Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Alien Past

"The past is a foreign country" (from a 1953 novel, THE GO-BETWEEN, by British author L. P. Hartley).

Recently I felt struck by the reality of this now-proverbial remark when I read THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. Here's my summary of this novel from the mini-review that will be in my upcoming August newsletter:

"Stockett, writing about the time and place of her own childhood, tells a story of black maids and their employers in Mississippi of the early 1960s. Skeeter, a young, college-educated woman who wants to become a writer, gets her first job as a journalist writing a column of housekeeping tips. Since she knows nothing about cleaning or cooking, she composes answers to readers' letters by seeking advice from a friend's maid, Aibileen. Skeeter gradually has her eyes opened to the circumstances of the lives of colored 'help' to which she'd previously been oblivious. She gets the idea of compiling a book of interviews with maids, which she hopes to submit to a New York book editor who has written her a couple of blunt but slightly encouraging letters. With great difficulty, Skeeter persuades Aibileen to grant interviews, and Aibileen eventually manages to get other maids to participate. It takes a last-straw local incident of racial injustice to overcome their fears, though. All of them know, and Skeeter comes to realize, that if their pseudonyms and the concealment of the stories' location are penetrated, catastrophic results will probably ensue. Loss of jobs could be the least of reprisals. Stockett tells the story in first person through the voices of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny, a maid who has trouble keeping jobs because of her reputation for 'sass.' Skeeter, considered unattractive because of her height and unruly hair, gets constant nagging from her mother about her appearance and the possibility that she won't find a husband. Of course she has to conceal her work on the interviews from her family as well as her middle-class friends in the local women's League. In particular, everyone in the project is terrified of the probable reaction of Hilly, the overbearing, catty dictator of the League. A recurring plot motif focuses on Hilly's obsession with separate bathrooms for whites and blacks in the homes of white employers. Aibileen, for all the strength she displays in every other area, can't bring herself to leave the husband who intermittently beats her. Minny gets a job with a woman who not only doesn't know how to fit into local society but also has no clue about proper relations between white ladies and the 'help.' Her employer, Miss Celia, keeps a tragic secret from her husband, and secrets related to other characters come out as the story progresses. All these events happen against the background of the social and political turmoil of the civil rights movement."

How alien these characters' attitudes seem to me, and yet the story takes place during the period of my own teenage years. Of course, I grew up in Virginia, which probably makes a difference; not only is the past a different country, in reading this book I realized more strongly than before that Virginia and the true Deep South were also "different countries." In THE HELP almost every middle-class household has "help." Most of the people I knew didn't have maids coming in to clean!

Currently a list I subscribe to has an ongoing discussion about "the century with the greatest changes," contending whether the 19th or the 20th century saw the most radical changes in human society. There's also an argument about whether the changes we've experienced since 1970 have been mainly incremental or truly quantum shifts. C. S. Lewis, in his inaugural lecture upon taking up his chair at Cambridge, places "The Great Divide" in European culture somewhere in the 19th century, on scientific, technological, social, political, artistic, and religious grounds. This page summarizes the lecture lucidly with lots of direct quotes:

The Great Divide

What technological and social developments catalyzed truly radical change in the past century? In your lifetime? What elements of our society would seem strangest to a time traveler from 100 years ago? Fifty years ago? In some cases they might be things the traveler expects to find and doesn't. Edward Bellamy in LOOKING BACKWARD, at the end of the 19th century, portrayed the world of the year 2000 as a planet-wide socialist utopia. Robert Heinlein's early fiction predicted moon colonies by now. On the other hand, I don't think anybody looking at the first automobiles around 1900 foresaw the social changes widespread access to individual mobility would bring into existence.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part VI: Unconditional Love and Science Fiction - a

Last week we looked at Love and Romance, using thumbnail definitions from Astrology for Venus and Neptune.

Here's a list of previous posts in the "Big Love Sci-Fi" blog post series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Part IV in the series: 

Part V in the series:

We are turning the subject of Love and Romance this way and that, looking at it from all angles to find a way to create a blockbuster novel/film story that will convince those who scoff at the Romance Genre that they've been missing something important.  Some might then change their minds.

We can see clearly that this issue of respect of the general public is still very hot by noticing this item about the Romance Writers of America convention program:

Friday, June 17, 2011
Written on 7:55 PM Posted by Heather Massey
Does The “Science Fiction Romance” Label Marginalize Female Authors?

Nobody with something to sell wants to be "marginalized" -- it's the horror-buzz-word these days.  The assumptions behind that choice of word could use some dissection, but that's not today's topic here. 

One of my suggestions for why Romance hasn't gained the respect of the general public, and why many Romance genre writers use pen names and neglect to mention their Romance genre credits when marketing work in other genres is that readers and writers of this genre (as with all other genres, almost by definition) share certain assumptions.

The assumptions underlying Romance Genre are simple: Love Conquers All, and the Happily Ever After ending is actually possible in real live.  There exists (for real) such a thing as a Soul Mate, and bonding with such a Soul Mate leads to the HEA ending. 

I discussed this at length here:

In that post, I wrote:
Rarely is an author allowed to challenge the very premise of the genre within a story in that genre. Genre is based on ASSUMPTIONS that are not challenged. That's my definition. Things you leave OUT define the genre, and one of those things is the same in all genres -- don't challenge the genre premise in the plot.

In Romance, it's Love Conquers All that must not be challenged.

In SF it's Science Conquers All that must not be challenged.

In Crime it's Crime is Wrong that must not be challenged.

In Adventure, it's "the solution is not here but somewhere else" that can't be challenged. (home is not a fun place to be).

In Action, it's "There Is No Other Possible Solution Than To Kill The Bad Guys." You can't make friends with the bad guys and turn them into good guys in an Action genre story. (all the rules are changing, remember?)
Also think about this post:

Where I wrote:
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.

Later in that long post, after quoting a long conversation on #scifichat on Twitter about Utopias in Science Fiction, I concluded:

Look over that discussion substituting "HEA" for Utopia.

As noted in the comments to my blog post on "Why Do "They" Hate Romance?"

--- 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.

Also in "Why Do They Despise Romance" I noted the core theme of the Romance genre Love Conquers All causes negative reactions in some readers who prefer other genres.

That theme is Love Conquers All

You can't change that theme and still have a Romance genre Work.

But the theme is the source of the problem.

"Slushiness" comes from Love not having a very hard time conquering All -- the two get together, and they just fall all over each other despite themselves, and then talk about their feelings as if nothing else in the world matters, their inattentiveness generating no consequences of note.

"Plot Cliche" comes from the genre requirement that the PLOT is the sequence of events leading Boy to Girl, and thus the only possible main conflict in a Romance is "Love vs. X" where X is whatever is keeping them apart.

So the THEME is what the major portion of the potential audience objects to, but you can't change it and still have a Romance.

So what do you do?  How can you possibly popularize Romance to Big Screen proportion audiences?

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me the solution.

The solution is to challenge the theme, doubt the thematic statement.
And after that - (yes, I write long posts)
Most themes that work for fiction are, for most reader/viewers, unconscious assumptions about life.  They are unexamined, taken for granted, "truths" about normal reality.


The Comedy forms have always been the thin edge of the wedge into commercialization of one of those challenges to the unconscious assumptions of a culture. The romcom, stradling the line between romance and comedy has powerful dramatic potential.

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me (most especially while I was writing UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER) to use the plot, the characters, the story, and the worldbuilding (most especially the worldbuilding) to DISPROVE THE THEME and thus examine those unconscious assumptions of my readership -- the adolescent male SF reader the publishers market my adult-female fiction to.

Illustrate, she taught me - show don't tell - the opposite of what you are trying to say.

In this case, "LOVE CONQUERS ALL" becomes "LOVE CAN NOT CONQUER ALL." That would knock it out of the genre, so keep working.
------------End quoting myself---------

And I'm going to leave off there this week to give you time to reread those posts and really think about Love.  Yes, THINK about an emotion, intellectualize your gut feelings.  It's no way to live, but it's good exercise.

Next week we'll look at the Soul and the Creator of Souls.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dog Training For Alien Characterization

My beach reads this summer included "It's Me Or The Dog" by Victoria Stilwell. I wasn't far into the book when I saw the potential for alien romance writing inspiration.

Dogs have different abilities and some of their senses are much better than ours. Take the sense of smell and the logic of sniffing, for instance. Dogs perceive events and behaviour differently. Just as a romance hero alien would.

In one passage of the book, Victoria Stilwell recounts what most humans think if they see a dog joyfully rolling in the grass. We (humans) anthropomorphise. We assume that the dog is enjoying the sort of experience that we would enjoy, if we rubbed our spines against fragrant, cool grass. In fact, wild dogs use scent the way human deer hunters dress up in camouflage. The dog is blending in, disguising his scent.

As I think about sniffing, and the useful social information dogs glean from where other dogs have "been", it occurs to me that a sexually lonely alien with dog-like senses would probably find the Ladies section of public toilets irresistible. What a great source of conflict!

One potentially hilarious part of the book discusses the qualities of leadership that are appreciated by dogs. These qualities include the ability (of the leader) to project happiness, also aloofness, also calm authority. What fun it would be to assess some of the world's most prominent politicians as if we were dogs!

Be warned, "It's Me Or The Dog" contains some very sad stories of how differently humans view dog behaviour and motivation, and how badly these misunderstandings can play out for the dog. It is certainly a thought-provoking tome, and I recommend it... not just to alien romance writers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Curse of Hyperconnectivity

Here's an article with some provocative cautionary remarks about multitasking and constant accessibility:

Creative Kryptonite

Hypotheses advanced by this author, Jonathan Fields: (1) Performing innumerable little tasks throughout the day gives the illusion of productivity through "busy-ness" but interferes with the real thing because these micro-tasks—reading and sometimes answering all the news bites and messages as they come along—fill the gaps that used to allow space for creative rumination. (2) The allure of intermittent reinforcement: Responding to the ringtone of the cell phone or the ding of incoming e-mail rewards the brain on a neuro-chemical level with constant dollops of positive reinforcement, "dopamine squirts" as he labels them. People used to this constant access can suffer literal physiological withdrawal when cut off from their electronic connections. (3) These frequent incoming demands on the user's attention open "loops" that never get satisfactorily closed, because a new iteration of the loop is continually being opened.

I use my cell phone only to make outgoing calls, a rather infrequent occurrence. I never keep it on unless I've made a specific agreement with someone to be available for a call at a designated time. I don't know how to text. And I don't work on writing projects and go on the Internet at the same time, so I never switch back and forth from my document file to answer the "you've got mail" ding. However, I notice my type is turning into a minority group. Fields makes some ominously plausible points. As a slow writer anyway, too prone to seizing any excuse to wander off task, I am glad I don't pursue the will-o-the-wisp of constant connectivity; that behavior would make me even slower to finish stuff. Would a fast, high-energy writer be able to handle the snares of intermittent reinforcement and infinitely opening loops better? Here's much worth pondering!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part V: Modesty, The Scrimmage Line of Big Love

This series started with Part I Sex Without Borders and continued each Tuesday concluding with Part VIII on August 9th, though we may be back to this subject for additional entries later. 

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Part IV in the series:
This Big Love Sci-Fi series is about how a Romance writer (any sub-genre) can create suspense, both romantic-suspense and action-suspense. 

The Love Story is an ingredient I've used in almost every bit of fiction that I've sold so far.  Romance isn't always my focus, but it's always there driving the personal issues of my characters whether they know it or not (yeah, past life karma adds "depth" to characters.)

The Love Story is my personal favorite thing, before, during or after the Romance, because in my life Love is what Makes The World Go Round.

I'm pretty much sure that "Love" is central to all human cultures, even those currently obsessing on teaching their children "Hate." 

Reading Romance is virtually a degree-course in human Psychology,  especially modern Romance, because the modern culture is furiously erasing the border between public and private.  So we're watching characters suffering through the problems that confusion creates.  That two-sides-of-the-coin relationship between Love and Hate is something I don't have to explain to Romance readers.  And today's Romance readers have an in-depth grasp of the relationship between Sex and Violence, too.  So no explanations needed. 

But, ah, "Modesty!" -- that became a political football (scrimmage line; get it?) in the 1970's.  Today it's almost a dirty word, a codeword for repression of women by men  (well, as a matter of pure fact, it was!). 

We're seeing an actual, violent, scrimmage line developing as more Muslim women adopt the veil for reasons most Western women either can't understand or actively despise.  Isn't that curious? 

Yeah, in this blog, I will tread where most would fear to go, and all of it in the name of Love. 

There's a thesis here for this "Big Love Sci-Fi" series of posts.  It could be (maybe) that the general public has little respect for Romance because the general public has no idea what Love is.

Now there's an unthinkable concept!  Unthinkable concepts are what it takes to create SF!  We're onto something Big here. 

 It's going to take a Romance writer, probably SFR writer, to explain that in a blockbuster feature film.  So we need to train up Romance writers to regard "Love" and "Romance" as the "science" in the SFR. 

The first thing a scientist needs to learn in order to become a scientist is to DOUBT EVERYTHING.  Question everything. 

You don't know anything you have not proved yourself.  Other people's proofs don't count.  You can't use a fact in your thinking until you, yourself, have proved it.  That's what you learn in your first Geometry course. 

To lead a readership on a Quest for facts that they can prove in their own lives, an SF writer must ask the kinds of questions the readership would never, ever, be able to pose.  Those are the questions that confound, confuse, mystify, disconcert, challenge the foundations of reality, and ultimately cause the reader to question all their own innermost unconscious assumptions.  The name of this process is "Philosophy" and it enters into fiction writing at the level of "Theme."   Philosophy can be the "science" in the "science fiction" of an SFR novel.  (I've done that many times.)  Philosophy is the source of all the best Themes writers use because Philosophy poses unanswerable questions, or questions that are unanswerable within the confines of the reader's culture. 

Our question today is, "What exactly is the place of Modesty in Love and Romance?"  (if any)

Maybe before we get into the examination of "Modesty" we should agree on a working definition of "Love" vs. "Romance."  (I figure we all know what "scrimmage" means, though we may disagree on what "Love" is.)

For definitions, let's hark back to my Astrology series here -- and assign the word "Love" to Venus and "Romance" to Neptune.  is an index to the Astrology series. 

And here are my accompanying posts integrating Tarot and Astrology, all focused just on what a writer can learn from these disciplines (to create this dynamic suspense line for a Love story with or without hot Romance).

Venus forms bonds; Neptune dissolves them. 

Venus rules Taurus, the Natural Second House of material possessions (OK money).  It also rules the Natural 7th House, Libra, of  Relationships and the public sphere of functioning (i.e. not private -- the OTHER SIDE of that barrier we've been working with.)  Venus thus straddles the line between private (your personal possessions and philosophical Values) and public (your spouse, Others that you bond with. )

Neptune rules Pisces, the 12th House of Matters of Ultimate Concern (heaven, idealism here on Earth).  When you die, your ties to Earth and all the people living here dissolve (often gradually, but when not so gradual we find our beloved Paranormal Ghost Romances!)

Neptune blurs your sense of connectedness to "the world" so that your attention can drift to "higher matters" (i.e. Philosophy). 

In a Romance, both "lovers" are in a mental state ruled by Neptune (disconnected from "reality").

That mental state is usually caused by a Neptune transit to a sensitive and significant point in the Natal Charts of both members of the couple. 

Our prevailing, science hammered culture, regards that state of being "in the clouds" as, if not unhealthy at least unrealistic.

Very typically, a shared Neptune transit effect becomes an "Affair."  It can even trigger such an affair in a person who is married, because Neptune dissolves existing bonds and sets you free to drift through a world criss-crossed with anchoring bonds but not notice them.

That is Neptune alters your perception of your own "reality" -- it dissolves your perception of that "barrier" we've been talking about.  Thus in an affair situation, a person may blurt out all kinds of private things about their spouse that they'd never mention to a stranger ordinarily.

Neptune alters your perception of reality and sometimes replaces your personal Ideals or gives you a vision of new Ideals you will then lust after (for a time.) 

The odd thing to consider here is that many world-class Engineers and research scientists are Pisces dominated.  Neptune is art and inspiration, and that's the basis of good science.  Neptune is creativity, the visionary.

Which way Neptune manifests may have something to do with the individual's spiritual development as a Soul.  It is said more advanced Souls manifest Neptune in a useful and positive way. 

The idea is that Neptune alters your perception of "reality" -- and the Question the writer must ask is, "Does this character see reality more clearly under this transit, or less clearly?  Does this other character wax psychic enough to penetrate the illusion of reality and come back with actual knowledge that is really true, despite it defying all common sense?"

Saturn is "common sense."  Neptune is "idealism."

Which reality is true?  That's the kind of barrier-line across which a writer can draw a suspense-line and generate a plot based on a theme rooted in Neptune vs. Venus.

As an aside, President Obama was elected with Pluto transiting opposition his Venus and Neptune transiting his Ascendant (according to one guess at his natal chart).

OK so now Venus. 

One can bond with one's possessions, become a hoarder, a collector, a curator, or just filthy rich.

One can bond with one's "Significant Other"  -- that's the 7th House relationship.  It's social networking, too.

If ordinarily people don't like you, chances are under the right Venus transit (happens every year for a day or so) you might be elected to office, given an award, sell a novel, or get invited to a party (or have one thrown in your honor).

People born with Venus positioned just so are people who are just plain liked, who are popular, make friends easily, and everyone says they're "nice."

So, in today's world, girls who want to be the most popular girl in school (at least with the boys) adopt tight clothing, exposed cleavage (if they have one yet), and show as much skin as possible. In fact, it's a competition among the girls to see how much they can get away with.  (not like this is new)

They're on the market, telegraphing they're ready to put out (sometimes this starts so young they don't even know that's what they're doing.)

Now, fast-forward to her mid-Thirties and two or three kids later, and what do you see?  Assume she's married, has two or three kids, and still has a husband. 

You look at a High School girl or college girl and you know what they're doing.  So?  What else would you expect?  It's not immodest for a 16 year old to put the goods out there.  It is, however, for a 10 year old, or at least I think so, while other mothers might not.  (oh, yeah, domestic dispute scenes over teen dressing have a place in second-time-around Romance novels, where you can get in a lot of characterizing while moving the plot forward at blazing speed). 

You look at this mother of 3, and you judge her by how she's dressed.

If she dresses like a High School girl on the prowl, it's distasteful, and maybe the word hooker comes to mind.  Dressing twenty-years too young is not age-appropriate and invites assumptions.  You might have doubts about her character, intentions, maturity, trustworthiness, values, maybe suspect a mental handicap. 

But if she's 30-something in tight jeans, a low cut tight sweater, or sleeveless shirt, it's just battle-gear for kid-raising.  If she's in a short skirted business suit, it's battle-gear for feeding her kids.  In a business suit she might actually be showing cleavage and today's haircuts might be loose-hair seductively cupping the face.  But that wouldn't be considered "immodest" in the Western world.  Battle-gear is never immodest.

Notice how News Anchors (now almost 50% women!!!) covering hard news show cleavage and hips while men delivering the same information wear suit and tie securely closed?  For a while, female News Anchors wore business suits - started with pants suits, then skirts were a necessity -- now it's slinky-sexy dress.  Sex sells.  But the public perception is that such clothing is not immodest or demeaning of the Anchor's womanhood.  (well the female perception - not at all sure about the men)

If your thirty-year old mother of 3 is going out to a formal dinner, cleavage, sleeveless, clingy satin around the hips, heels to die in, would not be immodest.  If she dresses like that to mow the lawn or hit the supermarket, take the kids to soccer practice, you've telegraphed something totally else about this character. 

So how you dress your characters relative to their age and activity causes readers to judge the character's modesty, according to the customs of the segment of our culture they belong to.

But is "modesty" really about CLOTHING?  Isn't too much cloaking actually immodest because it draws attention, shouts "Look at me! I'm modest!" 

In fact, does modesty have anything at all to do with clothing, or is that a smokescreen to divert attention from the actual issue of "modest?"  (A good Romance theme might be "Modesty is not a Virtue.")

Or maybe clothing just a symbol for the dimension of modesty?

Previously in this Big Love Sci-Fi series of posts, I mentioned that our culture suffers from a blurring of the line between private&public which has led to a loss of definition (Neptune, idealism) of the difference between Private and Secret.  This makes the Romance writer's job much more difficult when developing Romantic Suspense. 

Private is something that's nobody else's business.

Secret is something that is everybody else's business but you are preventing them from knowing it.

Today, the TSA has had to revise their standards for body-searching 6 year olds.  There was a case of a child of that age group who moved during the scan, and was immediately sent for intrusive personal pat-down, which traumatized the child.  This tidbit of news may signal a renewed debate over the difference between private (as in body parts) and secret (as in carrying something harmful to others.)

Secrets make dandy plot devices, and create automatic suspense (when will they find out?)

In today's fiction market, "Private" is much harder to handle because the readers have no actual, concrete idea of what Private really is.

A society which did still have the notion of "Private" would never have allowed the TSA to come into existence, no matter the risk. 

It isn't about government intrusion into private space.  It's about any intrusion into private space.

The entire notion of "Privacy" has become political, and equated with "Secrecy" and thus "Dirty Secrecy."  (Yes, I'm thinking of Wiener and such similar revelations.)

If there's anything in your life that you wish nobody but you to know about BECAUSE it's not relevant to them, then in today's world you are basically taking an asocial stand! 

The public has a right to know (even if Google and Microsoft don't). 

Even if the public doesn't have a "right" to know, your reluctance to reveal is paranoid. 

Now you can argue against that statement.  The software companies, especially "security" companies, go through all kinds of gyrations to "protect" your privacy.

But notice the choice of words.  Security.  Protect. 

Implicit in that is the notion of external hostility (yes, I know there really are hostile hackers doing harm; this is about social philosophy useful to ROMANCE WRITERS, not about politics or reality.)

So why is the "exterior" world hostile?  Because you are keeping secrets.  Anything "private" is now considered "secret."

Here's another TSA anecdote taken from real life.

From this you might conclude that modesty is now illegal in the U.S.A.  (wonderful worldbuilding premise)

I know a family that made an international vacation trip recently. 

They are a middle-aged couple with a 12 year old son.  The husband is diabetic (diabetes I, really problematic on trips, very much life-threatening and developing heart disease which the wife knows about).  For traveling, the wife wore a long skirt and loose blouse, comfortable for sleeping on a long plane trip. 

On the way home, they went through "Security" and passed the screening machine.  But because the woman was not wearing tight jeans and a tight sweater, form fitting clothing, they were delayed for a physical pat-down of the wife, right in front of the eyes of the adolescent boy and the husband who was in distress from the diabetes.  They were racing to make a connection. 

The woman made an issue of the pat-down and demanded a private pat-down, which was provided, but by a man.  She then delayed things further by asking that her husband be present.  A big argument ensued with the TSA worker.  But there was nobody to watch the son.  So he was there while his mother was essentially violated (whether the TSA worker saw it that way or not, the mother experienced it that way.  She had recently encountered a TSA worker via her job who was not fired after being convicted of sex crimes.) 

With all the delay, they missed their connecting flight, a dire problem for a diabetic since food isn't served and with all kinds of food restrictions, there was nothing eatable available to buy on the concourse.  Stress like this takes years off a diabetic's life by deteriorating the organs. 

All travelers have seen this kind of thing happen, had it happen to them, and now a huge segment of the US population has "adjusted."  It's the price of security.  *shrug*

See last week's post about how Big can Love be in Science Fiction?  It was about the sensitivity level going down in our society. 

Subjecting such a wide swath of our society to this kind of intrusive search (and I'm not addressing the Constitutional angles here because that doesn't matter in this subject area) hits and hits on those sensitive areas of our collective psyche and forces us to adapt by become insensitive, coarsened, calloused to sexual intrusion.

Science Fiction writers have long accepted that humans are extremely adaptable.  Many build worlds where humans are altered to be able to live on other worlds where they must adapt or die.  And humans adapt.

We are adapting to this social fabric shift that erases the barrier between public and private, between privacy and secrecy.

But it's a scrimmage line.  Those who want "safety at all costs" are pushing the resisting and desperate line of those who wish to live a life where there exists such a thing as privacy which is not secrecy.

Eventually, it will come to a vote, and Public (Venus) Ideals (Neptune) will be established, probably permanently.  We bond with our Ideals. 

But while it is a battleground, Romance writers weaving Science into their fiction can exploit the tensions across that Public/Private barrier using philosophy as the science.  Just watch the headlines and read between the lines! 

This public debate over privacy may affect the generally accepted definition of "Love" because one of the essential elements of "Love" is Intimacy.  You can't have intimacy without private space that isn't secret.  Intimacy is the exploration (adventure into) the private space of another, sharing private space, melding two private spaces into one.  That which happens in the family stays in the family.

If we give up personal body privacy, we in essence destroy the "family" which is the group that shares private space.  Re-read my posts on astrology, then go learn more about "The Houses" in astrology, which divide the human psyche into 4 quadrants.  It's a graphic depiction of the definition of Privacy.   There's a whopping big Romance novel in this.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Self-Driving Cars

Nevada has passed legislation authorizing the development of regulations to allow driverless cars on that state's roads:

Driverless Cars

Google (surprise) has been experimenting with automated vehicles in California for a while. Proponents maintain that removing the factor of human error would actually make the highways safer, as well as allowing more cars to use the same amount of road mileage at one time and move along faster and more smoothly.

Who'd have guessed Heinlein's classic "The Roads Must Roll" would turn out to be so prophetic? (In general, not in detail; he postulated specially designed surfaces the cars would have to run on. Although his fiction foresaw many technological wonders that have come true, oddly he didn't anticipate the pocket calculator. HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL combines Moon colonies with slide rules.)

Welcome to the future!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part IV: Mystery-Detective Romance

What strange bedfellows I have for you to study today!

But first the list of previous posts in this series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Readers, please remember my Tuesday posts on are aimed mostly at Romance writers, professional and beginner, best selling and self-published (which is sometimes the same thing!), plus anyone who wants to solve the knotty problem of why the Romance genre and its sub-genres are not held in the highest of all regards by the general populace.

Examining that problem of "reputation" has led us on many goose-chases, some of them quite wild.  And this Big Love Sci-Fi series may turn out to be the wildest yet because it references and builds on many of the discussions we've explored here.

This blog focuses on Science Fiction Romance (SFR) and Fantasy Romance (PNR etc).

As I see it, and have always seen it since my pre-teen years when I discovered SF, there actually is no difference between SF and Romance, they are in fact one and the same thing, a "mystery" that has never been noticed by publishing's marketing wing, though things are changing fast.

I started out writing Science Fiction professionally to argue my case in "show don't tell" -- to demonstrate exactly how Romance and other potent intimate relationships where one from "outside" explores the "inner" content of another person 's (human or not) psyche. 

I quickly discovered this was simply, just, absolutely NOT DONE in professional SF.  So I buried those story aspects so deep the professional editors didn't notice, just as they have not yet noticed that SF and Romance are the same thing, not a "blend" or sub-genre.

The rest of the world solemnly believes that SFR is a "hybrid genre" -- but the truth as I see it, is that no such thing at all is the case.  These two "genres" actually do not differ at all. 

By now, any non-writer reader who is reading this is steaming!  Of course science "spoils" a good romance, and any double-dyed SF reader shuns any hint of Romance. 

And yes, that's true when the two philosophical modes of looking at the world, "modern science explains everything" and "Soul Mates Are Real and the object of life" are viewed as two separate things.  A writer seeing the oil and water distinction will choose a theme that makes that assumption unconscously.  That writer will then struggle with a mixed-genre novel, handling first the SF then the Romance, juggling and straining -- and the strain will show.  Neither reader will be satisfied.

My unconscious assumption is that the Science and The Soul are not oil and water, but part and parcel of exactly the same thing (but I've no clue what that thing actually is!) 

That assumption is woven into the foundation worldbuilding (deep in parts not actually revealed in the novels, but echoed in every character and event) of the Sime~Gen Novels which have now been reprinted and also released as e-books in all formats.

In June, 2011, the first of a pair of novels with an interstellar setting, human-alien intimate relationships, and Karma and rebirth as reality, MOLT BROTHER was launched into audiobook production, so it'll be available on paper, in ebook formats, and audiobook.  The sequel CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS is under contract for audio -- AND so are all the Sime~Gen Novels but production is only in progress on MOLT BROTHER so far.  Still, it's a career first, and shows how my unconscious assumption of the lack of a barrier between these genres is slowly becoming widely accepted. 

You can find all the Sime~Gen new editions and (click my name on the right) all the Sime~Gen new editions here:

Now we label such products as Mixed Genre -- eventually they won't be seen as two genres "mixed." 

My bet is that this material will be accepted as "Literature" -- real, honest, Literature, and given the very highest prestige of all Literature because it is the hardest to write and the most difficult to understand in full (i.e. every time you re-read one of these novels, you read a totally new novel you never knew was there, which is the mark of a classic.

So watching this trend develop, I have just read in quick succession two novels which, if you study each carefully, may actually take you another step on the path to creating that Romance Literature that stuns the world and changes minds.  That mind-changing effect was, traditionally, the function of fiction.  There was such a thing as an "Important Book" because of the way drama can convey ideas that can not be absorbed or entertained in any other context.

 So here are 2 novels for you to study and BLEND into this new Literature.

They might be viewed as BIG LOVE stories (totally plot-driving LOVE) and neither is really "Romance" -- but that lets us dissect them more easily.

1. Laurell K. Hamilton's #20 in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, HIT LIST.

Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 20)

2. Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan writing as P. B. Ryan (for a time free on Kindle, but it's #1 in a series)

Still Life With Murder (Nell Sweeney Mysteries (formerly Gilded Age Mysteries))

The Anita Blake novels are, as you know, huge best selling, trend starter novels.  The kick-ass Fantasy Heroine Anita Blake started the Kick-Ass fantasy female trend.  It wasn't the FIRST of its sort, but it became the most imitated. 

Patricia Ryan -- Oh, you might need to read my entries on Pen Names to understand this.

Patricia Ryan is one of the founders of Backlist eBooks, the group of widely published professional writers who have retrieved their rights and posted their own e-book versions.  This trend is particularly strong among Romance and Mystery writers because publishers of those genres don't generally do reprints.

So when Pat started the posting project for this series, there was a big discussion on the Backlist eBooks List about Pen Names.  She settled on the advice of using her main byline with "writing as" and the original byline the book was published with.

Pat's won many awards.  Here's what she says about this particular novel:

Book #1 of P.B. Ryan’s acclaimed historical mystery series featuring Boston governess Nell Sweeney and opium-smoking former battle surgeon Will Hewitt, Still Life With Murder was a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award. Long thought to have died during the Civil War, Will is arrested for murder, and it's up to Nell to prove his innocence. Originally published by Berkley Prime Crime.

So this novel is about a pair, a "couple in the making" perhaps, who team up to solve mysteries using their MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC THINKING.  He's a doctor, she was training as a nurse, and both are supremely intelligent.  He's a morphine addict (really death's-door addict when they meet), and echoes Sherlock Holmes.  She is you or me in another life.

So the "science" in Patricia Ryan novel is medicine, or Healing.  In the age this is set in, it wasn't much of a "science" but the thinking methodology was already in place and improving the practice of medicine. 

The "Romance" harks back to Part II in this Big Love Sci-Fi series, about the place of illness in fiction. 

Addiction is a type of illness, and many couples form around the problem of one person's addiction and another person trying to "cure" them.  Psychologically, that is of course futile, scientifically it's idiocy, but people still stubbornly do this.  The "Rescue Complex" is scorned by the general public, and the tendency is to shrug it off, label it "Love Makes You Blind" (or stupid) and walk away from the emotional pressure cooker.

However, if you look at Science and Soul as indistinguishable, what you see in this "Rescue Situation" is two Souls drawn together because of some prior life issue between them. 

The esoteric, Kaballah based, theory is that to accomplish the Soul task of making the whole world a better place, certain very highly evolved Souls take an incarnation amidst a horrendous Situation, and improve the world by climbing back to their more 'illuminated' state.

To my eyes, Patricia Ryan has drawn a picture for us of two Souls, Soul-Mates definitely, who have "descended" to the darkest levels of human existence (both have horrendous histories), and in this series are launching themselves into a journey upwards. 

I have only read the first novel, but Patricia Ryan is one terrifically competent craftswoman with Talent beyond belief, so I expect the series to be solid.  This is what I see.  The point, to my way of thinking, has to be that neither alone could achieve this climb.  Together, they will suffer harrowing defeats and take giant leaps of faith for each others' sake, and ultimately LOVE CONQUERS ALL.  They are Soul Mates, and they will live Happily Ever After -- never a doubt.  However, what keeps you reading is the texture of the spiritual journey, the "could I do that?" and "would I?" and "do I want to?"

All of that is coded into the worldbuilding via Theme, and it's so seamless you will have a hard time dissecting this novel to see how she did what she did.

Now, the interesting thing about the Karmic story Pat is not writing overtly, is that along the way they climb this steep path by HELPING PEOPLE.  They solve mysteries, murder mysteries, get involved in people's lives, come to understand the darkest and the brightest motivations, and the PRICE OF LIFE.  The risks and the rewards are all on that Intimate Adventure level I always talk about. 
Pat worked her magic in "the real world" in a historical setting.

Laurell K. Hamilton is working in an alternate Earth with Vampires, bacteria-based shapeshifting into various critters, necromancy, and creatures so old they have nearly infinite "power." 

After the first novel where Anita becomes embroiled in the affairs of a Vampire (Jean Claude), gradually the novels in this series become long, drawn out, intricate, involved and "hot"  sex scenes.  Usually, the sex is "dark" rather than joyful celebration.  But these sex scenes do not (usually) stall the plot.  However roundabout, the gyrations of bodies leads to some change in Anita's magical abilities or status in the magical community.

Anita joins (Bonds magically) with a large number of people of various sorts (Vampire to all kinds of shapeshifters), and frankly it gets tiresome.

However, in 20 novels, Anita has changed, matured, defused a lot of her psychological "buttons" and has less of a hair-trigger temper.  She's less defensive, and less apt to pick a fight just for the exercise.

Anita is a cop.  Originally, she was a Vampire Hunter -- unofficially slaying Vampires who killed people, to unofficially police the preternatural community.  She was especially good at it because she's a talented necromancer, and that's how she earned her living (Raising the dead so they could rat out their murderers).

So Anita is on the "good-guy" side of things, helping people, protecting people from being murdered by preternaturals, and with each effort, each job, she gets sucked further and further into the world of darkness.

At the 20th novel, I'm not at all sure Anita will ever make it back to the Soul state she started with.  I have not enjoyed watching her path downwards.  I'm not sure she wants to claw her way back up -- maybe next lifetime she'll become a Patricia-Ryan Character.  I'm not sure Anita cares.  If there's a Soul Mate for her in this series, it's Jean Claude and recently we've rarely seen him, and haven't seen him doing Good.  But Anita and Jean Claude are DEFINITELY "Big Love" candidates. 

Hamilton has painted a very dark world for us, one with a huge lot of Sex and even maybe some Soul, and a dollop of Love here and there outside here Relationship with Jean Claude.  Anita still has a tiny bit of the Honor she started with and she clings to that, but is still letting go of it one bit at a time.  Very dark.

My personal truth is Patricia Ryan depicts the world I live in, and Hamilton depicts a nightmare I'd never even have.  It just doesn't connect with me, personally, on that level.  Ryan though has my combination down pat. 

But that's personal.  When you're learning the writing craft, training yourself to do this stuff and make it come out a) Best Seller and b) revealing depiction of inner Realities  -- you have to read and analyze things all around your sweet-spot and not just in it.  You have to get to where your writing is personal, yes, but also not at all personal at exactly the same time.  That's the dividing line between amateur and professional.  There's no way to explain that line to those who haven't crossed it -- just as there is no way to explain this Private/Public line I've been discussing in BIG LOVE SCI-FI to those who haven't adventured across it.

Do an in-depth contrast-compare of the THEMES of Patricia Ryan's Nell Sweeny Mysteries and Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake mysteries (yes, Anita is a Federal Marshal and solves mysteries while Sweeny is a nurse/Governess who solves mysteries), and ponder how these two series serve different readerships.  (Me?  I'm a card-carrying member of BOTH readerships!  But I'd pick up Anita Blake's story in her next lifetime.)

Patricia Ryan's kickoff novel for the Nell Sweeny Mysteries has no sex in it, but scintillates with nascent Big Love.  Ponder how that works, and what it means in terms of that Public/Private dividing line.

Laurell K. Hamilton's entire series is almost nothing but sex scenes interspersed with all-out magical and physical violence.  I THOUGHT it would become a fabulous Vampire Romance, but it swerved in a totally different direction, the destruction of an Honorable Character.  Keep in mind, I haven't read the rest of Patricia Ryan's series yet.  (they're $2.99 on Kindle)

Now go back and re-read the previous entries in this blog series -- BIG LOVE SCI-FI -- thinking hard about these two novel series and what they have in common -- and how opposite they are.

What is the difference?  Is it genre?  Or Philosophy?  Does each philosophy need a genre?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, July 07, 2011

One Entity, One Vote?

This past Sunday the local paper printed a feature that asked a wide selection of people what they liked about America and what they would change. One member of the County Council proposed that only successful business persons should be allowed to run for office at any level, on the grounds that only someone who understands business can govern effectively. The mind boggles. How do we define "successful," to start with? And are people who've succeeded in other fields, such as education or the arts, incapable of leadership?

Reminds me of various proposals for earning the franchise, such as Mark Twain's "Curious Republic of Gondour," in which citizens have to earn the right to vote by education or wealth, and a single individual can exercise multiple votes. Robert Heinlein wrote an article on the subject of voting rights and suggested several alternative systems, such as perhaps we should return to the old custom whereby a voter had to own property or at least have a certain minimum level of annual income; those standards, according to Heinlein, demonstrate that a person has a stake in the community. Or maybe—I kind of like this one—since men had the exclusive right to vote and hold office in this country for over a century and can be argued to have made a mess of it, the franchise should be restricted to women for an equivalent span of time, to find out whether we'd do a better job.

The proposal that votes should be sold outright, legally, because a citizen would demonstrate by buying a greater number of votes that he or she has a serious interest in public issues, has a certain twisted surface logic. In practice, though, buying lots of votes would probably just prove the buyer has lots of money and a self-centered agenda he wants to push.

And, going back to our County Councilman's suggestion for office-holding, would we really want our city, state, or country run entirely by business types? One thinks of a familiar saying about hammers and nails. (If all you have is a hammer....)

An alien civilization might find all our methods of governing ourselves bizarre. Suppose we met intelligent beings with the biology and culture of ants or bees, genetically programmed to act completely in the interests of the hive. Our concept of individual rights would simply bewilder them.

"Vote early, vote often."

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi: Part III How Big Can Love Be in Science Fiction?

In this Big Love Sci-Fi series we've been talking about the place of sexual activity in Romance, Love, and science fiction.

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Last week we looked at the place of illness in fiction.

The general subject is all about carnality in life, where it fits, what it's for, and how various societies have handled it.

In the 1800's, carnality was hidden, out of sight, kept from children and even teens and unmarried girls.

Today it's in every TV ad.  In order to make a point, I had to post a Bikini photo on the SIMEGEN Group on Facebook -- because the product that has just come on the market which will shape the next Sime~Gen novel worldbuilding I do is a Bikini!

Possibly that post won't be there any more when you read this.  It's a bikini going on sale made of the new cloth that can use solar energy to power small personal devices (like an iPod or GPS).

So why do you suppose they chose to market this cloth as a bikini first?

And why are they marketing it with an illustration of a Swimsuit Issue perfect model in the bikini?

Wouldn't it be enough to show the bikini on a hangar?  I mean men aren't going to buy it, at least not to wear themselves!  Why show it on a model?

Carnality sells.  Sex and violence never fail as a marketing tool, even (or maybe especially) in a society that keeps such things private.

Remember, from the first blog in this series, that the conflict, the Romance and the steam behind the Romance comes from the tension generated across the border between public and private.

That's rooted in the human adolescence, when awareness of the personal individuality as distinct from the parents first emerges.  And at first, (which is why virginity was so protected and prized) the individual's inner, personal awareness is very tender, very sensitive.

That's why teens tell each other tales of how EMBARRASSED they were in this or that "awkward" situation.

Try to explain "embarrassment" as a major issue to a three year old.  Even a shy three year old just has no awareness of anyone else's "embarrassment."

Embarrassment is sexual, or at least coupled to the new unfolding awareness in adolescence.

Now to the point of this post.

Science Fiction originated as a genre for adolescent males (NOT females!)

With the impact of STAR TREK (and the women's lib movement) on us, girls discovered the glories of Science Fiction.

Those original science fiction virgins discovered a private/public tension dimension that had escaped the notice of all the guys.

They discovered SPOCK!!!  The most "private" creature on the Enterprise.

What was "fascinating" about this alien, what drove the sexual interest, was the huge realm of his life that was PRIVATE FROM US.

Like young virgins everywhere, they were so desperate to know all about Spock that they made up all kinds of stories.

What were those stories based on?  The single episode done by Theodore Sturgeon, Amok Time, which established the Vulcan mating drive (just barely sketching it).

My article on Theodore Sturgeon is here:

And here's one connecting Sime~Gen to the magazine WORLDS OF IF, and Fred Pohl (all related, trust me).

Breaking through that privacy barrier, especially with the SF-premise of telepathic bonding as the root of Vulcan sexuality, fueled the first Science Fiction Romance, and gradually and tentatively (like virgins) explored the carnal issues of sex with an alien.

And since at that time homosexuality was a huge social issue in America, many of those human/alien romances ran permutations and combinations into same-sex relationships.

Why was that so fascinating?  Because it broke a privacy barrier, a taboo if you will.

When you cross a privacy barrier, you enter into INTIMATE relationships.

And it's always emotional, always a loss of emotional virginity, when two people enter each others' private space for the first time.

You might want to read my articles on Intimate Adventure, here:

So how "big" can love be within SCIENCE FICTION and still stay in the science fiction genre?

How much science does it take to ruin a Romance?

Well, just look at that bikini picture in that advertisement I referred to above.  If it's not available, close your eyes and imagine, then imagine that tiny scrap of cloth as the science.

No mere "amount" of science can ruin a Romance. And no "amount" of Romance can ruin a good science fiction story.

It isn't the "amount" (or number of words devoted to) either science or Romance that makes the story work or not work.

It's all in how the story elements are orchestrated (yes, it's an artform!).

The key to learning to "orchestrate" the science, carnality, love, Romance, and Relationship in such a complex genre as SFR lies in that concept of PRIVACY BARRIER.

How "big" the Love is in a story, how overpowering or commanding, how much the Love drives the plot to resolution depends on the author's awareness of the reader's sense of private-vs-public.

The Adventure in Intimate Adventure as I've defined it comes from crossing from that Public space adventuring into the strange territory of someone else's Private space.

SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE where you deal with a human/alien couple caught up in a Romance is all about how very STRANGE that other person's private space is.  How alien.  How different.  How unexpected.

How embarrassing to intrude into!

The measure of "how" big that Love, Romance, and Relationship is depends on how SENSITIVE the two characters are (how virginal), and how sensitive the readers are.

In our society where that bikini ad just had to include a model to sell the science product, you can see the reason why most Romance novels today include a series of increasingly carnal and explicit sex scenes that go on and on and hit and hit harder and harder on the reader's nerves.

As you become less sensitive, you feel those blows less.

To feel a response to a sex scene, you need more and more detail, private-space invading language, coarser language, hammering gyrations described visually -- or you don't think it's interesting.

So as with the classic tale of the Princess and the Pea -- how Big the Love in BIG LOVE SCI-FI is depends not on the carnality of the sex scenes but on the sensitivity of the intended audience.

The typical Romance reader who hasn't yet been properly introduced to SFR is extremely sensitive (i.e. virginal) with respect to SCIENCE.  So any scientific jargon or explanation they must understand to decipher the plot is too much.

The typical SF reader who hasn't been properly introduced to Romance is extremely sensitive (i.e. virginal) with respect to LOVE.  So any LOVE related jargon or explanation they must understand to decipher the plot is too much.

When something intrudes into your sensitive private place, you squirm with embarrassment like a teen.  Is it good to become calloused there?  Is it good to have no privacy?

So the most effective mix of Love and Science for SFR novels is entirely dependent on the previous reading (viewing) experience of the audience and the prevailing opinion on privacy barriers and the value of callousness.

In a harsh world, you might want to be sure your children become calloused.  A violinist develops callouses on the finger tips for a reason.  Our skin barrier has that callousing ability for a good reason.  Callouses revealed to Sherlock Holmes a lot about a person's occupations.  Our bodies and minds custom-make our callouses, and they are part of our individuality (hence a writer can use them to sketch a character in multiple dimensions.)

Now you might want to ponder last week's blog entry on depicting illness in fiction.  When ill, we don't have the strength to hold up our barriers, and our emotional callouses might protect the tender inner parts for a while, but they too will fail.  A person who is ill all the time develops different emotional callouses.  

How sensitive you think "people" should (or should not) be, and how sensitive you think they are, and how to change what is to what you think OUGHT to be, may actually be the source material for the THEME of that illusive work we've been searching for -- the SFR story that hits the big screen and brings real respect to the genre.

The science fiction writer habitually thinks in these areas where ordinary people simply can't go on their own.  It's the mark of the budding SF talent.  Can you think the unthinkable thought and postulate a society where sensitivity is prized, fostered, admired and required?  Can you go beyond that to depict a society (probably non-human) where such sensitivity is in fact the greatest strength and most effective survival characteristic?  Once having built such a world, can you induce the calloused readers of today's Romance novels to visit you there?

So think hard about how BIG you think LOVE is and ought to be, in life.  What has to change to make it the "right" size?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg