discussion substituting "HEA" for Utopia.

As noted in the comments to my blog post on "Why Do "They" Hate Romance?"
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-do-they-despise-romance.html

--- the world out there puts the HEA outside of the bounds of the possible. HEA is impossible just like Utopia.

Even the most imaginative SF writers can't encompass the basic concept. How could you expect their readers to approach it?

Worse, it's not just the HEA concept that's outside the bounds of thinkable thoughts -- it's the very idea of thinking outside the bounds of the thinkable that's unthinkable.

Reverse your point of view to looking at the SFR field from the side of the Romance writer, and you'll find exactly the same problem.

The romance writer imagination *Epic Fail* comes in trying to imagine the world WITHOUT the HEA -- and at the same time can't even think of the possibility of a technological advance (an SF postulate) that might challenge or involve the HEA concept.

We can mash in the Horror genre with Romance and SF if we begin to think about the reason that the general readership rejects the HEA (it's implausible).

"What if ..." the inability to fall in love, to experience Romance, to navigate that blurry mental state into the safe haven of an HEA life (for real) using the force of Love is actually a very widespread inability.

"What if ..." a huge portion of today's people are suffering from this disability - a disability so widespread that it's considered the norm?

If that were the case, what could fiction writers do about it?

We'd have a big job ahead of us.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

14 comments:

  1. In his novel ISLAND, Aldous Huxley creates a true utopia (rather than a dystopia disguised as utopia like BRAVE NEW WORLD) in which people are happy and fulfilled. It contains many of the same elements as the society of BRAVE NEW WORLD, but used in a more humane way, without violating personal freedom and stifling growth. In ISLAND, the utopia is destroyed from outside -- the expansionist, technological "first world" discovers and invades this remote island at the end of the book.

    The description of the island's society and worldview is quite entertaining, especially its origin: It was founded by a Scottish philosopher and an Asian mystic.

    Similarly, the isolated culture of hermaphrodites in Sturgeon's VENUS PLUS X seems to be perfectly happy within itself but is threatened by an outsider who views their sexuality as obscene.

    I have to admit it's hard to imagine how a novel about a utopia with no threats at all (inner OR outer) could read like more than a political tract, e.g., Edward Bellamy's LOOKING BACKWARD, a late 19th-century novel I really enjoyed. The storyline consists of the visitor from the 19th century learning about life in the late 20th (as Bellamy envisioned it -- I only WISH we were there yet). Similarly, in Heinlein's early book, not published until recently, the present-day protagonist arrives in a future utopia, and the only conflict is between his outmoded 20th-century prejudices (he wants his wife to be sexually faithful -- horrors!) and the future society's much more advanced ideals (as Heinlein sees them).

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  2. Dystopias would include 1984, Brave New World, The Time Machine, Mad Max... Terminator!

    If there are humans in the world, IMHO, it's not going to be utopia, even if there are no disabilities.

    Was Stepford a utopia for the husbands? How about for the wives?

    I must read Sir Thomas Moore's book. Just checking quickly, I notice a chapter "Of Their Slaves and Of Their Marriages."

    Is Utopia "utopia" for the slaves?

    We hold that slavery is unconscionable. If the contribution of slaves is essential to the existence of Utopia then, I suppose, the "slaves" must be robots.

    Yet, more and more we see sf writers wrestle with the issue of what happens if artificial intelligence becomes sentient.

    Maybe I'm off topic, because what person of compassion would not wish away all disabilities. How would one do that, though?

    Would it require genetic engineering? Selective breeding? Compulsory harvesting of organs and body parts? Death panels? Forced abortions? Forced sterilizations?

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  3. Margaret:

    Ah, yes, but Huxley's island is destroyed from outside - doomed by it's nature, and that's a thematic statement.

    This is one of those issues worth wrestling with, and there are many novels that have yet to be written discussing it.

    And I can see Rowena has already given it some thought.

    Isn't it interesting that those who focus on ROMANCE as a real and useful part of our world find Dystopia and Utopia so fascinating that lists of books about them roll easily off the fingertips?

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  4. This conversation really got me thinking. I will admit my answer was from the non-writer me. The conversation that followed did give me insight on two story ideas I've had rattling around for awile. Now I just need to write them.

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  5. Penny:

    Well, great! That is exactly the effect I strive most for in this blog, to goose the imagination into overdrive, then stand back and admire the mushroom cloud.

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  6. One of the (few) things I disliked about Star Trek was its utopian POV. Many years ago I was in discussion at a con about which vision of the future people felt was more likely, and my response was "Blade Runner".

    And this was as a kid!

    So I find my conflicts within a dystopian universe-view, because they (to me) are more realistic - and at the same time are ones that I can more accurately relate to.

    But that doesn't mean they can't be considered utopian, or even HEA.

    When I was pace-writing for a NaNo group a few years back, I ended up writing Outsider: Epiphany (No, don't look for it, it's not publishable).

    In it, there were some rather astonishing deaths of characters that no-one (including myself!) expected to die.

    Not what you'd consider a HEA story, but for me it was, because of how the the story reached that ending.

    The ending was HEA in many ways because it was the culmination of every goal and struggle in the story on the way.

    Denying those deaths would have been to deny the characters involved the results of their dreams.

    That probably doesn't make any sense, but I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who manages to find Epiphany.

    And, yes, I'm weird :)

    I think that one thing everyone can take away from the chat is that utopia and dystopia aren't necessarily opposite sides of the same coin - their subjective nature makes them at times almost indistinguishable from each other.

    As part of writing though, it *seems*, it's hard to recreate that sort of blurring in one place, you usually have to specifically separate them out and make the line clear bright and shining.

    And I still think you channel Jubal - but I for one am not complaining :)

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  7. To me this is the beauty of science fiction, an author can explore any topic no matter how uncomfortable it may be. And someday I'm going to write that science fiction romance novel I have in the back of my mind where there is no HEA or even an HFN and that touches on some uncomfortable topics.

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  8. @PennyAsh @Moonwolf:
    In general, SF is the right format for the most uncomfortable topics. Add humor, and you can go even further outside the box.

    But the most serious caveat is that the more uncomfortable the topic, the more skills the writer must have mastered long ago.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote TWO TO CONQUER only very late in her career. Rape was a topic near and dear to her soul, an outrage she felt few really understood. She explained it. But it was the first book in a long time that she had to rip apart and rewrite several times. Very possibly, only her reputation let her get that book into print.

    Massive skills, and total mastery of them, is necessary for "uncomfortable" topics.

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  9. @JLichtenberg Which is why I haven't written this story, I don't think I have the skills necessary to write the story the way it needs to be written. Yet.

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  10. For some reason, this reminds me of something I read about when they were putting together STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION.

    It was time to cast Captain Picard and Gene Roddenberry wanted Patrick Stewart. Someone pointed out that Stewart was bald and, therefore, wouldn't be appealing in some way, wouldn't be sexy or something, and that by the 24th centry baldness would be cured anyway.

    Gene replied that a cure for baldness wasn't the point. The point was that by the 24th century no one will care about baldness anymore.

    Now I look back on how Patrick Stewart managed since then.

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  11. Rowena: There are those people with disabilities who do not wish to be rid of their disabilities...look at some very vocal members of the autistic community, for example.

    Why would anyone choose to remain autistic? The salient point that many of these autistics raise is that autism is so intertwined with what makes them who or what they are that they don't want to lose that part of themselves. Get rid of some of the difficulties they face--yes. But the perspectives and the worldview which autism gives them--no.

    That is why I have such a difficulty reading any story about people with autism--I've yet to find a portrayal that incorporates that point of view. Most of it is the "smiling through the tears" perspective which is an outsider's patronizing view of the whole thing. Even Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark has the protag give up his disability in order to attain something he truly wants.

    (Am I going to write the story I want to write? Yes, someday. If someone else doesn't already do it. I already have a positive ADHD character but it's not a major plot point in the story I'm writing)

    Jacqueline, I really, really like this post. I think you're on to something here. I think a good utopian story might be about the person who doesn't fit into a utopian world--and NOT from the perspective that Utopia is really dystopian. Thinking about it.

    Meanwhile, I think one of the limitations of our current perspective on HEA is that HEA is assumed to be without conflict. No. HEA will have conflict--but it resolves as the characters solve their problems yet continue to remain solidly together against the cruel world that keeps trying to break them apart. Like in Linnea's stories....

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  12. Joyce:

    Hey, I think you are getting hold of my point by the sharp end!

    Yes, SF asks the loony questions such as "What if a "dis"-ability is actually not any such thing? What would it be instead?"

    "An advantage" is the routine, grind the crank, writerly answer.

    SF breaks through that barrier around our thinking to frame the impossible thought.

    So get a hold on "an integral part of what makes me myself" and run on beyond even that stage of thinking. Then you'll have an SF story that'll plot itself.

    And now to the important illustration of my point. You have grasped that beyond the HEA "ending" lies the story of bonded-partnership that solves problems instead of compromising or agreeing to disagree or yielding to the power of another.

    Peace doesn't mean "I win; you lose; do what I say without argument." That's just the interval between wars.

    But our SOCIETY doesn't know any other model, any other concept, any other idea, any other mode of living life. "Negotiation" is a form of warfare where you get what you negotiate not what you deserve.

    As long as that attitude commands all subconscious emotional positioning in a relationship, human society is stuck.

    Creative artists are the point-persons in cracking through that invisible barrier, creating something new.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  13. KimberAn:

    Picard ended up the heart-throb of a generation.

    What I liked was the choice of a mature man to be Captain - a man of the age that a major ship's captain would be.

    Contrasting that with Kirk who was "the youngest" and did things everyone in the audience knew would have gotten him cashiered, even when they turned out well, we find Next Gen easier to "get into".

    But you know what? Riker captured a whole other segment of the female population! The pair of them made that show work.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  14. Harriett Mitten12:45 PM EDT

    Thanks for this post. Brings Brave New World to mind though I know that there are romance books with similar themes.

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