Sunday, November 18, 2018

An "Alice In Wonderland" World.

Cyber "space" is in Iceland. Iceland is also home to the Dark Web. Or so "they" say.

The "cloud" may be in the bowels of a big barge, or in Maiden North Carolina , or perhaps under the control of Amazon Web Services, or in a large and environmentally unsound building in a desert, sucking up vast quantities of water (for cooling), and drawing in power, and emitting who knows what.

What goes around, comes around. Do you remember the pirate radio ships of the 1960's: Radio Caroline, and Radio North Sea International? Did you see the movie "The Boat That Rocked" aka "Pirate Radio"?
Thinking of these seaworthy (possibly) floating server farms, one would be forgiven for thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's just not all the sound of a needle on spinning grooved vinyl any more.

Until recently, modern pirate "ships" enjoyed safe harbors, especially those they were able to construct and hollow out within the DMCA. David Lowery discusses the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) as a virtual "island" nation in which the consent of the persons who are governed by the elites is not necessary.

If administrations become less friendly, as they have since the European Copyright Directive and Article 13, the pirate party moves offshore, or to a pirate utopia.  Chris Castle discusses the TAZ.

Free stuff... isn't free. Someone always pays for it. Sometimes, the redistribution of the cultural wealth goes from the starving artist to Silicon Valley, or to profiteering politicians.

Georgia State University appears to have thought it could reduce the cost of a college education by stiffing authors. Since 2008, GSU has had a lot of support.

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/copyright/article/78401-gsu-e-reserves-case-goes-on-after-publishers-win-second-appeal.html

Andrew Albanese explains for Publishers Weekly readers how (and this is a loose paraphrase... not his drift) Georgia State University professors deliberately and systematically offered students pirated (unlicensed) digital copies of assigned reading materials as a way to avoid paying for legal, licensed course packs.

IMHO, it's a case of professors teaching piracy by example to generations of students.

Authors Guild shares an important perspective "Are Electronic Course Packs Fair Use?"
https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/are-electronic-course-packs-fair-use/

As the Authors Guild explains, academic authors have seen their income from text book work evaporate as other colleges and universities and schools have followed the bad example set by GSU, particularly after GSU's two court victories wherein the district court judge, Orinda Evans, even awarded the university's legal costs to be paid by the publishers who sued in 2008 over the alleged copyright infringement.

Not only losing a complaint of copyright infringement, but also having to pay the alleged infringer's legal costs is --or would be-- a truly chilling effect on copyright and the business models of academic authors and publishers.

Authors Guild points out an important factor in copyright law that none of the courts appear to have weighed appropriately, and that is the potential effect of copying works or portions of works on future markets for the works.

Legal blogger Mark Sableman for Thompson Coburn LLP identifies another nuance in the Fair Use wording in  Section 107 of the DMCA that perhaps the GSU courts overlooked. That is, the meaning of "include".

To extrapolate, "include" does not mean "comprise solely of these four...", it means "among other considerations in addition to these four...."

"Fair Use Isn't Arithmetic" is well worth reading.
https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5a011d32-2e43-4048-806b-ed588164163a

As he says, each excerpt that was included in the course pack ought to have been reviewed individually and holistically.  What he does not spell out is that 10% of text book X, might have been 25% or 50% or even 100% of Author Y's contribution to the multi-author work that made up text book X.

Does stiffing a publisher matter? Yes. Look at how many publishing houses have gone out of business or merged or been sold in the last decade. Look what has happened to the advances that used to be paid to authors.
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-harsh-reality-of-non-fiction-writing/article23229779/

Looking back to 2008, an observer may now infer that generations of teachers, professors, judges, lawyers, social media platforms and search engines have fostered a climate that leads reasonable persons to perceive that piracy is profitable, useful, fun, fair and without consequences.

"No Left Or Right When It Comes To Copyright"
https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/no-left-or-right-when-it-comes-to-copyright/

According to the Authors Guild, between 2009 --one year after GSU's original success in claiming that the alleged academic copyright infringement was fair use-- and 2013 (a year after Orinda Evans first, erroneously, ruled in favor of GSU), piracy alerts to the Authors Guild have increased by 300 %, and alerts have increased another 76% on top of that, through 2017.

It remains to be seen what will happen next with Georgia State. One thing is predictable. Lawyers will win.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry




Thursday, November 15, 2018

Casting Our Vote(s)

Let us give thanks that this election cycle has ended, and we'll have a short rest from the acrimonious politicking. (Maybe. It seems that nowadays we hardly get a moment's peace before campaigning for the next election starts.) The political barrage reminds me of an entertaining article on that topic by Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein's essay and story collection EXPANDED UNIVERSE includes a short section defending his controversial novel STARSHIP TROOPERS and proposing, with varying degrees of apparent seriousness, alternative methods of determining who gets the right to vote. (You won't find this piece by scanning the table of contents; it's the Afterword to "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?") He suspects that one major objection to STARSHIP TROOPERS is that it portrays a political structure in which the franchise must be earned—a policy Heinlein seems to approve of. He asks us to stipulate that "some stabilizing qualification is needed (in addition to the body being warm) for a voter to vote responsibly with proper consideration for the future of his children and grandchildren—and yours." He points out that the "Founding Fathers never intended to extend the franchise to everyone"; a citizen had to be "a stable figure in the community" as evidenced by owning property, employing others, or the like. Heinlein skips over the part where the Founding Fathers didn't grant the vote to the Founding Mothers, much less people of whatever gender who belonged to the wrong race.

He goes on to suggest some possible alternatives to universal "warm body" franchise, in addition to the STARSHIP TROOPERS requirement for earning citizenship through public service. (1) The government's sole source of revenue comes from the sale of franchises. In other words, legalize the buying of votes. Heinlein believes if the price per vote were set high enough, few rich people would want to impoverish themselves to control an election. (2) Solve a math problem in the election booth before being allowed to cast a vote. As a variation on that plan, deposit a non-trivial sum of money first, which you get back if you qualify but lose if you fail the test. Under that rule, only citizens seriously interested in the political process would bother to participate. Considering that he thinks his idea of requiring people to solve a quadratic equation might be "too easy," I'm dubious of this notion. Having never really grokked math and having forgotten whatever I once knew about quadratic equations, I would surely find myself disenfranchised.

His final suggestion arises from the fact that female suffrage hasn't changed society and politics as much as suffragists predicted. Maybe the change didn't go far enough. Suppose, in a spirit of fairness, we don't allow men to vote for the next hundred and fifty years? Voting, office-holding, and the profession of law would be reserved for women. He goes even further with this modest proposal by pondering whether those rights should be restricted to mothers, who have an inescapable stake in society.

Like Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" for eating babies, Heinlein's hypothetical ideas for reforming our political system sneak up on the reader so smoothly that, for a few seconds, one feels they almost make sense. He also mentions Mark Twain's "The Curious Republic of Gondour," which can be read here:

The Curious Republic of Gondour

Under the system of this imaginary nation, every citizen automatically has one vote. They acquire additional votes, however, according to their education and wealth. A poor man or woman with a "common-school" education has two votes, someone with a high-school diploma gets four, and a university education bestows nine votes, a coveted and highly respected honor. The number of votes one is entitled to also rises in increments based on wealth, but those can be lost if the individual's wealth decreases. As a result, in the government of Gondour "ignorance and incompetence had no place. . . . A candidate for office must have marked ability, education, and high character, or he stood no sort of chance of election."

Imagine living under a government where we could count on those qualifications!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Worldbuilding For Science Fiction Romance Part 3 - Body And Soul

Worldbuilding For Science Fiction Romance
Part 3
Body And Soul 


Previous parts in Worldbuilding for Science Fiction Romance are:

Part 1
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/01/worldbuilding-for-science-fiction.html

Part 2 - Imagine An Impossible World
https://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2018/10/worldbuilding-for-science-fiction.html

Now in Part 3, we look at the inhabitants of the built world.

The "world" you build around your Characters arises from your Theme which from the point of view of the Characters is what they refer to as, "The Story Of My Life."  Or, sometimes, "Every Single &%$#@! Time This Happens To Me!"

The point of reading a novel is to explore how to break those "every single time" patterns in your own life.  The power of fiction lies in the ability to convey to the reader a clue, an insight, about how the reader's life works and how the reader can take command of their life and "edit" their fate-destiny-plight-theme to be more amenable.

So you are looking (as you scan the headlines) for a popular theme which recurs because of a misconception you can spot.  Once you fully understand the mechanism driving that misconception, then you can transpose that misconception into a well-built world where you can expose the misconception -- and be very entertaining as you do so.

I say "transpose" because this writer-craft process of crafting themes relevant to you, and to your reader, is just like adapting a musical composition to be played on different instruments and perhaps in a different key.  It's "the same but different" which is what purveyors of fiction look for.

Let's take an example.

In Science Fiction Romance one must blend "science" (the study of physical reality) with "Romance" (the bonding process of the Soul).

In science, there is no such thing as the Soul.

In Romance, no scientific declaration of "impossible" is a barrier to two Soul Mates joining -- Love Conquers All is the master theme.

In Romance, there is such a thing as "science."  But it does not govern the limits of the possible.  In Romance, the Soul governs.

When you join Science (the study of reality) to Fiction, you alter the Science to fit the Story and use that altered Science (what if you can go faster than light?) to drive the Plot (Interstellar Wars).

When you join Romance (the experience of Truth) to Fiction, you alter the actual, real-life experience of people to fit the Story and use that altered version of Romance to drive the Plot (Helen of Troy).

In both cases you have to start with something to say (theme).  That statement you are making has to be a reply to what your target readership is thinking and feeling.

In today's world, young people (teens-20's) have been immersed in a world that makes little distinction between thinking and feeling.  In fact, what people feel is considered a more reliable determinant in all decision making.  Thinking, while admired and even shrouded in the mystique of expertise, is a subordinate ingredient in distinguishing right from wrong, good from bad.

Those are the readers you are talking to, answering the questions they torment themselves over.  Those are the readers you, the writer, are to show a way out of torment, a way to change "the story of my life" -- to edit reality.

One subject the Romance field took up decades ago is the thesis that reshapes all lives and all realities when adopted -- that the sexual impulse, sexual arousal, can be "irresistible."

The feelings, hormones, emotions of the Body pre-empt all thinking.

Many today regard the Body as the thinker, and much Science (grant money) is being channeled into studies of the brain, nerves, genes, cells, ostensibly to create cures or treatments for disease and to extend life-span.

Science is the Body for many people, at least when they are young.

Most young people (teens) do not have much awareness of having a Soul, of being a two-part composition.

So the writer looks for a theory of Body and Soul which is TRUE in the World she is building, and dubious in this real world.  Choose a statement about Body and Soul, and build the entire fictional world around it (usually by starting with a Character.)

There is an occult theory that the Soul is first joined to the Body at conception, but only a tiny bit of contact is made.  As the fetus grows, more Soul pours into the little body.  At Birth, even more of the Soul is inserted into the Body, and then the contact is choked down to a tiny channel. By the teens, the channel has gradually opened to allow more Soul to pour into the Body.  This continues to life's peak, and then the Soul (having learned the lessons it is here to learn) starts to retreat.  With Aging of the Body, the Soul has only to pass on its lesson.  Death is the complete freeing of the Soul from contact with this Body.

By this esoteric theory of Soul, "the story of my life" -- the thematic pattern that repeats every ^%&$#@@@ time -- is the Lesson the Soul is here to learn.

You have to pass age 30 to have lived long enough to identify some of these patterns, and perhaps 50 to see which one is the lesson of this life.

But in the teens, the awareness that there are patterns is what causes the teen-angst we are so familiar with (and scornful of.)

If your life is about your Soul -- and the Body is just a disposable vehicle like a phone or a car -- but you deny the possibility that Soul exists, you are in Conflict.  That is an Internal Conflict.

If you deny that Soul is real, then meet a Soul Mate -- what do you do?

If the Soul "remembers" that every single &^^!@#$ time this new Soul has touched a Life you were living, everything went wrong, then how would the Soul/Body combination of this life react to yet another meeting -- another chance?

Now consider the Soul Mate Couple -- each has lived a series of Lives designed to teach them that the Soul is real, but neither of them has learned that lesson.

Into their Meeting Moment in this life, you put a Character who has complete Soul awareness, and whose body and soul are fully blended and activated.

This third Character would deal with each of them -- and everyone else he/she deals with -- as Souls, with the experience and awareness available only to Souls.

Other Characters in their lives, and the two Mates, would deal with each other as Body alone -- no Soul dimension to be considered.  Body's Lust is irresistible, emotions are truth, humans are primates who talk.  Do what's "natural" to the primate body - it's not healthy to do anything else.

The Other Characters behave that way because they live in the World you have built around them -- they fit their world.

The Third Character does not fit their world.

The Third Character is a source of Conflict, external and internal.

The Third Character is also the resolution of both Conflicts.

The way he/she resolves these Conflicts, leaving both Soul Mate Souls having learned the Lesson of this life, will be the thematic statement you choose.

Many Resolutions of the "I don't believe in Souls" Conflict are possible.  Think about it. The Resolution might be "Souls Are Fiction" or "Souls Might Be Real" or "Some People Don't Have Souls And Are Just Primates That Talk," or "What's That Got To Do With Anything."

Complications and Plot Twists galore open up if you include a pregnancy.

To get more ideas, just go to the Mall and sit, people-watch for a while.  We, in our current world, predicate our speech and deeds on the assumption that other people are just Bodies.  We deal with store clerks, patrollers, wandering advertisers wearing sandwich boards, or handing out flyers, all with Body-to-Body dynamics.

Read The Dresden Files -- and other Fantasy Series -- that include "The Soul Gaze."  When a Mage stares into your eyes, he Sees your Soul.


It is a common Fantasy element because Historically it was deemed a real world possibility.

Think about that.  Do some research. Imagine what a world full of Humans who deal with each other Soul-to-Soul might be like.  What Laws would they make?  What manners would they adopt?  How would they phrase statements and observations -- what would their Headlines say?

Such a world would seem strange, bizarre, uncanny, to your readers, but it might be irresistible.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Real People And Temptation

Increasingly, authors are responsible in every sense for advertising and promoting their own works. Also, most people carry a camera with them 24/7.  It is not implausible that some time, an author might come across a photogenic person in a public place reading that author's book.

What a temptation!

The copyright of a photograph belongs to the photographer, doesn't it?  Should one snap first, and ask permission later?

If you ask, and your reader says "Yes", must you get it in writing? Yes! But what if your reader says "No"? Alas, then you cannot use the shot. Readers have rights. Persons in the background also have rights. As discussed in a previous blog, graffiti artists whose "public art" might be on a building or subway wall in the background might also merit your consideration.

Legal blogger Terri Seligman writing for the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz PC discusses copyright and subway advertisements.

Law School Exam Part 3: Real People Real Stuff  (which is about adverts in subways that might or might not amount to a testimonial, and how to treat naming the person in the advert, depending on whether they are an actor playing a part or a real person.)

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=787417a9-87ee-4294-ae09-e3b5a34e3ed6&utm_source=lexology+daily+newsfeed&utm_medium=html+email+-+body+-+general+section&utm_campaign=lexology+subscriber+daily+feed&utm_content=lexology+daily+newsfeed+2018-10-26&utm_term=

What about if a fan takes such a photograph, and shares it with the author via email, private message, or on a social media site?

Even if my fan, copyright owner of the photograph she took at an airport or on a subway of a one-time World's Sexiest Man reading a paperback copy of one of my books gave me permission to use it on my website, could I do so?

Authors can extrapolate from the legal advice from David Oxenford writing for Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP and the Broadcast Law Blog concerning things for authors to consider when podcasting in order to market books.

https://www.broadcastlawblog.com/2018/09/articles/more-podcast-legal-issues-remembering-sponsorship-identification/#page=1

The trouble with publishing a photograph with real people in the background is that it might or might not invade a real person's privacy. Think Love Actually and the airport scenes. Those background people would all have been paid extras with contracts and releases. Consider whether any two people might strongly object to being photographed together, even if their appearance in your publicity shot is incidental.

Finally, and nothing much to do with the topic, authors who own websites do not necessarily have to worry about complying with the ADA's web accessibility guidelines.

If this issue is a concern to you, and for more information, read the ADA Title III News and Insights Blog of Seyfath Shaw LLP written by Minh N. Vu.

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=ea4fa4de-f75b-4e9a-95f4-0d8c9f7b79f9

All the best,
Rowena Cherry


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Value of Backstory?

I recently got around to watching the Star Wars movie SOLO. On an e-mail list I subscribe to, someone asserted that it was a mistake to produce a film devoted to Han Solo's backstory. In this person's view, the great appeal of Han was his persona as an interstellar Man of Mystery. My reaction was just the opposite. The main thing I liked about the movie was that it revealed answers to questions left unexplored in the original trilogy. How did Han and Chewbacca become partners? How did Han win the Falcon from Lando? What's the Kessel Run, and how could achieving it in twelve parsecs be explained in a way that makes sense? I'm the type of reader/viewer who wants everything ultimately revealed and explained. Enigmatic stories can be fun, but I also want the fun of seeing them clarified in the end.

Thomas Harris's prequel to the Hannibal Lecter series, HANNIBAL RISING, has received a lot of criticism on a similar premise—that it undercuts the numinous mystery of evil embodied in Lecter's character in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Here, I must admit the critics have a point. In SILENCE, Lecter is presented as an almost preternatural monster, not quite human. (His six fingers, oddly colored eyes, and animal-like sense of smell reinforce this impression.) It would be almost impossible to create an origin story worthy of this characterization without resorting to the outright supernatural.

Then there's Disney's MALEFICENT, which not only reveals an antagonist's early life but effectively transforms her character from the way it appears in the original film (SLEEPING BEAUTY).

What do you think about prequels that create backstories for established characters? Should an author keep the "mystery" intact or offer the enhanced depth a well-crafted backstory can provide?

By the way, speaking of interstellar scoundrels, one of the frequent errors in fiction and film that grates on me the most is the tendency for careless writers to say "intergalactic" when they mean "interstellar." It's even used in J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas novels where the intended reference is probably "interplanetary." Well, granted, we're mostly in Eve's viewpoint, and she has a Sherlock-Holmes-like indifference to any scientific facts that don't relate directly to her profession as a homicide detective. But in most cases the author or scriptwriter has no excuse.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Theme-Dialogue Integration Part 4 Theme Stated

Theme-Dialogue Integration
Part 4
Theme Stated 

Previous posts in this series:

What's Eating Him?
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/09/theme-dialogue-integration-part-1-whats.html

What's Eating Her ?
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/09/theme-dialogue-integration-part-2-whats.html

Romantic Emotional Intelligence
https://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2018/10/theme-dialogue-integration-part-3.html

What's Eating Them and the knowledge of it brought to articulation is the THEME STATED moment.

There is no right way to write.

You can start finding, chasing, constructing or spinning your story at any point or with any element we've discussed. Sometimes novels surface in your mind as a single line of dialogue, sometimes as a visual scene, or sometimes a bit of music.  Anything can be the first inkling you have an idea for a story.  Start anywhere.  But by the time you're done, you will have all the elements we've discussed in place.

The trick is to know when to END the story.  How do you tell you've finished the writer's job?  How do you know when to leave the rest up to the reader?

It's easy. And clarifying the theme avoids the worst criticisms of readers.           

Within a few pages of the impending ending, one of the Characters will blurt out the THEME and state it baldly, in words, as a way of restating the thematic statement on page 5 or so of Chapter 1.

You first symbolize the theme to cut out the material that you will sew together into a statement about life, reality and everything.  Then you unfold the story, like a flower opening, revealing the heart of the matter.

Then, you reassure the readers that they've understood what you've been saying by a Character saying it -- just straight out, boldly, in-your-face, and with finality and emphasis.

That's difficult, and often takes many rewrites to get the correct line of dialogue from the correct character in the correct place in the narrative.  But you can see it done in the most popular novels, and you will know when you've done it yourself.

It is your finale, and then just a few loose ends to tie up and let the readers cool off gently into a view of the long, happy ever after ending.

The story is over, but life isn't.  This THEME (whatever you've chosen) will continue to embroider, decorate and elaborate your Character's life.  It is a truth the reader will now notice in their own life, eternal truth.

That is theme.  It might be the last thing you bring to the surface of the novel in final rewrite, because you don't know it yourself, but you are not DONE writing until you have the theme-thread pulled through every scene, every character and every plot event -- culminating in the lesson learned.

Learn to view theme as the core of story, and conflict as the core of plot.  Integrate theme into every element, Character, Story, Plot, Description, Dialogue, etc etc.  It is most important in Worldbuilding.  Make your world make sense to your reader by stating the theme in every aspect and element of your World.

Make it match, like a decorator pulling together a room, with carpets, drapes, upholstery, and just the right flower vase to hold just the right flower.  That color shading that gives the "matched" look to a room is the equivalent of the theme of a novel. Find the theme after you write the first draft, then on rewrite, delete anything that clashes with the theme that turns up everywhere.

Create a palette of theme, and lay your story on top of it.  Make all the "colors" of the emotions and settings match - no false notes, no stray threads, everything neatly arranged in a set.  Once you know the theme, you will see what doesn't belong.  Snip it and save it for the sequel.

For further clues about how to structure Theme into your Plot, see the SAVE THE CAT! Series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Red Flag Knowledge, Copyright FAQs, And Can STMs Save Copyright?


The DMCA was intended by Congress to be a cutting edge tool to combat piracy. It has turned out to be a blunt tool indeed, given that ISPs have used it as a shield to avoid liability for copyright infringement, even to turn a blind eye to rampant (but highly profitable) piracy.

Activist judges on the Ninth and Second Circuits have also weighed heavily on the scales of justice and tipped what should have been a "balance" in favor of the piratically inclined, and of stiffing the photographers, musicians, authors and artists of the world.

Terrica Carrington explains the highs and lows of Red Flag Knowledge.
https://copyrightalliance.org/ca_post/twenty-years-dmca-notice-and-takedown/

She also suggests that STMs, if only "we" could agree on them, could save copyright. (Standard Technical Measures. How much more exotic and dangerous-sounding is the acronym!)

For anyone who has purchased an ISBN from the MyIdentifiers site of Bowker, there are apparently confirmed suspicions that that site has been hacked relatively recently (in 2018), and credit card information has been compromised.

Nate Hoffelder reveals:
https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/11/02/bowkers-isbn-site-has-been-hacked-and-credit-card-numbers-have-been-stolen/

For the time being, it is a little more complicated to purchase ISBNs.
https://www.isbn-us.com/shop/publisher-programs/bowker-single-isbn-package/

Does one need an ISBN? They are certainly not inexpensive, costing up to $125 for an ISBN plus barcode.
A bar code is needed for paperbacks and hardbacks, as is explained here:
https://www.isbn-us.com/importance-isbn-barcode-2/

The last word is that an ebook does not need a bar code, because it will never be scanned, but it ought to have an ISBN... for every format, according to those selling ISBNs.

For all sorts of FAQs and the answers about all aspects of copyright registration, the copyrightalliance.org has a wonderful resource:
https://copyrightalliance.org/education/faqs/copyright-registration/

For anyone thoroughly spooked by all the credit card hacks and other lawlessness on the wild west web, at least three major credit card services --Bank of America, Citi, and Capital One-- offer virtual numbers that one might use, for instance, only on the Bowker or MyIdentifiers site for buying ISBNs.

The process is a little slower and more complicated, so author Beth Braverman suggests that  it might also be a good idea to use a virtual number at one's favorite impulse-buy online site.

https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-virtual-account-numbers.php

PS For anyone who pays a subscription to a music site, and who is not exhausted by surveys already, Editor Baker of Music Tech Policy would very much like music fan feedback. There's probably a good reason for it. Thank you for helping out with their research.
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LQDMD5J

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Reflections on Alien Visitors

The November-December issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains three articles about UFOs and extraterrestrials.

"UFO Identification Process," by Joe Nickell and James McGaha, offers an overview of the many different phenomena that can be mistaken for alien spaceships. The authors provide a list of common "UFOs" with their most likely explanations, broken down into multiple categories with several items under each. For instance, they cite five different classifications, with examples, under "Daylight Objects/Lights" and five under "Nocturnal Lights/Objects." It's interesting to discover how many common objects and events can fool the untrained observer and even some trained observers such as pilots. This kind of material could enhance the realism of a story about a UFO sighting. If a character rules out all the typical sources of mistaken identification, his or her conclusion that an actual spaceship has appeared will seem more credible.

Eric Wojciechowski, in "UFOs: Humanoid Aliens? Why So Varied?", advances the position that the widely varied descriptions of alleged alien visitors, diverse in appearance yet strangely all anthropomorphic, make a "psychological explanation" for the reported contacts more likely than "an alien intelligence interacting with human beings." Where the previous article evaluates sightings of apparent flying objects, this one deals with "close encounters" reported by people who claim to have actually seen extraterrestrials. The author maintains that the odds are overwhelmingly against the probability that diverse intelligent species have visited Earth, that almost all of them happen to be humanoid, and that they've managed to remain hidden from mainstream attention yet have revealed themselves to random individuals. He places heavy emphasis on the "anthropomorphic yet varied" factor. Although I don't believe the alleged alien encounters actually happened (not that I've made a formal study of the topic, but those I've read about look like attempts at writing science fiction by people who know very little about SF), I don't find this author's arguments totally convincing. Diversity rather than uniformity could just as well be offered as an argument FOR the truth of the reports, suggesting that they're not merely imitations of other witnesses' accounts. Also, I can easily think of explanations for the phenomena he considers unlikely. An interstellar organization composed of multiple species from various planets might be observing us, for instance, and the reason we meet only humanoids is that humanoid species are assigned to observe worlds inhabited by races similar to themselves. The reason they're often glimpsed, yet no solid proof of their presence has turned up, might be that they want to observe us without interfering but don't mind being noticed, like Jane Goodall with the chimpanzees.

Biologist David Zeigler's ingenious article, "Those Supposed Aliens Might Be Worms," speculates on what life-forms might turn out to be most common on other planets and answers (you guessed it) "worms." He considers intelligent humanoids highly unlikely and the popular expectation of such to be a case of a "limited line of imagination." Whereas the humanoid body shape has evolved only once on our planet (all the examples we know of being closely related), wormlike creatures have developed independently multiple times and inhabit almost every available ecosystem. He lists eight different categories of worms, and this catalog isn't exhaustive.

If we found worms of some type on another planet, what are the chances of their being intelligent? It's hard to imagine them with any kind of material technology in the absence of hands, tentacles, or other manipulative organs. But are such organs essential to the evolution of intelligence as we know it? It's widely believed that dolphins have near-human intelligence, and they don't possess manipulative appendages.

Tangentially, speaking of imagination, a two-page essay in this issue titled "Why We're Susceptible to Fake News—and How to Defend Against It," by one of the magazine's editors, conflates confirmation bias and the tendency to rationalize away evidence that might disprove one's entrenched beliefs with the mind-set of childhood make-believe scenarios. According to two psychologists quoted in the essay, Mark Whitmore and Eve Whitmore (there's no mention of whether they're related to each other), childhood beliefs absorbed from one's parents are said to be reinforced "as rationalization piles on top of rationalization over the years." This unfortunate outcome is allegedly made worse by the supposed fact that "Children's learning about make-believe and mastery of it becomes the basis for more complex forms of self-deception and illusion into adulthood." Parents unwittingly teach children "that sometimes it's okay to make believe things are true, even though they know they are not." It's hard to read this egregious misconception about the nature and value of imagination without screaming in outrage. From a fairly early age, children know the difference between fantasy "pretend play" and lies. Furthermore, fans of fantasy and other kinds of speculative fiction are less vulnerable to "self-deception" in relation to their preferred reading material than fans of "realistic" fiction. Readers of novels about extravagant success or exotic romance may indulge in (usually harmless) daydreams about the prospects of such events happening in their own lives. Fans of stories about supernatural beings, alternate worlds, distant planets, or the remote future aren't likely to expect to encounter such things firsthand. In AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM, C. S. Lewis labels this kind of reading "disinterested castle-building" as distinct from the normal "egoistic castle-building" of imagining one's real-life self in the position of the hero or heroine of a "realistic" novel and the pathological version of the latter, where the subject obsessively fantasizes about becoming a millionaire or winning the ideal romantic partner without making the slightest real-life effort to achieve those goals. The authorities quoted in that SKEPTICAL INQUIRER article seem to compare all fantasy play to the third category.

One more item of interest: The Romance Reviews website is holding a month-long promotional event throughout November. I'll be giving away a PDF of my story collection DAME ONYX TREASURES (fantasy and paranormal romance):

The Romance Reviews

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt