Thursday, December 30, 2010

Video Christmas Gifts

My favorite Christmas presents are the first two seasons of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY on DVD. Of course, I'm a fan of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, especially the under-appreciated season of one-hour episodes. NIGHT GALLERY, however, surpassed the earlier series in one way by including so many adaptations of classic and pulp-era horror stories: "Silent Snow, Secret Snow"; H. P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model"; Manly Wade Wellman's vampire tale "The Devil Is Not Mocked" among others (in seasons one and two alone). I can't fathom why the other seasons haven't been offered on DVD but only in VHS tape "collector's editions" not arranged by season (none of those being sold new anymore, naturally). Still, I'm thrilled to have these first two boxed sets. How different from the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, before home video, when all fans could do was wait and hope for reruns of their favorite shows. Now we can have most of them for the asking. Almost magic!

Also on the subject of holiday movie treats, I saw the film of VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, which I found much more satisfactory, from the viewpoint of a Narnia devotee, than PRINCE CASPIAN. In brief, the visual effects in DAWN TREADER are dazzling, as in all the movies, and I didn't mind the shuffling around of the order of the incidents too much, since the original novel is episodic to begin with. The BBC home video adaptation from many years ago, however, follows the book much more faithfully. It also includes much of the novel's dialogue that the movie omits, although the film does include Aslan's comment to Lucy and Edmund about his having "another name" in our world, unaccountably left out of the BBC version. Yes, I know movies and books are different media, etc., etc., but I'm a book person at heart; my ideal Narnia movie would have the big-screen effects combined with the plot fidelity of the older videos.

Happy New Year! (And, as Col. Potter says in one episode of MASH, "may she be a durn sight better than the last one.")

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Flintstones Vs. The Lone Ranger

I've discussed the massive shift in the Romance Relationship Icon in this post about the novel TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN, contrasted with the film FACE OFF and the TV show Scarecrow and Mrs. King:

Now we get down to creating the next new universal icon of this era we're in now.

Screenwriting courses discuss methods for creating "catch phrases" (like, "Make My Day" and "You and what army?" or "Oh, boy!")

Creating icons likewise is half random inspiration (subconscious digestion of myriads of details) and half perspiration.

Part of the trick is just having the right Natal Chart relative to the natal chart positions of the broader audience you're targeting, as I've discussed in my series on Astrology Just For Writers (which doesn't require you to learn much astrology):

And this one where I list the Pluto positions by "generation."

Practice is how you get to Carnegie Hall (a joke punch-line that's become a catch phrase and then a cliche!)

So to create a new icon that will speak to your target audience in subconscious symbolism as the cover of TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN contrasted with the poster from the film FACE OFF shows, you must practice. You must do your "scales" like any musician.

Writing is a performing art, as I was taught by Alma Hill. Practice, practice, practice does not mean write whole stories for the trash can. It means do what musicians do, limber up the mind by doing your scales, THEN tackle whole pieces, but in sections. For a story, that means you do worldbuilding, characterization, plot, story, all the elements SEPARATELY until you can do it smoothly, then start blending one with the other, with the other etc. until you are doing whole stories.

Here is such an exercise on creating an icon taken as a separate skill.

That blog post is a challenge to get you to create your own cultural icon like The Flintstones by using this critical bullet-pointed breakdown of the philosophy behind the show:

You also need to read the comments on that article about The Flintstones where readers note the origins of the parody and take-offs. Not that you don't already know the ingredients in The Flintstons, but that you need to understand what the commenters knew and didn't know in the context of how they liked (or didn't like) The Flintstones. Then ponder that even those who hated the show, or never watched, have an opinion all these years later. That's the result of the ICONIZATION of a cultural principle, or abstraction, in a cartoon character.

Now, after you've doodled up a new icon of your own based on The Flintstones analysis, you can't stop. You're doing scales, remember?

So you might want to consider some even older examples of such an iconic creation to add to your source-material mix, and then add a more modern incarnation, then shake don't stir.

By contrasting and comparing at least 3 cultural icons, reverse engineering them, and spicing your result up with SFR or PNR, you may just hit it lucky. But you will certainly increase your skill, and perhaps add a 4th or 5th to your mix, and eventually meld it all into a vivid image that will work.

I've been incessantly and obsessively exploring the question of why the "general public" shuns Romance as if it reeks of old socks and rotten dog food. The objective of the exploration is to get around that dislike in order to explain why the Happily Ever After ending and the Love Conquers All theme are not only plausible but the inevitable outcome of life.

Heather Massey contributed to that discussion here:

In this exercise of creating icons, writers should reach deep into the past -- maybe as far back as 39,000 BCE as in my post here on December 21, 2010
about the book, Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE. And then extrapolate into the far future.

Also remember that to write about the future for a current audience, you have to translate the icons of that future into the iconic language (subconscious symbolism) of the current audience.

So let's look at the anatomy of an icon: the comic strip, radio show, TV show, feature film, franchise known as THE LONE RANGER. (click the graphics at the top of the page for more details if you're unfamiliar with the Lone Ranger story).

The link above to the Creed of the Lone Ranger is interesting not so much for the content of the Creed (though I have many thoughts about the content), but for the EXISTENCE of such a formal document -- it was a foundation document created by the originator of the show to guide the many writers. There was also a set of Guidelines for the writers which you can find laid out neatly on Wikipedia.

The Lone Ranger was a KIDDIE SHOW -- why did it have a formal philosophy?

Kids have no formal training in the artistic cohesiveness necessary to elevate a story to classic status. Do they? Why-why-why????

Also note another old radio kiddie show exploiting this philosophical popularity, a show I loved to bits and pieces. -- read the opening oration to the radio show Straight Arrow in the white box on this page.

The Lone Ranger and Superman (also include a study of Superman among your icons) were great favorites of the adults who became Star Trek Fans, and that's no accident.

Gene Roddenberry built the foundation of the Star Trek franchise from the cutting edge of cultural philosophy of the 1960's, but it was rooted in 1930's radio shows of adventure. I don't recall The Lone Ranger being among Gene Roddenberry's favorites, but I don't know any Star Trek fan who was old enough to remember The Lone Ranger who wasn't already a Lone Ranger fan long before Star Trek.

These iconic fictional figures all hit the same cultural chord, harmonizing with either the idealism or wish-fulfillment fantasy of the times. Or perhaps they reach beyond the troubles of their times to archetypal solutions to those troubles.

We live in such troubled times now. There's a niche in our fictional universe for such icons. Superheros abound and scientific explanations for their transcendent abilities are now being used in graphic novels, on TV and film.

Do you need to invent another superhero to be the Hunk in your PNR or SFR universe?

I don't think so. I think the "superhero" is an artifact of the cultural ambiance that gave rise these kiddie shows. It's all about the audience. You have to pull your material out of the audience's subconscious.

I think the next, huge, iconic success will be created by someone who goes to where the "superhero" came from and generates something that the people of today desperately need and want, but can't name or identify for themselves.

It's not "superhero" but something new. Spock has been named a new archetype because he was the heroic egghead (a term considered an oxymoron prior to Star Trek), the smart guy who was respected for his intelligence not despised for it (because before Star Trek intelligence made you different and different was shunned).

Spock became the Alienated Hero who was really alien. He made intelligence "cool" because he wasn't human. Today TV shows always have a resident geek who can hack any computer or solve any science problem. That's the Spock archetype manifesting into subsequent fiction. (and yes there's a reason most Spock fans were originally Sherlock Holmes fans. One of the first Star Trek fanzines, T-Negative named after Spock's blood type, was published by a Baker Street Irregular.)

This next icon we are seeking will have to pull off another reversal like that, only this time in Relationships.

That's the secret to becoming a popular writer. Lay your talent at the feet of people who need to say something about their problems, but just don't have the words. Create words that express their hearts, but not "on the nose" as they say in screenwriting. Express their hearts in subtext, in theme and symbolism, in philosophy and Creed.

I covered the issue of "What Does She See In Him" (the core question in any Romance) here:

If this new Icon image constructed from The Flintstones and The Lone Ranger, perhaps with a dash of Star Trek thrown in, is going to elevate Romance Genre to the kind of "cool" that Spock gave to smarts, it's going to take the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle trick I pulled off with my first novel, House of Zeor.

In House of Zeor, now called Book I in the "Sime~Gen Series" (it's not a series, but a Universe, however the publisher's terminology rules, and Sime~Gen now has a new publisher.  Here's the newest edition of this novel, which will be in e-book forms (Kindle, Nook, etc) in 2011

House of Zeor: Sime~Gen, Book One (Sime Gen)       )

 the point of view character, the person whose story is being told, is not the Hero. In fact the real story being told is what's going on inside the other person, not the point of view person. It's all seen from the outside and deduced by guesses, then by a series of tangible experiences. By the end of the book, the reader knows the POV character's story (Hugh's story), but FEELS the story of the other character (Klyd).

Where did I get the technique other than from Marion Zimmer Bradley and Andre Norton?

House of Zeor's Hugh and Klyd pair predates Star Trek by a decade.

I got the literary technique from the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Superman and Lois Lane, The Cisco Kid and Poncho, -- all these singular icons come in character-pairs. (all of which have classical ancestry hundreds if not thousands of years old.)

Every philosophical "creed" can be illustrated by such icons. The icons are composed of a matched-set, pair-bonded by some force currently being disrupted in the society that elevates that icon to immortality.

That is the icon itself is ONE thing. That thing is the PAIR.

The Lone Ranger is not an icon. The Lone Ranger and Tonto is an icon.

Spock is not an icon. Spock and Kirk is an icon.

Romance is all about that pair bonding, or at least the potential for pair bonding.

Now why is that?

Lots of theological systems will talk about the dichotomies of the fundamental universe, and even the divine or eternal triumvirates or quadruplicities.

The universe around us is factored into elements set into dynamic tensions that (we hope) balance out. But at any given time in human history, the dynamism dominates because the elements are jigged out of balance.

Here is a list of posts where I discuss that fundamental philosophy in terms of Tarot and Astrology, but you can use whatever esoterica you know to generate your new icon.

Each of those posts contains links to previous posts all on philosophy presented in a form that writers can use immediately to create icons such as I'm describing here with The Flintstones and The Lone Ranger Creed.

You see, you didn't waste your time reading them as I posted them. Now you have a use for all that knowledge.

Note that I've made the point elsewhere that applying the maxim "Write What You Know" means do your research today for whatever you may be writing years from now.

To be able to create smoothly with any material, you need to learn it, forget it (that is, sink it into the subconscious), and then create with it without consciously knowing where you got the material or what you're saying with it. That's called "art" and writing is a performing art.

That's where the new icon will come from: the subconscious of a writer whose subconscious is connected to the deepest currents of society at this time.


Remember what I learned from Alma Hill, "Writing is a performing art."  That means the objective is not to produce one perfect iconic performance, but to produce PERFORMANCES to order, on demand with apparent effortlessness. (apparent, mind you)  That takes practice.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 26, 2010

SFR Holiday Blitz: Marcella Burnard's 2010 Book List

I’m Marcella Burnard and as part of the Holiday Blitz over at The Galaxy Express, I’m stepping in to bribe you into giving up your 2010 top pick SFR reads. No taking without giving, however!

This is the bribe for two winners.
Below you’ll find my 2010 reading list and the few books I consider the top options. When I ran through my list, I realized the number of books I’d read was pathetic. I’ll attribute it to the fact that I was desperately trying to get my own book finished and to the editor in something resembling a timely fashion. E-books are noticeably absent from my reading list. There’s not a one. Yes. Even though I claim to be a geek, I resisted buying into the e-reader market because I wanted access to loads and loads of nonfiction science books. The first e-reader incarnations didn’t have much of a nonfiction list. That’s changed and I did finally buy a Kindle recently. Granted, I have yet to download a single book – danged deadlines.

The real shocker? There are exactly three actual scifi romance novels on my list. Maybe four. Depends on how you classify Steampunk. I hope that doesn’t mean I have to turn in my SFR fangirl card…

Here, in no particular order is my 2010 book list:
Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (Steampunk)
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Hugo winner)
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (Hugo winner)
Soulless by Gail Carriger (Steampunk)   
The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry (Thriller)
Sparks by Laura Bickle (Urban Fantasy)
• Rebels and Lovers by Linnea Sinclair (SFR)
Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch (SFR)
Dauntless by Jack Campbell (Military SF)
Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides (Nonfiction, WWII History)
After Dark by Jayne Castle (SFR)
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Hugo winner)
The Rising Sea by Orrin H. Pilkey (Nonfiction, Environmental Science)
Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger by Jeff Wise (Nonfiction, Psychology, Physiology)

Turns out, I’m one of those authors who cannot read in my genre while working on a book of my own. It’s too easy for me to pick up someone else’s voice. If I read scifi romance while I’m writing, I end up sounding like whoever I’m reading. So I read books outside the genre. That’s where the nonfiction books, the thriller, and the urban fantasy stories come in. Of those, I can enthusiastically recommend Laura Bickle’s book, Sparks. Of the nonfiction, my favorite was Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger by Jeff Wise.

A friend loaned my husband her copy of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. I saw the book, spotted “Hugo Award Winner” emblazoned on the front and, curious as to what sort of stories the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America thought were the best examples of the genre, I picked up the book to read the back cover copy. Several hours later, I’d finished reading the book. It was that good. I began wondering if I could read my way through the complete list of Hugo winners. It seemed like the sort of thing a fledgling science fiction writer ought to do – learn from the award winners. Scalzi’s book was definitely my favorite of the three I read this year. Roger Zelazny’s book, Lord of Light, was fascinating and compelling. It didn’t feel at all like a science fiction novel – no one ever talked about the science. Yet the story being told wasn’t possible without the technology placed in the background of the world. I read the book, closed it, blinked, and shook my head. No way could I have conceived of that story, much less written anything like it. But I certainly could (and did) enjoy it.

This brings us around to the steampunk and SFR novels I managed to consume in the latter half of the year. (After I’d turned in book two of my SFR series and before the first book, Enemy Within, hit shelves in early November.) Soulless by Gail Carrington was a fun read. The book qualifies more as paranormal than as science fiction, in my opinion, because what science is present isn’t integral to the story. The paranormal elements are stronger – vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my. I’d even argue that the book is set in a steampunk-like world, but that the book is a comedy of manners more than anything – a *very* good comedy of manners, mind you, but if you prefer to read SFR and SFR only, this one won’t do. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook, on the other hand, is very much an alternate history science fiction romance story and a pretty spectacular one, at that. The world has been thought through in detail. The blend of science and adventure is a kick. It’s another I strongly recommend. Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch was another fast, fun read. The only caution I issue is that if you object to religion in your fiction, this book may annoy you. I found it relatively unobtrusive and the humor showed through it all, but I have run into a few readers who stumbled on that one point. Jayne Castle’s book, After Dark, while technically a futuristic romance, read more like a paranormal to me. Sure, it’s another planet and the species is adapting in strange ways to living on this world, but science was light on the ground in this story. (I should mention, too, that this book was published some years ago in 2000 – I just happened to have picked it up and read it this year when someone put it on the book trading shelf at the marina where we live.) This brings us around to one of my all time favorite authors: Linnea Sinclair and her book Rebels and Lovers. First, can I say I love the cover of that book? A geek hero in glasses? This book was definitely another of my favorites.

What about you? What did you read this year that stands out? After all, I have to build a reading list for 2011 and I don’t want to miss out.

I have two signed copies of Enemy Within to give away.

Leave your favorite reads of 2010 in comments and on 12/21, I’ll draw names and ask your lovely Alien Romance hostesses to post the winners!


Owning up from Rowena Cherry.
If there are any errors with the links, the blame is mine. I had a bit of fun looking up the authors and the books that Marcella mentioned, and discovered some exceptionally cool stuff.

I also avoided providing a buy-the-book link to Amazon, if another one made more sense to me.... for instance if no one has posted a review on Powells, or Barnes and Noble. Or if the Google book site seemed cooler.

PS  Via Love Romance Passion in connection with the global SFR Holiday Blitz, Rowena Cherry is giving away one mailer containing one print copy each of Insufficient Mating Material and Knight's Fork . The one winner chosen by Love Romance Passion can be anywhere in the world.

Linnea Sinclair has donated Rebels and Lovers
REBELS AND LOVERS will go to one winner on the Geek Mom blog 
Gini Koch's TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN will go to the winner on : Lisa Paitz Spindler's Blog

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Songs

Some holiday music recommendations:

Two of my favorite Yuletide albums are WINTER'S DANCE and CHRISTMAS IN A CELTIC LAND, by Golden Bough. They combine traditional and original songs, with a blend of Christian, pagan, and simply festive (such as wassailing):

Golden Bough

Another is Peter, Paul, and Mary's holiday album, which includes traditional Christmas carols, two rousing Hanukkah songs, and "Blowin' in the Wind":

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Also Seamus Kennedy's Christmas CD, GOODWILL TO MEN:

Seamus Kennedy

Christmas filk: Here's Suzette Haden Elgin's SF holiday carol list:

Ozarque's Journal

And for something completely different, a Lovecraftian Solstice carol:

Carol of the Old Ones

We had snow last week, luckily not enough to make the roads hazardous for long. Temperatures have been abnormally cold for this part of Maryland; I shiver, not only with the chill, but with nightmare visions of electric bills as the heat runs almost continuously. Maybe after getting January weather throughout December, we'll get a break in January! As long as it's not a rerun of last year's three record blizzards. A white Christmas is lovely to look at, but not to drive in.

What's it like where you are?

Merry holiday season to all!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ancient Egypt & Steampunk

Attention Steampunk writers.  There may have been ANOTHER Victorian Era on Earth, 39,000 years ago and more. 

As you all know, I tend to connect dots most people can't see a connection between, at least not at first glance.  This is an exercise for writers somewhat akin to a musician practicing scales. I do it incessantly, habitually, and sometimes even fruitfully. 

I review Science Fiction and Fantasy - plus all the cross-genre mashups you can think of - for a paper magazine.  Therefore I read a lot of fiction. 

Sometimes I read non-fiction, and I even review non-fiction in my fiction review column.

Why do you suppose that is? 

Because it's all connected. By dots.  Tiny ones. 

So today I'm going to point readers of SFR who love the HEA, and especially alien romance and Steampunk  to a non-fiction book.

Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE by Edward F. Malkowski

Here it is on Amazon. 

Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE: The History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X

I got it as a review copy from the publisher via twitter, but I've already mentioned it in my paper review column where the following discussion wouldn't fit. 

Here's the thesis Malkowski posits:

The Pre-dynastic period of Ancient Egypt is currently dated at about 5500 BCE. Malkowski explains how that number has been arrived at and why it could be in error because of the method. 

Malkowski marshals hard evidence (actual granit from the pyramids or found around the pyramids) to postulate a Civilization X that existed long, long before 5500 BCE that had the technology to work stone as well as we do, or better. 

He brings in evidence from other hobbyists obsessively investigating the questions mainline science avoids regarding the pyramids, speculates on the political and emotional reasons for that avoidance, and cites some very credible work by others that builds a good case that there's something wrong with the way we sketch pre-5500 BCE in the North Africa region. 

Then he grabs some astronomy and paleontology evidence about the mass die-offs of pre-history and at the end of the most recent Ice Age, speculating the reason for some of those die-offs might be a shower of cosmic rays (high energy neutrons maybe) that just killed off living things. 

Using an estimate for a cosmic ray shower, he figures Civilization X peaked before that shower caused the mass die off and heated the Earth's atmosphere causing the end of the most recent Ice Age. 

Recent research has shown our original carbon dating calculations have been off because of such cosmic ray showers altering the carbon isotope balances. With that corrected, different numbers are being worked out.  

He concludes that a Civilization X that was as advanced as we are would be as fragile as we are, as "soft" or disposable as we are.  If we died off, there would be nothing left but Mount Rushmore to testify that we ever existed.  Nothing, that is, except perhaps some of the philosophical ideas, maybe scientific concepts, the few survivors might pass on as religious myths. 

That is what he postulates caused Civilization X to disappear leaving only the pyramids of Ancient Egypt as a clue they ever existed. 

He paints a picture very much like that used by SF writers describing a "lost colony from Earth" that has forgotten they were lost and think themselves native to their new world. He does not hint that humans might have come from another world. 

His thesis is that there was a higly developed civilization (Atlantis? He doesn't think so.) that built the pyramids for a very logical, practical purpose.  One of the hobbyist researchers he cites has discovered what the pyramids actually were for.  And it wasn't tombs.

An engineer did some scale modeling work and discovered that the lower chambers of the Great Pyramid actually form a huge-scale PUMP that can pump water without electricity (that's for real; not fantasy). 

Speculating from that, Malkowski notes the way the very top of the pyramid is constructed to hold long shafts of granit would cause the whole pyramid to make a sound and low level ion pulse when water was running through it (the Nile used to be closer so water could be run through the pyramids). 

Modern research is revealing that seeds germinate better and plants grow better with the right kinds of ionization. 

The region around the pyramids used to be fertile farmland. 

Malkowski concludes the pyramids were built to create the conditions for abundant crops, a practical use that would justify the ridiculous expense of the project. 

His focus is so tight on justifying the explanation he's come up with that he walks right by what seems to me (the SF writer) to be the most obvious explanation. 

------my alternate explanation--------
If the pyramids were built to pump water, electricity could be generated by that powerful moving water stream (erosion traces inside the chambers show the water moved HARD AND FAST in there).

If there were a really highly developed Civilization, they wouldn't build the pyramids to fertilize crops - there are easier ways to do that if you have the technology.

But the immense expense of building pyramids would be justified by -- LAS VEGAS!!!  Or the Victorian equivalent.  How about Macao?  Every geographical area and every era has one -- except Ancient Egypt.  

Malkowski notes that some of the pyramid facing stones are left rough, while others are polished highly. 

My explanation -- the sides of the pyramids were BILL BOARDS. The rough and smooth stones made pictures or words.  If the civilization was advanced enough to use electricity, they probably had lit billboards on the sides of the pyramids, and that material has disintegrated 10's of thousands of years ago, so maybe they had electronic-paper. Or maybe they were bright triangles that lit up the whole vista like "The Strip?" 

By my theory, the buildings at the foot of the pyramids were not temples, but gambling palaces. Steampunk writers think about the wastrel heir to a fortune made selling advertising on the sides of the Great Pyramid.  They guy is gambling it away, meets the "right" woman and changes his ways to live happily ever after until the cosmic-ray-doom is predicted.  Then he invents a way for his family to survive - perhaps under a pyramid? 

The whole pyramid alley was a huge entertainment complex and market that functioned at a profit via international tourism (which they had, according to other evidence).  The wide paved spaces are for circus acts and such "mid-way" pitches.  But it could have doubled as a kind of bomb-shelter if you shut off the water flow. 

Malkowksi walks right by the most obvious (to me, the SF writer) explanation for who built the pyramids. 

We don't need to posit an ancient Civilization X.  Concurrently (???not sure about that???) with the ancient pre-dynastic Egyptians, we had the Indus Valley and the southern tip of India running very advanced civilizations that traded everywhere and built in stone using hydrolic engineering.

If the Ancient Egyptians wanted pyramids, they could outsource the construction contracts to experienced building contractors from southern India.  They didn't need the technology themselves if they could pay for it, and they could finance the job because gambling has been profitable for the House for a lot longer than Las Vegas has risen from the sands. 

So by Occam's Razor (favoring the simplest explanation) we don't need to postulate a pre-5500 BCE Civlization X to explain the high tech of the pyramid builders. They bought the tech, financed it, ran gambling resorts, and paid their debts that way - or maybe didn't pay and got conquered for renegging on their debt. After all, if they didn't own the tech, they'd be pushovers in any war against those who did own it. 

------end of my alternative explanation------

Back to Malkowski's Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE.

He postulates that the survivors of Civilization X found the pyramids, sealed, and assumed they were tombs because they'd forgotten almost everything.  Then those survivors began using the area for burials. 

Over that period, the climate of North Africa had changed.  There was much more rainfall in the earlier time.  Using that (factual) information, Malkowski had a geologist re-date the Sphinx (the method is described, and it's good enough for me) using erosion rates.  This puts the Sphinx construction way before 5500 BCE.

There's a lot in this book, everything from mythology explained by astronomy to stone-cutting methods using a huge circular saw.  Malkowski consults expert machinists and stone cutters today and explains some deep slots cut into the region surrounding the pyramids as places where these huge circular saws were mounted, and scars on some of the stones as mistakes the saw operators made.  It all makes good sense, but raises questions an archeologist would not publish without answering rigorously. 

I can't say that you absolutely must own this book even if you're writing SFR or doing active worldbuilding.  But you probably won't find it in a library and I'll probably refer to it in the future.  It's full of provocative ideas.   

The book ostensibly has nothing to do with the main Love Conquers All theme of Romance that I talk about so much.  But oddly, it does. 

It paints a picture of Civilization X survivors valiantly attempting to preserve and pass on the essence of their humanity, their treasured philosophy and science, their tools for survival.  They love their children (which ultimately is you and me) and want to give them the best odds of surviving the periodic catastrophies that have destroyed earth time and again. 

Romance weeps from between every word in this book, if you know how to see it. It's about a passion for eternity, which is the reason why Love Conquers All. 

I highly recommend Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE to all Steampunk writers.

It is not a scholarly work, and the author goes out of his way to emphasize that several times.  His idea of history and pre-history research is that the process is mostly the use of imagination to fill in the gaps between facts.

EXAMPLE: he mentions how many of the large animals in the mass die-off at the end of the ice age are now found as broken bones.  Then says they were killed off by cosmic ray shower -- which I can't imagine breaking bones. 

So when a fact seems interesting, he mentions it.  But if it's inconveniently not fitting his theory, he then discards it or ignores it.  That's not how you work this sort of puzzle, at least not if you're the main scientist in an SF novel about the exploration of a newly discovered or colonized world.

At one point he mentions that the X-Files TV Series was a favorite of his, and that could be why I find his style comfortable and familiar enough to enjoy reading right over the things I disagree with.  If you don't like this book, find one by someone who likes the same TV shows you do.

Malkowski hardly ever uses the word archeology to describe what he's talking about.  He calls himself a "historian" -- but his thinking process is more like that of the archeologists I've learned from.

This method of establishing hard facts then applying a leap of imagination is primary to the field of archeology, and basically forbidden in the field of history.

However, Malkowski does not pursue questions in the order or with the rigorousness I am accustomed to seeing among archeologists.  His main evidence supporting his thesis is the awestruck feeling he, himself, gets when viewing the pyramids or works of Ancient Egypt.  From that sensation of awe, he concludes that those ancient craftsman could not have accomplished this construction.  His evidence for that is his own emotional reaction.  Not scholarly. 

Checking out the amazon links, I found there's an entire social network, perhaps a culture, of hobbyist researchers pursuing such shadowy subjects.  That's a "market" and a resource a writer can draw upon for characters and conflict. 

Now here's how writers can learn from reading this kind of non-scholarly non-fiction.

Read this book listening to Malkowski's "voice."  Follow his thinking patterns.  FEEL his emotional committment to his thesis, and feel his excitement at finding factual evidence that supports his thesis. 

For a scholar, that's a backwards approach. Ordinarily, you look at the facts, then concoct a thesis, then test it experimentally. 

But if you want to create a character who is like Star Trek's Captain Kirk, an adventurer but one dedicated to the distant past, Malkowski's "voice" will give you a valid model for that character.

So this book can be helpful even if you are averse to Ancient Egypt as a subject -- maybe especially if you are averse to the topic.  You might "hear" that voice more clearly if not distracted by the hypnotic lure of the topic. 

But, myself, I've been fascinated by Ancient Egypt since High School.  I had an English teacher who introduced me to the Ancient writers, the Greeks, Romans, and so on -- and demonstrated the connections to Ancient Egypt.

He had a diagram on the classroom wall called a Histomap.  It's a verticle strip of velum with a colored strips showing the expansion and contraction of pre-historic cultures over millenia. 

This device disappeared for decades but Rand McNally has it out again.  Here's a picture on Amazon.  It's a graphic of a timeline chart. 

Rand McNally Histomap of World History (Cosmopolitan Map)

I became fascinated how one civilization co-existed with, fought, then expanded over another, then died out as another civilization swelled.

So I've always appreciated how Ancient Egypt was a foundation (and competitor) of much of what we have today. 

My mother was enamored of biographies and especially travel books, and she introduced me to Thor Hyerdah.  Astonishingly I actually remembered how to spell his last name and found this on Amazon.

Thor Heyerdahl

If you haven't read Thor Heyerdahl AND Alvin Toffler, and connected those dots, the Ancient World to the Modern World, oh, please do so!  These are the hammers and chisles of worldbuilders while Malkowski is the voice of the passionate explorer! 

If you know other such sources, please drop them as notes on this blog.

After reading Malkowski's Ancient Egypt book, I googled around a little looking for a book I vividly remember but can't find in my own library right now.  And I couldn't find it.  It was about a lost civilization that modern archeologists don't actually believe existed off the southern tip of India that mastered hydraulic engineering to build massive stoneworks. 

Google on Ancient India and Hydraulic Engineering and you'll find lots of material. 

As noted in my alternate explanation above, I don't recall the dates of that ancient civilization in India but all we have left of it are some huge stone structures as "impossible" to understand as the pyramids of Ancient Egypt.

I like the Civilization X explanation for fictional use.  It would make a nifty alternate-universe or Steampunk premise. Steampunk writers need to absorb Malkowski's book, and maybe root around in that culture of hobbyist researchers.  The Steampunk spirit lives in that corner of the universe. 

I've used Stonehenge in much the same way that Malkowski uses the pyramids in my novels, Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends (in paperback and e-book on Amazon. Stonehenge and similar structures interest me at least as much as the pyramids do, which is saying a lot. 

While I was reading Ann Aguirre's KILLBOX (the Sirantha Jax series; highly recommended SFR!) I picked Ancient Egypt out of my bookshelf to read again because Aguirre uses the pyramids as source material for her intersellar drive. 

So you see, all the dots are connected. Malkowski was writing SFR but it was mistaken for non-fiction. 

Now you want a real challenge?  This year marked the 50th anniversary of THE FLINTSTONES on TV.  And that sparked an extremely controversial article  with a lot of comments disapproving of the article's thesis.  See if you can find a trail of dots between Ancient Egypt, pyramids, Love Conquers All as a Romance theme, and The Flintstones. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The SFR Holiday Blitz begins tomorrow (December 20th)

Enter To Win Free Science Fiction Romances With The SFR Holiday Blitz

On December 20, 2010 the second annual SFR Holiday Blitz will launch. This event features a huge giveaway of over 50 science fiction romance books. 33 authors and 15 bloggers have joined forces to give the gift of intergalactic adventure and romance.

Here are the book prizes you can win here at Alien Romances (limited to U.S. & Canadian residents) if you leave a comment on Marcella Burnard's post on December 26th:

A print copy of GAME OVER by Taylor Keating
A print copy of SCARLET and CRIMSON by Jordan Summers

Entering is easy: Just leave a comment. The deadline to enter is midnight EST on December 26, 2010.

That’s not all—visit the participating blogs listed below for a chance to win even more science fiction romances:">Smart Girls Love Sci Fi & Paranormal Romance">Dirty Sexy Books">Panic in the Lingerie!">Queen of the Frozen North">Flying Whale Productions
eblog/">Flying Whale Productions

Full copies of the rules and schedule of the participating blog dates may be found at
Contest runs from December 20th to midnight December 26th (assume US Eastern Time)
Void where prohibited
No purchase necessary
Need not be present to win
Choice of winning comment for each blog will be at the sole discretion of SFR Holiday Blitz management or assignees.

DMCA Note:

Where copies of physical (paper) books are given away, that one copy may be re-gifted or sold as long as no extra copies are created.
The copyright (copy right) remains with the author. The physical copy may not be scanned in order to create a digital version.
Where e-books are given away, the copyright (copy right) remains with the author. An e-book may be backed up and loaded onto any
e-reading equipment owned by the winner (and that loaded equipment may be loaned to family members), but the file may not be burned onto disks, uploaded to sharing sites, duplicated and sold or otherwise distributed without written permission from the author.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eternal Youth?

Scientists at Harvard Medical School have succeeded in reversing some of the effects of aging in mice:

Fountain of Youth

They worked with telomeres, strings of DNA information at the ends of chromosomes. With age, these strands wear out. After inducing premature aging in mice, the researchers stimulated the telomeres to repair themselves, restoring the mice to youthful condition.

As the song says, "Who wants to live forever?" Not I! However, if I could live to about the century mark with no aches and pains, no degenerative diseases, no loss of sensory or mental functions, I'd gladly accept the treatment.

If "youthening" therapy ever becomes feasible for human beings, would it be available to everyone? Or would it be so expensive that only an elite class could enjoy its benefits? As dramatized in books such as Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, such a scenario might lead to social upheaval with potentially explosive results. Heinlein, with an optimistic view of human technological advances (in his early works, at least), doesn't let the mortal-immortal dichotomy lead to disaster in the long run. When the Howard Families eventually return to Earth, they discover that even though they were never hoarding a "secret" of eternal youth at all, in their absence scientists looking for the nonexistent secret have invented rejuvenation techniques on their own. In the much later novel TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, though, we find that "ephemerals" still harbor enough suspicion toward the "Methuselahs" that the Howard Families keep a low profile and in some cases (as with Lazarus Long and his clan) withdraw to their own enclaves on distant worlds.

If just trying to ensure that everyone has access to basic health care sparks bitter conflict, how can we suppose the discovery of the "fountain of youth" wouldn't produce another layer of division between haves and have-nots?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Alien Sexuality Part One - The Root Of All Conflict

You may want to review my September 21, 2010 post, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA?"

One would think that "Happily Ever After" isn't a locus for stories. Living "happily" isn't exciting. The "story" happens where a conflict erupts and is subsequently resolved at some cost, some price, a trade-off. All conflict resolution is painful by nature, and "happy" can't co-exist with "painful."

That's true in Romance genre, I suspect. There can be dramatic Events during the "Happily Ever After" part of a couple's life, Events which then become backstory for the children of that couple who go on to live their own "story" and resolve conflicts based on what they learned by watching their parents "live happily ever after."

But in Science Fiction, and especially Science Fiction Romance, SFR or Paranormal Romance, PNR, you can depict a "happy" and "peaceful" "ever-after" portion of a Relationship that nevertheless is fraught with conflicts and their resolutions that generate "story-galore."

How can this be done? It's done with Alien Sexuality.

We, the readers, already know most all there is to know about human sexuality, so a "happily ever after" stretch of a lifetime isn't filled with surprises, shock, dismay, challenges, and above all CHANGE.

But add Alien Sexuality and the "happily" part of "ever after" can be peppered with "learning experiences" that can change, redirect, and mature a Relationship via conflict and resolution -- without ruining the "happily" at all.

A writer can explore Alien Sexuality in a Human/Non-human Relationship in such a way as to illuminate aspects of human sexuality that most readers could never think of on their own. You can surprise, dismay, amuse, and teach readers with stories they'll talk about for years.

Some of the first Science Fiction stories I read hinted at such situations, but didn't address them directly. I saw so many stories that needed telling that I was determined to write them myself and get them into print. I am delighted to say that I succeeded, but that's because I had great teachers.

One of my writing projects exploring some of these threads is the Sime~Gen Universe, which is currently being reprinted on paper and as all formats of e-book by the Borgo imprint of Wildside Press.  That's "in progress" and so far only House of Zeor has appeared and only as a paper reprint.  As they appear, you'll find them listed here and then you can find them at and other online bookstores. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg on Amazon

Long before I started writing Science Fiction professionally, long before I wrote the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! where I talk about Spock Shock and Vulcan sexuality, I read up on how the writers I admired the most "came up with those crazy ideas."

I was a serious fan of "crazy ideas" and walked my world wrapped in a Sense of Wonder that I wanted to share with everyone (even those not interested).

I found out, by comments from other writers, reviewers and fans, that Poul Anderson set the standard for creating "aliens" that other writers then strove to emulate. Anderson inspired an entire swath of the SF genre peopled with characters who lived in fascinating conflicts which could not ethically or morally be resolved by application of the principles that apply to humans.

What's the reason human ethics and morals can not be applied by these aliens to resolve their own conflicts? Surely, humanity in all its various cultures has produced enough systems of ethics and morals that a solution to any problem can be found within one or another human cultural structure?

But no. Human solutions only work for humans. How can that be?

Sexuality. Alien sexuality, that is. Purely and truly alien sexuality.

Human sexuality is the same in all cultures throughout time, but we have developed myriads of ways of coping with the social dynamic it produces. One theory has it that all human culture is really just a mechanism for taming sexuality so that groups can live in cooperation. Even with only one biological necessity to tame, we've invented hundreds of ways of dealing with it.

But what if you changed the biology?

Gene Roddenberry learned the power of that fictional conundrum about Ethics, Morals, and Biology from the swath of the Science Fiction field which had been originated by Poul Anderson.

Roddenberry created Spock by combining two characters, the female first officer "Number One" who had no emotions, and the non-human Science Officer Mr. Spock who was emotional enough but looked at the universe from a non-human perspective.

You can see Spock's emotional character in the pilot The Cage. In all other episodes, he's a different character.

Roddenberry knew that the non-human perspective was the key signature of science fiction, and stubbornly refused to delete the Spock character when the networks objected that it wasn't commercial enough.

The network executives also nixed Number One - in the 1960's, one simply could not have a woman giving orders to men in a combat situation. So you couldn't have a female First Officer, or Captain (they decreed).

So Roddenberry pulled off his famous compromise and combined the two characters. At the time he sold the show, I don't think anyone in charge had the least idea how "alien sexuality" would captivate a generation of people, mostly female, formerly uninterested in science fiction or the "action" genre in general.

The Spock character evolved as science fiction authors contributed scripts to the show (also an unheard-of practice). Most of the established science fiction authors who wrote for Star Trek were from Poul Anderson's school of alien sexuality.

Theodore Sturgeon, noted for his strange sexual aliens, came up with the Vulcan mating drive, pon farr, and with Sturgeon's script Amok Time, Star Trek's popularity exploded, much to the dismay of the network executives at the time.

Anderson's secret sexual weapon - SCIENCE.

Yep. Poul Anderson studied how the various creatures on this Earth "did it" -- and projected what that species would have been like if it had developed intelligence and become the dominant species on Earth.

How would that change Earth and Earth's history (and pre-history)?

When Anderson had a grasp of how that species would create a civilization, then he'd create another world "out there" somewhere among the stars, as Gene Roddenberry created Vulcan. Gene Roddenberry postulated the half-breed alien, a staple of science fiction for generations before the 1960's, because that creates a character with a ripe internal and external conflict and an ambiguous point of view.

As I read novels, I would research references and learn pre-history and history. I became golly-gee-whiz-goshwow excited by variations on the established themes in science fiction novels and stories. At that time, these ideas had not been touched by writers in other fields, while science fiction's treatment of them was superficial at best. I just saw so many new stories that needed telling, and had to tell some of them.

Of course, to write about them in a way that would interest people who were not interested, you needed a grounding in classical human literature akin to the grounding the target readership had. Turns out, SF readers are very literate. More than very, actually. Roddenberry capitalized on that, too, by incorporating many Shakespearean elements in Star Trek's scripts.

Knowing that popular science fiction writers were experts in history, science, religion and literature, I set about acquiring both a grounding in classical literature and a scientific education (my degree is in Chemistry with minors in Physics and Math, but I'm self-educated in literature, though I've taken courses in archeology, linguistics, mythology, etc.).

I designed my education that way because all the best science fiction writers I knew were Chemists, and they talked about the classics but made their living in science. I so wanted to emulate that seamless blend of science, history, literature, and the wildest imagination in my own novels.

And apparently I have, at least according to the response of one fan who turned up on twitter and set me off thinking about exactly "how" a writer creates the sexuality of their aliens.

Here's part of an exchange between us on twitter. He's @booksbelow and I'm @jlichtenberg. The first name that appears is the originator of the comment, and the second name is the person who is being answered.


booksbelow: @JLichtenberg A few books/stories from youth I spent years looking for-yours were one. Another was Simulacron 3, breakthrough concept stuff.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow It's that "breakthrough concept" stuff like Simulacron3 that I'm not seeing a lot of these days

booksbelow: @JLichtenberg I find myself rereading SF from the 60's and 70's a lot. SF writing has improved a lot, but lost some of sense of wonder.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow Maybe it's not the writers or book that lost Sense Of Wonder, but the audience? Broader audience, lower common denominator?

booksbelow: @JLichtenberg I don't think can blame audience, there's always audience for innovative well written fiction. I Think New Wave derailed sf.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow I agree "New Wave" swept the SF field into a new track -- see this month's LOCUS. Seems #STEAMPUNK is sweeping field aside again

The September issue of Locus Magazine (the newspaper of the science fiction field) features Steampunk and its influence on the SF field ever since the 1980's.

According to the various articles and interviews in this Locus Magazine feature, Steampunk has morphed and changed, even the definitions of the words have changed.

Cyberpunk was the first coinage of an SF genre using the meme "punk" and in that usage, it meant a person who was far out of the mainstream of the culture. A punk, a dropout, a recalcitrant objector to the norms of adult culture.

Today, the meme punk seems to have morphed into a usage that is more akin to "mashup" -- or a combination of one thing with another, a hybridization. And you see "punk" added to almost any other word to indicate some kind of alternative. Steampunk is usually in an alternate-universe-historical setting, most usually Elizabethan steam-powered technology and the culture based on that. But now it's morphing into other historical periods and locations.

Punk. A crossbreed. Like Spock.

As Gene Roddenberry said many times, the dramatic purpose of Spock as a character was to provide that external point of view on humanity's foibles that only an "alien" can provide. A "punk" is an external viewer.

There are young writers on twitter who proudly proclaim that they write Steampunk -- and emphasize that to them the term implies a romance element in the plot, a strong romance!

So Steampunk is becoming the home of a kind of SF-Fantasy-Romance mashup or hybrid-genre.

Usually, Steampunk doesn't involve aliens from outer space or galactic wars (watch how fast that will change), but it does involve the individual's mastery of the technology of the time to the extent of being able to invent things, jury-rig and prototype new ways to do things with "steam powered" technology that will solve the plot problem and often leap-frog over development and achieve what only our modern technology can achieve.

In other words, it's Robert A. Heinlein's typical hero building a space ship in his garage alone or maybe with a couple of friends to help.

Steampunk explores variations on society and history that allow the writer to create characters who understand the technology of their day, and their understanding is not beyond the comprehension of the reader.

Steampunk seems to be evolving into a literature of individualism, and that may actually give rise to a "conceptual breakthrough" such as @booksbelow was talking about.

In the 1970's, right after and during Star Trek's blasting onto the scene with Alien Sexuality (explored mostly in fanzines, not on TV) we had the conceptual revolution that said that women are not perpetual children in adult bodies. That revolution gave rise to the kick-ass heroine and the female Starship Captain.

Today, I often hear TV news anchors make offhand references to "Beam Me Up, Scotty" -- as if Star Trek had invented the matter transmitter that was so familiar to all science fiction readers who watched the original Star Trek. "Steampunk" often rewrites history freehand just like that. The authors may know our mainstream history, but I often wonder if the readers do.

Poul Anderson subscribed to the widespread notion that human civilization is primarily shaped, outlined or bounded by human sexuality, and propagated that notion among science fiction writers.

Today many never question whether all human psychology and thus culture is rooted in our sexual requirements.

In the 1970's, other feminist writers such as Joanna Russ, explored how women would run a world or get along in a world without men (or where men were no more self-aware or intelligent than animals). Roddenberry tried that in other series pilots, but it didn't fly.

History, anthropology, sociology and all of Literature reflect how we have analyzed ourselves through the lens of human sexuality.

If every element of a society or civilization is rooted in sexual dynamics (or at the very least reproductive drives), then if you make even the tiniest change in that basic dynamic drive, you change everything, even ethics and morals -- especially morals.

Since we "must" reproduce, anything that tends to prevent, limit or redirect that drive is a source of dramatic conflict that can be exploited by a writer to tell a story.

Apparently (to date as far as I know) all sexual reproduction on Earth seems to follow the same pattern. Make a change in that pattern - and don't just take an animal from Earth and create a dominant species out of it, but create a totally new kind of animal, and you may create the next "Spock" character -- the icon or archetype that will ignite the creative thinking of a new generation.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg (for current novel availability) (for complete biography & bibliography) (for screenwriting projects)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Marcella Burnard will guest post on December 26th

I am thrilled to announce that Marcella Burnard (ENEMY WITHIN) has agreed to write a guest post on Sunday the 26th as part of the annual SFR Holiday Blitz run by Heather Massey of TheGalaxyExpress.

Although I expect to be away from my desk,  I shall be donating a package of two of my print novels as a prize for someone to give away on one of the other blogs.

I'm willing to mail internationally, and will donate "Insufficient Mating Material" and "Knight's Fork" together. International readers can purchase the first book in the series, Forced Mate from me, directly as an e-book, for about $2.99 via


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Arsenic-Eating Bacteria

In addition to many other types of extremophiles―organisms that have evolved to live in conditions where most Earth life forms can't survive―we now have arsenic-based bacteria:

Taken from the already extreme environment of Mono Lake in California, these bacteria were forced under lab conditions to substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their cellular chemistry. The discovery of organisms that can do this has exciting implications for the search for extraterrestrial life, as the media have pointed out. "Life as we know it" covers a much broader range than our oxygen-breathing kin or even our more distant carbon-dioxide-absorbing plant cousins.

From Wikipedia, here's a list of other categories of organisms thriving in extreme conditions:

An organism with optimal growth at pH levels of 3 or below
An organism with optimal growth at pH levels of 9 or above
An organism that lives in microscopic spaces within rocks, such as pores between aggregate grains; these may also be called Endolith, a term that also includes organisms populating fissures, aquifers, and faults filled with groundwater in the deep subsurface.
An organism requiring at least 0.2M concentrations of salt (NaCl) for growth
An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 80–122 °C, such as those found in hydrothermal systems
An organism that lives underneath rocks in cold deserts
An organism (usually bacteria) whose sole source of carbon is carbon dioxide and exergonic inorganic oxidation (chemolithotrophs) such as Nitrosomonas europaeaNitrosomonas europaea ; these organisms are capable of deriving energy from reduced mineral compounds like pyrites, and are active in geochemical cycling and the weathering of parent bedrock to form soil
capable of tolerating high levels of dissolved heavy metals in solution, such as copper, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc; examples include Ferroplasma and Cupriavidus metalliduransCupriavidus metallidurans
An organism capable of growth in nutritionally limited environments
An organism capable of growth in environments with a high sugar concentration
An organism that lives optimally at high hydrostatic pressure; common in the deep terrestrial subsurface, as well as in oceanic trenches
An organism that qualifies as an extremophile under more than one category
An organism capable of survival, growth or reproduction at temperatures of -15 °C or lower for extended periods; common in cold soils, permafrost, polar ice, cold ocean water, and in or under alpine snowpack
Organisms resistant to high levels of ionizing radiation, most commonly ultraviolet radiation, but also including organisms capable of resisting nuclear radiation
An organism that can thrive at temperatures between 60–80° C
Combination of thermophile and acidophile that prefer temperatures of 70-80 C and pH between 2 and 3
An organism that can grow in extremely dry, desiccating conditions; this type is exemplified by the soil microbes of the Atacama Desert

With so many kinds of life to choose from even on our own planet, fictional extraterrestrials need not be restricted to "rubber forehead aliens," human in all but cosmetic features. As a character in Heinlein's HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL mentions, spiders don't look anything like us, yet they live in our houses. Suppose creatures who've evolved in totally different environments have enough intelligence for us to interact with? For Terran-alien love and mating, we need to meet other humanoids, but we can also hope for allies and friends of wildly different species. To invoke the Vulcan ideal: "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Information Feed Tricks And Tips for Writers Part III - Publishing Business Model

Part I of this series was posted on November 16, 2010  and Part II on November 23, 2010,     

Just reading this item which Jean Lorrah found:

and some of the links provided in that article, I realized this is hugely significant.

This article is from way back in June 2010 but it's still important. In the article is a link to a Pew Research annual study on Journalism that I have only barely begun to absorb.

I also found out via Wikipedia and other sources that and Craigslist were both founded in 1995, and according to this article on, the steep decline in newspaper capacity to gather and report news is 30% from 2000 to 2010.

Craigslist incorporated in 1999 (so did Classified ads and well heeled buyers from classified ads deserted newspapers for Craigslist. Then boom - the bottom fell out of the business model of print news  papers.

Lately, I've heard that staff reductions at TV News operations, even cable's CNN, are cutting into delivery.  I've  noticed they basically turn off coverage on weekends now, and run tape over and over.  That may not seem strange to younger people. 

Lots of other stuff happened through the years mentioned above, driving and luring folks online and on-cell, and now to e-books and e-book readers that download magazines and news feeds like Kindle and Nook.  All that is drawing readers away from print books, news, and magazines. 

Yes, I know, we love the feel of holding and smelling a book. Where did that come from? Early reading pleasure associated with it. So there will be a generation that has that same pleasure-response from holding a nice warm e-reader. They'll hate it when e-readers go cold from energy efficiency or project the screen into the air in 3-D.

When you are living in interesting times, apparently you don't really notice so much as you will later.

Hello! It's now later!

Here's where I discussed Emigrating To The Future

And there I noted 5 observations in my researches around the internet that taken together sets off a Red-Alert before my eyes.

We are crossing (or perhaps have crossed) into a totally new world, and quickly we have forgotten both what we really don't need to remember, and many things well worth remembering.

I listed off some of my previous posts outlining these developments dating back to 2008 and my infatuation with Web 2.0 (the first interactive basis for online social networking). I think we're probably into Web 4.0 by now.
Here's a very informative map (such as you might see in the front of a Fantasy novel) of the "world" of social networking. I found this link on twitter.

The basis for twitter and facebook -- and all the rest -- is the advertising business model. Some, like google and, are succeeding where print-paper newspapers have failed.

Some online news sites like actually pay reporters to write stories and blogs (it's not as good a living as print journalists used to make, but it's better than novelists are doing today) -- they pay from advertising revenue, just like newspapers used to. Print papers made money from sales on the street, and for subscriptions, but their real money was from classified ads and grocery store ads.

When I told my Dad (who worked for Associated Press) that I wanted to become a writer, he was all excited. He was ready to pay my way through a Journalism degree even though very few women worked in Journalism. It was an absolutely guaranteed income for life -- a Journalism Degree! 

He knew more women would flock to Journalism soon. He was shocked but cooperative when I chose Chemistry even though he couldn't see a living in fiction writing, especially not science fiction, but Chemists made good money. He figured I'd eventually revert to Journalism. I guess he was right, because here I am blogging online and reviewing for a paper newspaper. Only the world has changed in ways he couldn't have imagined.

The article from says:


"With traditional media companies facing an advertising slump and rising competition on the Web, the AP has come under pressure from its members to cut rates," the Associated Press recently reported about itself. "It lowered its fees for U.S. newspapers by $30 million in 2009 and plans a $45 million cut for newspapers and broadcasters this year."

Meanwhile, CNN is experiencing troubles of its own. Ratings for its U.S. television programming are down, and the Project for Excellence in Journalism State of the Media report says advertising revenue for CNN and its sister network, HLN, were projected to drop 8% to $513 million in 2009, down from $556 million the previous year. A CNN spokesman said the terms of AP's licensing agreement "did not fit our business model."

See full article from DailyFinance:
-------END QUOTE------

Yet CNN.COM is one of the biggest, most visited cites on the internet.

The successful print papers are now online, breaking stories the hour they happen, not the next day or the day after as necessary with print. In our new world, speed, "real time" interactivity is essential. Note how most news sites are "blog" (Web 2.0) enabled with long, often heated and nutty, comments posted by readers -- who often post without actually reading the article.

I saw a rumor (unsubstantiated) that some of those who drop comments on news items on this popular news sites are paid to espouse specific political views and hammer sites with comments.  That's an interesting business model for a non-fiction writer but what about the advertising revenues for the hammered websites?  They pay the website by hit, but the hits stats are distorted if hitters are just passing through doing a paid job.

 Another fiction writer acquaintance who just found me on said he's been making a living now doing short researched articles for the government.  He loves it because he's doing what he loves - research!  And another friend is trying the syndicated online articles market for her non-fiction.  

Here's an article you might have missed from Publisher's Weekly where the new publisher for Simon&Schuster (publishing companies have been collapsing and being bought up just like newspapers) outlined his new VISION for how to organize a book publishing operation in this new world.

Does that seem like a totally new business model designed for the internet age?

That S&S model is what writers of novels have to work with today.

But the book-buyers live in this blog-style interactive news (even from professional news services), with "facts" gathered not by people with Journalism degrees necessarily but by folks with a cell-camera and a lot of initiative and local contacts.

Have you ever found yourself yelling at the TV screen during a news commentary broadcast?

People want to interact. I think even in fiction.

My insurance company, Geico, offers an interactive online Defensive Driving course that  costs $20 to take (4 hours of interacting) instead of the I think it was $80 3 years ago to take the course in person at the library or in a hotel function room. 

People live online these days, and do most of their reading online.  When reading books, they want, just like the online experience, to marginal notes on their e-reader that the writer will actually see -- as if they were comments dropped on facebook. Readers want to make comments other readers will see (as on Amazon). And hear/see what others respond.  That's not just "what others say" but what others "respond."  That is to have a conversation, such as the twitter chats I've been quoting from.  People talk to each other, and eventually those raised on conversing with strangers will want to converse with their fiction writers as they read. 

Already, writers have been posting as-I-write-it segments of stories. That's been going on since Listserv was first invented (have to look up when that was - hasn't it been there all my life?).

I was a member of the Forever Knight Lists, one of which carried comments on fanfic posted on the other List. Stories were posted in chapters or installments, and writers got feedback as or before writing the next chapter.  Some great writers came out of that training. 

That now goes on with blogs and among a writer's beta-readers on and other fan fiction posting websites. I'm on a mailing discussion List for a Star Trek fanfiction posting site:

Compare the way fiction for such sites is created -- the way a writer thinks about "information feed" as described in the previous posts in this series -- with the way Simon & Schuster is reorganizing to publish novels.

Now think about the 7 part series I did here on Editing starting with these 2:

Does the new S&S concept change the "editor's job" in any way?

Does the shift in news-gathering business model really mean anything to fiction writers?

Think about the convenience of CNN.COM,, CNBC.COM etc. (don't forget and wikipedia's not so reliable "facts") And then I'm always quoting Wired Magazine's website - and Time and Newsweek.  If it's not online, it doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned.  How can I point you to it if there's no URL?  Why would I frustrate you talking about something you can't find at a click? 

Fiction writers have to consider "information feed" techniques of fiction in terms of what NEWS is (and is not) for the modern reader. At what point will that shifting perception of reality among readers and viewers of "news" change how fiction writers do their job?

Oh, are we living in interesting times or what?

I still love Web 2.0 even if it is obsolete already.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg