Saturday, March 31, 2007
For instance, I was absolutely certain that I knew the opening lines to The Eagles quintessentially seventies song "Life in the Fast Lane."
Mea culpa. I thought the heroine was terminally vain.
I listened to that song a lot while writing about Insufficient Mating Material's fashionista heroine who was so pampered, she could not even undress without the hero's help, and the slightly brutal Djetth (Jeth).
It wasn't my imaginary theme song for the book, but I felt an affinity.
A couple of days ago, I learned that the heroine was "terminally pretty" (to rhyme with "the hard cold city"). How devastating to know that I have been mistaken for more than two decades!
OK. I will admit it. I loved The Cream song, Strange Brew but I never have been clear what it is about. When I was a giddy youth, I didn't read the transcripts on the backs of LPs.
These songs recapture my happiest memories -- well... I should modify that, but the late sixties, seventies and eighties were fabulous, and that's when I had time to listen to the radio, and when I judged potential boyfriends by their record collections.
Did anyone else do that? Or am I truly weird?
I've also been polling my internet acquaintances about their opinions of Newsletters put out by authors, because I am on a panel speaking about the virtues of Newsletters on behalf of the EPIC organization (for electronically published authors) at the upcoming Romantic Times convention.
More than once as my questionnaires came back to me, I heard that readers love recipes in authors' newsletters. Good grief, people are interested in what I eat, whether I cook it, and what ingredients I use! Who knew?
Music, recipes... now add Linnea Sinclair's barman, Sin.
When you write do you follow the What's In Your Wallet? line of characterization?
Some characterization pundits advise authors to make lists of what is in their heroes' pockets.
(I tried that in Insufficient Mating Material, with good reason. My survival consultant, Les Stroud, aka Survivorman always tells the Science Channel viewer what, apart from his multi-tool, is in his pocket when he is stranded on a deserted island or other hostile-to-life spot.)
How about, What's In Your Drink? (I have paranoid, intergalactic superspy heroes who wonder that, too.)
Let's take world-building to an appropriate level. What do your inter-stellar characters drink for survival, for sustenance, for pleasure, and for a buzz?
Is it basically a gin and tonic with dye in it? Is it green small beer? (That's a fraction deeper than you think). Is it Blue Curacao with vodka? Is water the champagne of the future? Or serum?
Who saw Antz? The Bar Scene? Drinking from the aphids' butts (not that I recommend it, but does it have potential for an alien lifestyle)? There was another bar scene in An Ant's Life. Cartoons can be highly creative.
Well, here's the kicker.
Tonight (Sunday 9 -11 pm Eastern), April Fools' Night, with the moon all but full, Linnea, Susan, Colby and Rowena are going to be appearing in character on the Passionate Internet Voices Radio in order to put the lot together.
We'll be in Linnea's Intergalactic Bar and Grille (a franchise thereof) with Sin the bartender making otherwordly drinks. And we'll be planning a big surprise for Earth.
This is Elle. And a little bit about her.
He was the only man she’d ever loved. The one who’d roused her innocent girlhood passions . . . the one she held responsible for her brother’s death. So when Boone’s starship was shot down over a faraway planet, Elle resolved to forget him, to devote herself to her duty as the future ruler of Oasis. She focused her formidable mind on honing her powers, until the day she witnessed a pair of sweat-sleek, breathtaking gladiators facing each other down in the vicious fight-to-the-death of the Murlacca. Here were the two men she’d thought lost to her forever, and one last chance to save them. It was up to Elle to outwit the Circe witches who held Boone and Zander prisoner, so she could claim a love that had once seemed as elusive as . . .Star Shadows
So what does Elle do? She kicks some butt. She's deadly with her Sais. And she's learning that there are things bigger than power...like true love. YOu can read all about her this November. But Sunday night you can find her hanging out in a bar with Hell and Sass and a cat that can't keep its tail out of the beer. Come join us!
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The Future of Books
It's still "crunch" time at my day job, so I won't be able to blog at length for a few more weeks. This time, I just want to draw your attention to an essay by Cory Doctorow about e-books in the March issue of LOCUS. He points out that most of the people who claim they won't buy e-books because they don't like reading off a computer screen do, in practice, spend many of their waking hours happily reading off computer screens. What they mean, he says, is that they don't want to read novel-length works on the computer. He maintains that the computer (and even more so, the PDA and cell phone) is best suited for reading short forms that lend themselves to multitasking. “Networked computers. . . have a million ways of asking for your attention, and just as many ways of rewarding it.” The medium shapes the message, as we've been told since the 1960s.
As Doctorow puts it, “The cognitive style of the novel is different from the cognitive style of the legend. The cognitive style of the computer is different from the cognitive style of the novel.” And, to glance back at earlier changes he doesn't mention, the transition from hand-copied manuscripts to print allowed the invention of popular fiction (and many types of nonfiction) as we know it. Likewise, the supplanting of the scroll by the codex (a bound sheaf of pages) must have been a giant leap in convenience for the reader, with the capacity for flipping instantly to any page desired, not to mention making indexing possible.
It's not “that screens aren't sharp enough to read novels off of,” Doctorow says. Rather, the novel isn't "screeny" enough for the computer. (I like that word.) Read the whole article if you can; it's fascinating. Is he right in thinking that long fiction won't become a widespread use of electronic media, at least not anytime soon? Although I'm an e-published author, I admit I don't take full advantage of the technology. If there's an e-published version of a work that's either unavailable or disproportionately expensive in print, I'll buy the e-book. Otherwise, I choose the paperback. One reason is that, although I own a laptop and a Gemstar reader, I'm most likely to read e-books in the nonportable venue of the desktop computer. Paperbacks, I can carry anywhere. However, some people actively prefer e-books because many texts can be packed into a small space, the font size can be adjusted, and backlighting allows reading anywhere without external light. Yet even in the world of STAR TREK, where everyone reads text off handheld devices that look very much like today's e-book readers, some people (such as Captain Kirk) still enjoy collecting bound books.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Jim Butcher's Dresden Series and TV Show
There are advantages to being a reviewer for simegen.com!
I have been invited to interview Jim Butcher when he's in Phoenix in mid-April, and I think I've
got an appointment set up for April 15th. (thankfully, my taxes are done and I'll be available).
Now, way back when I started reading the Dresden File novels, I had some questions to ask him, so I'll have to look those up.
Meanwhile, as I've mentioned here, I've been studying screenwriting again, and this morning I saw (thank you DVR inventor whoever you are) the Dresden episode which is a plot-thread fragment of the first Dresden novel, STORM FRONT.
I've also finished reading WHITE KNIGHT.
I should be ready with loads of good questions -- I'm not.
So any ideas you guys have would be most sincerely welcomed. What would you like to find out from Jim Butcher?
Oh, in case any of you can make it -- this will be at (if all goes well)
Poisoned Pen Bookstore: 480-947-29744014 N Goldwater Blvd # 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, US
April 15, 2007 - somewhere between 11AM and 2PM -- his book signing is slated for noon to 1PM.
Live Long and Prosper,
Monday, March 26, 2007
Galactic Gabbing: Confessions of a Word Slut
A professional etymologist, I’m not. Strictly amateur here, from a life-long love of reading and a life-long love of eavesdropping and people-watching. (In fact, consider the word: “eavesdropping.” Wow, what a wacko word when you realize what it actually says. I’d love to know what the lower edge of a roof has to do with being nosy though visually I can rather see it.) See, this is what I mean. I’m easily seduced whilst reading or conversing by a flirtatious set of letters.
I recently taught a writing workshop in the Orlando, Fl area and—not surprisingly—at the luncheon after several writers and I were discussing words (well, golfers talk about golf clubs and golf balls, the tools of their trade!). One gal—and apologies but I forget who told me this delightful anecdote—mentioned her editor (who is an Aussie, I believe) questioned her use of …”All of a sudden.” As in…ALL of a sudden? Show me HALF of a sudden.
Wow, what a wacko phrase. That received a delighted chortle from me. Half of a sudden. ::snort!:: Love it.
So that brings me to crafting languages—as I do in my books—for non-Earth based characters.
I’ve blogged a bit on that last year (in case you missed them). They’re articles originally published by SFROnline. You can find them here:
So I know I’ve warbled on this subject already. However, Margaret’s blog renewed my fervor for galactic gabbing and how it’s done.
It’s done just as we do it here. Depending on how you structure your Not-Earth culture, you hone done or fluff out their language in the same way. If they’re not spacefaring, if they’re xenophobic, then chances are—and I do love the comment by Anon on Margaret’s post—their language won’t remotely suffer from the “cribhouse whore” syndrome. It will probably be predominantly purely their own and—depending on how you structure their religion and politics—there may even be a penalty for using anything but their “pure” language.
Spacefaring cultures, to me, would be the most likely to have a real mixture and far more slang, simply do to the taint of continuous exposure to other cultures. Those would be the most fun to create and write.
The hard part is translating this—kinda sorta—into English. I know someone’s translated Shakespeare into Klingon. But for the most part, a NY publishing house is not going to buy an entire SF novel written in Vekran or Alarsh. So as an SF/SFR author, you have the daunting task of doing all this delightful linguistic work knowing 90 percent of it will be backstory, and never make the pages of the novel.
But you have to do it. It’s as much a part of your required world building as religion or politics. The entire galaxy does NOT speak English. Yes, your novel is written in English (or French or Portuguese or Russian) but you have to be aware, when you’re crafting character, dialogue, etc.., that your character is the product of a Non-Earth culture (if that is, in fact, the case). Your character IS his or her (or its) local galactic culture and will be aware of speech patterns (and differences) from other galactic cultures. Not only does everyone in the galaxy not speak English or Portuguese but they don’t speak Alarsh, either.
In the same way you’re away of the accents and speech patterns of those around you—in the supermarket, at the airport, at a meeting—your characters are aware of others’ word use, word choice and accent. There are differences in the same “planetary culture” just as there are here: someone from Alabama speaks differently from someone from Maine. Or London. It’s not just accent. It’s also slang. Cadence. Rapidity (or not) of speech. And at this point, it’s still the same language.
How about a “universal” language? In a spacefaring culture, I’d deem that possible. English has been crowned the official language of the air: commercial pilots and air traffic controllers all over this planet are required to speak English. There’s also Esperanto, that kind of one-size-fits-all attempt at a global language.
So I think it’s reasonable to posit an official language of the spaceways as long as you remember—when crafting characters and dialogue—that someone from Cirrus One Station may not pronounce the words in the same way that someone from Delos-5 would. Again, Alabama and Maine. Or even more, a Frenchman or Italian speaking English (as a secondary language) or an American speaking French (as a secondary language). There will be a noticeable accent. There will even be mispronunciations. Which lends to…unique characters and believable world building.
And slang—well, that’s my favorite part, as many of you know. Slang will be the one thread of constant miscommunication through it all. I have no idea why something that’s soda in New Jersey is pop in Michigan. But I really, really want to see a “half of a sudden.” And I want to know how my character would say it in Alarsh.
(From THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES by Linnea Sinclair, coming November 2007 from Bantam)
Blurb: After almost twenty years on the job, Bahia Vista homicide detective, Theo Petrakos, is used to the fact that almost everyone in Florida is from somewhere else. Then a mummified corpse and a room full of high tech computer equipment sends Guardian Force commander and intergalactic zombie hunter, Jorie Mikkalah, into his life. And ‘illegal alien’ takes on a whole new meaning...
The rear cargo door of the vehicle suddenly flew open. But no weapons turrets protruded, nothing lethal emerged. Jorie slowly let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding and watched him transfer the small black boxes to the rear cargo area. The long box went in, too. She was considering how to take him from behind when, damn! damn! He stepped back to the door on the navigator’s side, bent over and came out with the T-MOD in his grasp.
There it was. She had to take possession of it now. It shouldn’t be difficult. He was a nil, a civilian. She was an expertly trained military commander with the element of surprise.
She rose in one smooth, swift, practiced movement.
And her scanner screeched out an intruder alert.
So much for keeping a low profile.
“Run!” Jorie screamed at him, her heart pounding in her throat as she tabbed the laser in her right hand up to hard terminate. “Run!”
She grabbed her other laser and barreled across the lawn. “Drop the T-MOD! Run!” A sickly green glow formed in the night gloom off to her left. She laced the spot with both her lasers, aware the stupid nil was still standing there, T-MOD in his hands, staring at the expanding portal.
Just as she reached him the green cloud erupted into hard form maybe two maxmeters away, about level with the top of the high hedge. Its diameter was small. Bliss luck, she’d done some damage. But she hadn’t stopped it. Yet. She fired off three more bursts then swung around to face the nil, bringing her micro-rifle across her chest as she did. “Drop the unit, damn you!” Her breath was coming in hard gasps. “That’s a zombie. It’ll kill you!”
The man stared down at her. And then Jorie remembered: the entire universe did not speak Alarsh.
But that was the least of her problems. The zombie had arrived.
SFRomance from Bantam Spectra
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Disparate things and unfinished business
This image has absolutely nothing to do with Cindy's sagging middle, or Jacqueline's evolutionary preferences... it has to do with mine, perhaps.
Also with unfinished business.
On reading Jacqueline's fascinating blog about world-building, the two books I thought of were H.G. Wells's The Time Machine (I confess... it was not so much the book as the movie with Jeremy Irons as the troglodite-predator branch of homo sapiens) and The Sparrow.
Both books had a predator and a prey species who looked similar. In the case of The Sparrow, it was a matter of convergent evolution. The predator evolved to look like its prey, so that hunting would be less strenuous.
If I'm going to have a predator and prey species in my books, I'd like the predatory males to be attractive, and to have a limited interest in eating prey females.
I can say that. In both The Sparrow and the Jeremy Irons movie, a predator wanted to have intercourse with a female member of the prey species. Now, the female prey wasn't keen on the idea, in one case because it was dangerous... like a deer going to bed with a lion, in the other, because Jeremy looked and acted a bit like an Uruk-Hai.
Now, the Uruk-Hai were buff and ripped, a bit too ripped in some cases, really, but they had terrible dentition and I'm sure their breath was unimaginably bad.
The problem with all this for mainstream literature is human taboos. If we were lion-men, as a society we'd probably imprison any lion-man who indulged his attraction to a deer-lady.
Our culture has fewer issues when the predator is, or claims to be, a god. At least when I was a schoolgirl, we studied Greek and Roman literature in school. We didn't bat an eyelid when a honking great male swan (who was the king of all gods in disguise) gave Leda a couple of double-yolked eggs. Or when he turned a girlfriend into a cow so he could continue the affaire without upsetting his wife.
OK. His wife was upset anyway.
Zeus's other disguises included being a bull (now that is scary, and impractical, you'd think) and a golden shower (!).
For the last fifteen or so years, I've chosen to write alien romances about "gods from outer space" which allows me to cherry-pick items from our culture that I'd like to claim the gods gave us... like chess and fortune-telling. It's rather like the point Margaret made about our language stealing choice words from other nationalities, only --perhaps-- in reverse.
As for the picture, it's concept art from a work in progress and I put it up here simply for a bit of visual interest. I've gone back to Ed Traxler who created my Insufficient Mating Material slideshow to produce a slide show for the e-book Mating Net (a short story).
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The Sagging Middle
So what is it that makes the middle sag? The beginning is always fun, a new project, new ideas, new characters, the excitement of seeing where the story will take you. The first third is always about the set up, the introduction and character growth. Then you get to the middle. Which is logical. You can't just have a beginning and an end.
But when you get to the middle its always the hardest part to write. And the longest. I won't reveal how long it has taken me to get through the middle of this book, lets just say the story is complicated and I lost a dear member of my family while struggling through it.
Maybe its the world building. Or the plot. It's basically a journey between point A and Point B that has to fill about 150 pages. All I know is it takes forever, its slow writing and during this point I always wonder why am I doing this. This book sucks. I'll never finish it.
Then suddenly, just like that your through it. My revelation came yesterday. Yay! I'm ready to write the end. I'll have this book done in two weeks. (I better, its due in a month)
If someone could ever come up for a way through the middle in a timely manner then we could all churn out about ten books a year, instead of two or three. I'm open for suggestions. And very happy that Star Shadows in about to come to its ending.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
More subtle is the issue of avoiding fossilized metaphors we unthinkingly use that are based on modern technology. Probably nobody would have a character in 1890 say, "You sound like a broken record" (a reference that may have outlived its meaning, at least for members of Gen X and Y who have seldom listened to music on anything but CDs and iPods). However, what about extricating oneself from a circular discussion with, "Stop, this is where I came in"? That metaphor comes from the cinema-viewing experience. Nobody would use it in an era before movies became an important form of popular entertainment. Another turn of speech that has lost its live context for people too young to remember the golden past when, for the price of one ticket, you could sit in the theater as long as you wished and watch the same show over and over, but as a "dead" metaphor it's still heard in conversation.
In SF set in some future decade or century, what words and phrases common now would have become obsolete? And what new slang and metaphors would adorn your futuristic characters' speech, based on social and technological developments we can only imagine? How likely is it that future American English may incorporate slang from other languages to the extent found, for example, in the linguistic tour-de-force of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE? I've read that young people in some parts of the Southwest already speak “Spanglish,” a blend of English and Spanish. Less blatantly, the process of adopting loan words from other cultures continues as vibrantly as ever. For instance, how many Americans had heard of anime and manga 20 years ago? English is the most eclectic language in the world, known for (to paraphrase a source I can't quite remember) not just borrowing from other languages, but knocking them down in dark alleys and rummaging through their pockets for stray bits of vocabulary.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I've messed up this blog!
My entry for Tuesday March 20th, 2007, posted as Sunday March 18. Scroll down below Linnea's entry for Monday March 19 and you'll find my Tuesday entry.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Humans are supposed to be herd animals, creatures of the pack. Even only children like myself are raised in a family setting. We attend school in groups and if you’re a young female, you learn to go to the bathroom in groups. We have our cliques, our club memberships, our teams and our carpools.
Then a few strange ones suddenly veer off the crowded path, find their trembling wings and start flying solo. As writers. As one-woman private investigative agencies.
Ah, you say. Now I know where she’s going with this. Good, if you do. If you don’t, sit back, grab a beer and get ready for some free-fall soul searching.
Has it yet occurred to you that one of the reasons you’re a writer is that you’re very comfortable being alone?
Not every one can do this. Most people -- and I like e.e. cummings’ phraseology on this -- “Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone.” If you don’t believe me try going to any well-populated social gathering. A clearance sale at K-Mart will do. Tell the multitudes that you’re a writer and once they finishing ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the fame they associate with the profession, they will inevitably ask how you do it. How do you sit there, hands on the keyboard, staring at a blank computer screen, or blank piece of paper, and get your ideas. Your characters. Your action. All by yourself.
And that’s the kicker. All by yourself. No boss breathing down your neck. No supervisor clucking her tongue at your tardiness. No taskmaster with a whip, other than your own self.
And then you try to explain that you’re really not alone, that there are about a hundred or so people who live inside your head, all with stories to tell, all clamoring for your attention.
And these people, these nice employed-in-big-nine-to-five-offices people began to back away from you. Slowly.
Fifteen years ago when I started my investigative agency I figured I’d have two or three others on staff. All male. Reverse chauvinism. And they had to be good looking (they all were). But I found, and it wasn’t due to the distraction of being surrounded by hunks, that I got just as much work accomplished by myself.
So for the last few years I worked as I investigator I was flying solo, and it may come as no surprise to you writers that the majority of private investigators do the same.
We have our heads full of people, too. Slimy people, wacky people, tricky people, lost people.
I worked a lot of cases by marching these people out onto my mind’s stage and running them through their paces. I tripped up slime because in my mind I wore their skins. I found the lost because in my mind I wore their walking shoes. I out-thought the con artists because in my mind we donned the same thinking caps.
My days often went like this: I’d sit in the attorney’s office after delivering my report and he’d look at me from across his polished mahogany desk, praising my work.
“So. How many investigators did you put on this guy’s tail?” While he questioned me I knew that outside his office door are no less than two secretaries, a receptionist and four junior partners in his law firm.
“None. Just me,” I ‘d tell him.
“Just you?” he’d asked, as if being only five feet tall even further reduces my abilities.
“Yeah. Just me.”
“Then how did you figure out so quickly what this guy was up to?” The attorney knew he couldn’t even produce a simple transmittal letter without getting at least three other people involved.
“Easy,” I’d tell him. “Around two in the morning, after I’ve beaten the case file and all the accumulated data to death, I pour myself a goblet of Opus One. Then I pace the kitchen in the dark and become your adversary. I think his thoughts, feel his fears, absorb his desperation.”
At this point the attorney would inevitably glance at his watch, make a remark about his busy day and full schedule of appointments, and if I wouldn’t mind showing myself out....?
Yeah, I think me, myself and I can handle that.
Gentle readers, gentle writers, you and I fly solo. There is something in our nature that requires us to pull away from the ‘madding crowd’ and hover, to observe and record.
But not in a crowd at the zoo or a class trip to the museum, where other fingers point out the sights and others opinions fill our ears. But on our own, either as the advance scout or the straggler. So we see what others would have trampled on, hear what others would have lost in the din.
We saw heroes in the stars long before anyone told us what the constellations were supposed to mean. And we still see castles in the clouds when most other people only see a seventy per cent chance of precipitation.
One of my greatest thrills when I had my private pilot’s license was to fly directly into any cloud castle I wanted to. It would blanket my small plane, obscuring the windows and then suddenly I was out the other side, and the whole horizon looked brighter, more vivid with color. Pilots called it cloud punching.
I think of that blankness sometimes when I sit and stare at the white screen on my computer, knowing the words that I type suddenly make it come alive with color. With voices. With characters.
Which brings me back to my original question. Has it yet occurred to you that one of the reasons you are a writer is that you are very comfortable being alone?
Now do you know why?
Happy cloud punching.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Evolutionary Tree and Worldbuilding
Those who've read Linnea Sinclair's post for March 19, 2007, just previous to this one, will be particularly interested in the sentence in the article I'm discussing here that indicates humans evolved from prey not preditors. And prey do tend to form groups, herds, flocks, prides, etc. I can wonder if it's too simplistic to classify humans as preditor or prey when we clearly produce both.
An Item in the March 18, 2007 issue of Newsweek -- BEYOND STONES & BONES: The New Science of Evolution by Sharon Begley -- gives us an interesting twist on the biological part of the author's worldbuilding job (we not only have to make planets, but biospheres too).
There are some illustrations in the print article that don't appear in the free online article, but here's the link to the online article.
This model of human evolution opens a whole lot of possibilities for the evolutionary trees of other planets that we can just imagine -- and all the trouble Terran explorers could get into because they didn't understand where the planet was in this process when they landed.
Who's to say that two or three independently evolved versions of some sapiens species might not independently open negotiations with some alien explorers. That's been done in SF, but here we have a way to make it plausible to modern readers who are learning THIS model of human evolution in school (or not!).
What's important about this article is not the science it's explaining -- anyone following "the literature" would know all this already years ago. What's important about this article FOR WRITERS is that it's in Newsweek -- and thus now writers who are worldbuilding must assume their readers are familiar with this new theory of the evolutionary pattern.
Some may rely on it as the best current information, some my disbelieve it because they disbelieve, and others may misunderstand it. But now it's in Newsweek, the SF/F writer has to account for it in order to make the story plausible to the most readers.
Some of the items of greatest interest to me come near the end of the article.
a) (bottom of page 1 of online article) the record shows evolutionary changes seem to come in bursts, in fits and starts.
More than once in human prehistory, evolution created a modern trait such as a face without jutting, apelike brows and jaws, only to let it go extinct, before trying again a few million years later. Our species' travels through time proceeded in fits and starts, with long periods when "nothing much happened," punctuated by bursts of dizzying change, says paleontologist Ian Tattersall, co-curator of the American Museum's new hall.
b) (4th parag up from the end )
"We are all descended from maybe about 2,000 men -- perhaps 4,000 people. And I recall they genetically identified "Eve" the one woman who is ancestor to all modern humans. I don't know if that's still firmly established. "
c) (2nd parag up from the end) the most recent change in the human genome seems to have occurred 5800 years ago --
"The third (...gene...), called ASPM and also involved in brain size, clocks in at 5,800 years. That was just before people established the first cities in the Near East and is well after Homo sapiens attained their modern form. It therefore suggests that we are still evolving."
d) ( at the end of page 2 online) connect this to item a) above.
"Instead, evolution played Mr. Potato Head, putting different combinations of features on ancient hominids then letting them vanish until a later species evolved them. "Similar traits evolved more than once, which means you can't use them as gold-plated evidence that one fossil is descended from another or that having an advanced trait means a fossil was a direct ancestor of modern humans," says Wood. "Lots of branches in the human family tree don't make it to the surface.""
a) as I originally set up the Sime~Gen mutation, channels appeared and disappeared quite a few times leaving no record (lots of great stories in times of chaos) -- and likewise the Farris mutation occurred independently in widely separated places, mostly only to fail because they are so fragile. Fan writers have largely ignored all those story opportunities! That may be because they were operating from the "old model" of human evolution mentioned in this Newsweek article while I had extrapolated ahead to the currently fashionable model explained here.
b) has little to do with S~G -- but in worldbuilding in general, that 2,000 male group of ancestors might be the crew and passengers of a crashed space ship. Given this model of evolution -- where modern traits appear and go extinct over and over at widely separated and disconnected places -- it's possible to extrapolate that just exactly that kind of "appear/disappear" evolution is going on on other planets, and somewhere OUR traits would appear and not disappear too quickly.
On the other hand "we" haven't been around very long -- who says we aren't going to disappear in this Global Warming phase, only to reappear again independently here when the climate is better, or on another planet. Of course, Global Warming could be terminated by a meteor strike or Supervolcano eruption.
Look at this "appear/disappear" model from a far perspective. Isn't it as if "something" is trying to use the anthropoid DNA template to "emerge" ??? hooo-hooo spookey.
c) You all do know this is the year 5767 of the Hebrew calendar -- that means that God finished creating humankind 5, 767 years ago, just when this calculation shows that the latest gene was added to our makeup, the key turning point in the record where language, art and culture emerge. (as I recall agriculture appeared about 7,000 years ago, and as much as 9,000 years ago some kind of human traveled from what is England today, across Greenland to the Eastern Canada and US shores (they left graves with peculiar red clay in them).
d) put the "fits and starts" concept of evolutionary progress together with the way a pattern seems to emerge here, there, elsewhere, die out, and emerge again independently -- correlate that with the mystical view of the universe and you can worldbuild for the next 30 years and not run out of permutations and combinations of worlds in which to tell stories.
Also don't fail to notice how the "fits and starts" concept of evolutionary progress doesn't exactly fit with the "genetic clock" calculations where genetic replication "mistakes" are made at a statistically predictable rate.
Now I do expect that in a few years, this entire model of evolution will hit the trash can as researchers dig up the connecting links among the dead ends -- but in the meantime, we can have a FIELD-DAY in SF writing.
And what haunts me in the whole thing is how obvious it is that WE (us Ancients) are likely to be one of those branches that peters out to extinction. Where have I seen that theory played with in SF?
A picture is worth a thousand words
Cover art is supposed to do the job, and we've talked about that on this blog.
But what happens when your cover art doesn't communicate what the author thinks it should communicate? Can you compensate? Should you?
Notice the caveat. I'm talking about what I think, and I concede that I may not be right. An aurora borealis and a naked couple rolling about in the sea does not communicate "alien romance" or even "survival romance" to me.
It probably says "Sex!" Maybe even "Fallible, unreliable, all-too-human sex!" given my title, which is actually a chess term for a "No-win situation" but not a lot of people realize that.
So, when I set off on a booksigning (drive-by) tour down I-75, I took my poster with me. If an author has a visual aid with her, I think she has a better shot at making an impression.
I felt a little self-conscious thrusting my custom poster under busy romance experts' noses, but even a picture of a naked man is more interesting than much else I can think of, and self-promotion is not a game for the shrinking violet.
On the left are scenes from my "novel trailer" (done by Edward Traxler) showing planets and spaceships (for space), a couple of aviation dogfights (action), parachutes and exploding stars (space and action), a naked man (ah, well, if you've got one, flaunt him), a conflagration.
On the right were jpgs given to me personally by Survivorman, who was my survival consultant to make sure I translated all my research into plausible action, and who also gave me some really cool survival tips... not to mention the cover quote. The slides show a conch, which is a handy container for boiling water on the campfire, a fishing technique using whittled sticks, a shelter.
In my opinion, if you are making a book trailer, you should consider what other uses you could make of custom artwork stills!
Signed copies of Insufficient Mating Material are at:
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see the Insufficient Mating Material video:
INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL takes up where FORCED MATE ended, with Djetthro-Jason (Jethro-Jason) severely beaten, about to undergo surgery to change his face and identity before his shotgun wedding to the frivolous Princess Martia-Djulia (Marsha-Julia).
No one gives a thought to what Martia-Djulia might do when she realizes that it’s not her unsuitable lover, Commander Jason, but a stranger being frog-marched up the aisle to become her Mate.
Her surprising reaction sets off a firestorm of rumor… and rattles a murderer who thought he’d gotten away with an ancient crime.
INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL EXCERPT
A Tricky Experiment
“Maybe, sweetheart, we should have sex to prove to you that you can and will enjoy it.”
“I enjoyed it once. I am very happy with my memories. I don’t need you or your experiment to prove anything,” she said stiffly.
“Once?” He raised an eyebrow. His lips twitched. Too late, Martia-Djulia realized that she had just contradicted one of her earlier statements.
“The Aim of the Experiment is to discover whether or not we are sexually compatible,” Djetth said loftily. She suspected that he was amusing himself by parodying a formal checklist. “Method: to have mind-blowing recreational sex using positions and techniques that mitigate or avoid unfortunate consequences. Expected result--”
“What unfortunate consequences?”
“Insects in your hair?” he teased. “Sand in your baby box. A baby. Infection. Injury. Legal consummation of a Mating we might not want.”
His gaze flickered. Martia-Djulia had the impression that his list was deliberately ordered.
“Injury to whom?” she asked, ignoring the glossed over “baby.”
“I’ve wondered why you haven’t blasted me backward onto my butt since our Mating Day. I’ve certainly deserved it.”
“Yes you have!” she agreed heatedly.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Where the ideas strike.
For me, IDEAS always strike when I have no time to write them down -- or when there's no paper or pen -- or when (as noted) there are projects on deadline. I have two active projects and just had a dynamite idea for a 3rd which I did manage to outline on the computer but it'll be years until I get to it and there are other projects that would make better sense to do!
So wherever you are when ideas strike, somehow jot them down with enough outline (beginning, middle, end) to draw the whole world back into your mind.
One of the first things I learned about writing when I was a teenager is to keep an Idea File and a Name File (to name characters from later when you're writing), and a file of Place Names that pop into your head. These stray bits of worldbuilding pop into your head because they are attached to a story in there somewhere -- save them and use them to fish the story out at a later date.
The problem for a writer is not finding ideas -- it's beating them off with a stick.
When your idea file is full to bursting, eventually you'll come to a point where you must choose a project to spend the next 5 years of your working life on. That choosing process is totally external to the writing process and has nothing to do with picking the "best" idea you've got, or sometimes not even the one you like best.
Linnea's post just before this one hits the nail on the head.
One of the things they always teach new writers is "write what you know" -- but most people think that means to write about their home town or their grammar school or the Marine Battalion they served with.
That's not what it means. Since you are writing fiction "what you know" is the kind of fiction you are reading.
Most audiences or readerships are conditioned to accept certain "myths" -- or conventions of the genre, an alternate reality.
If you want to violate one of those conventions (like Sherlock Holmes wears a Deerstalker hat) you have to do it in such a way that the readers know you know the convention and are violating it for a good story-based reason that will deliver satisfaction to them for their patience.
Historical romance is of course one of those -- as is "The Western" -- where writers have created comfortable alternate histories for their readers that readers will pay for. For example, today we have a plethora of historical romance novels where the woman is more a 21st century woman than a product of her historical time. That's OK -- I love fantasy!
Now there are two main ways to found a career in writing -- one safe and one really risky. For safe you can aim your work at an established market and add something original to the existing template that readers already thirst for -- or you can risk trying to create a market.
You must sort your idea file into items that can be written to existing markets, and ideas that are genuinely so different they just don't have a place in today's market.
Many of you have lived through the creation of the Paranormal Romance market. It didn't happen all at once and there were only a couple of blockbuster novels that set the tone for this new genre. One oddball novel that cracked resistance was INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE that straddled the horror/relationship genre borderlines.
A lot of people who loved INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE didn't like the sequels at all because they became darker and more horror-driven.
I personally lauded INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE because it showed an audience who otherwise would not read a fantasy or SF novel what relationship could do in a Vampire setting.
The relationship in question is simply that between the interviewing reporter and the vampire -- and the interviewing reporter becomes wholly enamored of the vampire existence and wants in. His ideas and attitudes change as the vampire tells his story. The whole book is just the recounting of a story that makes the interviewer lust after vampire-hood.
And it was marvelously well done.
After the first reprint of INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, we began to see Romance writers being allowed to play with the human/vampire relationship where they were of opposite genders.
The origin of the Vampire Romance goes back way before INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE -- but the commercial rennaisance happened in the wake of that successful book in another but adjacent genre.
Can anyone refute that analysis? Any other candidates for the market-making book that founded the Vampire Romance and opened up the opportunity to make a market in Paranormal Romance, SF Romance, and Fantasy Romance etc etc.
Does anyone here remember the days before Romance novel spines had sub-genre logos or words on them?
Monday, March 12, 2007
What flavor am I?
But be that as it may, when one does dang near back to back workshops with all levels of writers, one tends to—at times—come upon similarities in the questions students ask.
This season’s flavor seems to be students who want to write in [fill in the blank] genre and yet haven’t read the genre or—if they have—aren’t conversant enough to know where their manuscript would fit in.
Essentially, when a student catches me after class or via email and tells me about his or her work in progress, one of my first questions invariably is: What author(s) do you write like? What’s a read-alike list for your work?
And I’m invariably treated to a blank stare.
“My books aren’t like anyone else’s,” I’m told.
Oh. So you invented a new genre?
No, they haven’t. But the reality is they haven’t done their homework, either.
Is it important for a yet-to-be-published writer to know their read-alikes? Hell, yes. For one thing, it keeps you from reinventing a wheel that’s been around for a long time. (Hey, I wrote this great story about a guy named Romeo and a gal named Juliet and they’re in love but their families hate each other…Oh, it’s been written?) For another, it immensely helps you market yourself to an agent or a publisher.
“People who read Susan Grant, Colby Hodge, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Susan Kearney, Rowena Cherry and Margaret Carter will love Linnea Sinclair’s books.”
Having that little fact in your query or on the tip of your tongue at a writer conference will indicate to the agent/editor that you’re a professional—even before you are. You’ve done your homework. You’ve researched the genre and the market. You know your audience. You know WHAT AUDIENCE YOU’RE WRITING FOR. You know you’re not wasting your time creating a story that’s already been done to death.
Yes, you are writing your own unique story but you know what shelf you belong on, what review column you’d be placed in, what kind of costume you’d wear if you had to represent your book at the next Romantic Times BOOKlover’s Conference masquerade party.
It also means you know the conventions (not as in conference but as in rules and regs) and tenets of the genre. Romance has to have an HEA. In fantasy/spec fic, magic must have a price. In a mystery there has to be, well, a mystery. A puzzle. It means you know the difference between hard science fiction, soft science fiction and space opera. And so on and so forth.
Does that mean if you’re Linnea Sinclair that you write EXACTLY like Sue Grant or Jacqueline Lichtenberg? Of course not. Each author is unique. But there are similarities. Think of it like ice cream: if you like chocolate ice cream, you more than likely will enjoy double fudge ripple or mocha java or brownie fudge ice cream. If you like cocoanut ice cream (my personal fave) you’d most likely enjoy a scoop of Pina Colada flavored ice cream.
You can make those kinds of decision at Baskin Robbins. Learn to make them as well at Barnes & Noble.
Hugs all and happy writing! ~ Linnea
Sunday, March 11, 2007
SUSAN GRANT - Secret Conversations of a Writer
I met the heroine of My Favorite Earthling in the throes of a rage. No, not mine—hers! I was typing away on deadline for another book when my muse came up and tapped me on the shoulder. "Keira has summoned you," she said.
"Keira?" I blinked. "Keira who?"
My muse, if you must know, is mistress of the Withering Stare. But she does make the story ideas pop, so I keep her on the payroll (her currency of choice: dark chocolate coins). "To freshen your memory, Susan, you briefly mentioned Keira on page 76 in Your Planet or Mine? as queen of the galaxy, with a history of castrating potential suitors. But don't let Her Majesty know I had to remind you."
"Why not? I'm the author. She's just a character." I closed my laptop screen. "And where does she get off summoning me? Who's in charge here?"
Thwack! Thwack! Two jeweled-hilt daggers sank into the wall behind my desk. Heart pounding, I spun around in my chair to find a beautiful, young, and very pissed-off woman hefting two more daggers. "I want my own story," she demanded. "I want a hero and a happy ending. I deserve no less!" Thwack! Thwack!
I winced, twice. "Why do you think you deserve your own story?"
Her perfect black-leather-clad breasts heaved with anger even as her eyes hinted at heartbreaking loneliness and a secret vulnerability that I immediately noted, author that I am. "I am queen of the galaxy, last in the line of the Holy Sakkaran goddesses—"
"And castrator of men," I finished for her. "This is not good heroine material."
"So I'm a bad girl. Romance books have bad boys all the time." Her expression turned a little naughty. "The blood of Sakkaran goddesses runs hot, if you know what I mean. I'll promise to make my hero quite happy while I give him hell. Give me a chance. That's all I ask."
I tapped a pencil against my chin as I observed the unhappy queen. "Jared Jasper," Muse whispered in my ear. "He's a confirmed bachelor, a fighter pilot, real-estate broker… and a barbarian from the primitive planet Earth. Confident, in control, doesn't like to be pushed around—and one of the sexiest men you've ever written, in my opinion. But no, it'll never work. They're complete opposites. They'll both refuse."
Except if I made it so they had to marry…
Muse and I exchanged knowing smiles.
"What won't work?" Keira demanded, trying to eavesdrop. "Who's a barbarian?"
"Honey," I soothed, "don't worry about a thing. Go on back to the palace. I'll take care of everything from here." I yanked the daggers out of the wall and returned them.
Muse shook her head as Keira flounced away. "She has no idea what's coming, does she?"
"Isn't that the point?" Smiling wickedly, I opened my laptop and began writing. It is, after all, what I love to do.
I hope you'll join me in learning what happens to Keira, Jared, and the rest of the galaxy. Although My Favorite Earthling is the second story in this series—following Your Planet or Mine?—it's a stand-alone book. It's also my hottest to date, full of the humor, adventure, and smarts you've come to expect from my stories. Look for the conclusion to the series, How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days, this August.
Until next time… fly high!
3/07: My Favorite Earthling; "a sizzling cosmic romp!"
Come fly with me: www.susangrant.blogspot.com
Saturday, March 10, 2007
So whats wrong with romance?
"I want to write. What do I do?"
I got out a bookmark and wrote rwa.org on it. That's the url for Romance Writers of America, a wonderful organization that teaches the craft of writing. Then I proceeded to explain to this person about the local chapter, (shout out to Smokey Mountain Romance Writers).
This person looked at me in horror. "Oh no, I don't write romance. I write real books."
hmmm....and I don't? I'm pretty sure that all of us here at Alien Romance write real books, real stories with great elements such as life, death, love, family, happiness, tragedy, and the triumph over evil. Sounds like a real book to me. And a lot more exciting than some of the "classics" that I've read.
I bit my tongue and paitently explained to this person that if they wanted to learn the craft of writing that they really should check out RWA. And the writer of real books took my book, signed and personalized. Of course it was free, provided by the company that sponsered the Expo.
So why is it that some people don't think romance novels are real? I actually had someone in a local writers chapter (not rwa related) ask me when I was going to write a real book. Which was kind of funny because I'm the only published writer in this chapter. Is it the covers? I admit some of them are kind of "ick". OR is it the happily ever after? What makes our books different than say Nicholas Sparks who claims he does'nt write romance. Is it because our characters wind up together while his die or no apparent reason other than the fact that he wanted to make us cry? (and before I get a fan rant let me say that Walk To Remember is one of my faves.)
What is the stigma with romance? Any care to comment?
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Welcome to the Dark Side!!
What's up with me? It's been a CRAZY WEEK for me - release week! ATLANTIS RISING hit stores on Tuesday, yet somehow enough copies snuck out to stores early that the book already is a NATIONAL BESTSELLER!! Yes, I was shocked to find out that I'd hit the Bookscan national bestseller list before the book even released. Like I said, CRAZY.
Which brings me back to the darkside . . .
What's a nice romantic comedy author to do when she wants to go to dark, tortured places in her writing? And she wants there to be hot sexy romance when she gets there?
She turns the reins (and the computer keyboard) over to her dark and twisty alter ego Alyssa Day, that's what. So I created Alyssa Day and she created the world of the Warriors of Poseidon. This works brilliantly for the creative process but at home? Not so much.
Kids: Can we have cake for breakfast?
Alyssa: Sure. Why not? There's milk in there somewhere, right?
Real me: WHAT? They can't eat cake for breakfast! Nutrition blah blah Health blah blah . . .
Alyssa and Kids: WhatEVER.
You can see how this is a problem. On the other hand, they don't always like HER better because I, real Mommy, have never threatened to take them out back and velcro their brains to the fence.
But the writing? is going great!! Even if Alyssa is gloating a bit over the dozens of reader letters that she's gotten already. And the great reviews. And for being the featured romance for Borders/Waldenbooks for March. And the Rhapsody Rising Star . . . [SHUT UP, ALREADY, ALYSSA.]
Sorry. It's that darn dark side. We'd write more, but we need a new pair of kickass leather boots. For a rocking movie-style book trailer, visit me here and for a very cool interview Christine Feehan did with me, go HERE.
And please tell me about your own dark side! By the end of the day I'll randomly choose one commenter to win an autographed copy of ATLANTIS RISING. Thanks again for letting me/us come and play!
Alyssa and Alesia
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I haven't seen 24 either, but Linnea Sinclair put her finger on it in her blog entry previous to this one. The daily do-list doesn't include writing and if you dare waste any time actually creating prose, you are considered to be failing in your responsibilities!
But the time-honored solutions to Linnea's writer's dilemma have been having an Agent to do part of the "business of writing" chores and the publisher's publicity department to do the rest, leaving you to do your office accounting and business expenses and write.
Today they have not increased (in many cases they've reduced) the writer's paycheck and added Agent and publicist's duties to the writer's load. In the past, publishers understood that it was the editor's job to protect the writer from non-writing time-consuming tasks. The writer's job is to write! And writer's should make enough to pay others to do many of the household chores.
Since Big Business bought out publishers, all that has changed. The real question is how long will this last before some new (perhaps tech based) solution has to be invented?
One thing writers won't ever be able to get out of though is the personal appearance. And if you're lucky enough to work in the Romance or SF (or both!) fields, you have conventions and gatherings of all kinds to go to which can be counted as work (for income tax purposes) but which are almost as much fun as actually writing!
I had the great joy of doing one of those this past weekend -- the convention ConDor in San Diego where I talked non-stop for 3 days!
Before ConDor started, I rode with the con's Guest Liason to pick up Eric Flint (the Guest of Honor) and his wife at the airport. He is as interesting in person as his books are and we talked non-stop in the car on the way back to the hotel.
I handed out flyers with this blog's URL and talked about Alien Romance at this little San Diego science fiction convention -- and guess what? An amazing number of people knew what I was talking about!
I did my two panels on Friday -- there were actually people there at 3PM and 4PM -- grabbing examples from all kinds of subjects (anthropology, archeology, sociology, mythology, even some hard sciences), and the weekend went on like that.
On the Harry Dresden round table (one of my 4 panels on Sunday), we discussed Harry Potter and the similarity between these two universes and characters.
I decided that Harry Dresden is Harry Potter grown up, and nobody in the audience could refute that. Yes, the universes are different -- but that's a copyright issue not an artistic issue.
Harry Potter has an extreme talent or power -- and so does Dresden. Potter had a muggle upbringing, to be sure -- but Dresden was brought up learning the Dark Arts first. Both Potter and Dresden have hereditary issues with those who police and control power users.
Potter lives through childhood to adolescent personality and plot issues. We pick up Dresden when he's finally settled the issues of his adolescence and has dedicated himself to using his power to help others. He's just barely making a living as a private detective.
But Dresden faces adult issues. His girl gets turned into a vampire and true to 21st century womanhood refuses Harry's help dealing with that and takes herself off to learn how to live. She turns up later among the "good guy" vampires, but she's changed.
Dresden is accustomed to carrying the adult responsibilities that Potter is only experimenting with. But there's still a rebelious child in Dresden, defiant of authority, determined to do things his own way. However, he has a self-sacrificing attitude of personal responsibility, very reminiscent of Darkovan nobility.
So other than a couple of bits of universe-structure and power-politics, the two Harries are extremely similar -- and I like them both!
On several panels, we also talked a lot about worldbuilding -- the use of biological sciences to extrapolate what the world will be like in a hundred years, and the place of psychology and mythology in extrapolating the future.
All together, it was a very well programmed convention. There was an entire Harry Potter track that brought in a hoard of little kids, too. There's a future for this genre.
Monday, March 05, 2007
I thought I'd give you an author's 24. Doubt it'll be as much of a hit but if any of you wonder why an author is 1) late on deadline 2) late on answering emails 3) late on posting a blog 4) late on responding on MySpace 5) late on posting to her Yahoo Group and 5) cranky... here's why:
An Author's 24
My daily To-Do list includes (priority depends on who screams the loudest):
1 - read business emails, such as emails from my editor, agent, publicist, fellow/sister authors and respond to same
2 - read fan mails and respond to same
3 - read fan loops and respond
4 - read business loops (RWA) and respond
5 - read business postings such as PUBLISHER'S LUNCH
This week also included:
1 - create/print two press kits complete with ARCs and send to the RT Publicity people for the upcoming conference. Create/pay for priority postage on line. Package. Send.
2 - drive to Orlando (last Friday) to teach an early AM Saturday workshop at an RWA meeting. That also required me to write and design a handout and print 35 of them. It also required me to WRITE my "lesson". I did the same thing two weekends prior for the Naples Press Club conference.
3 - order/pay for goody items for a book fair in Ohio
4 - teach/respond my on line class on CHARACTER TORTURE (create and post lessons, answer student emails, etc.)
What's not yet done but needs to be:
1 - send 100 bookmarks to a store that requested same
2 - finish the promo mailing to 200 indy bookstores
3 - coordinate my one-hour SFR party for RT with the other 9 authors
Notice I've said nothing about writing my book yet?
I also--and this may shock some of you--have a husband, two cats, one duckling and laundry. A daughter and son in law. An elderly mother and a father now in the hospital.
Notice I've said nothing about writing my book yet?
Being an author is, yes, writing a book. Spending wonderful time plotting and planning with your characters. But A LOT of being an author is running the business of being an author. A LOT.
If someone can figure out how to pack thirty hours into a day, please let me know. I desperately need it. And I'm now late for my physical therapy appointment... and my husband just phoned and said we're having out of town houseguests Friday through Sunday.
WHEN am I going to find time to write?
Welcome to my 24. Hugs all, ~Linnea
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Thinking outside the box... or laundry appliance
I've done it!
I've sold it... my editor just does not know what she is getting, yet. I'm writing at least three more alien romances --one starring a buff alien hero who does not see the need to wear clothes--, and I suppose that polishing and pre-editing him is at the top of my metaphorical laundry list.
When I say "buff", I mean that this hero's issues are a bit more complicated than whether or not Chewbacca ought to have worn shorts. I think my research will take me to contemporary writings from pre-Victorian times for inspiration, to see how diarists felt when the moral authorities decided that table legs looked rude.
Talking of Research, yesterday I got a call from Bobbi Smith, asking me to fill in on an Advanced Writing, pre-convention workshop at the Romantic Times convention. When Bobbi mentioned that she needed someone to talk about research, I jumped at the opportunity.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Time Travel travails
But when I opened the time portal I opened a can of worms so to speak. When dealing with the issues of time you've got the entire traveling back and forth changing things around who is from where and I've get a major headache if I think about it too much type plot going on.
I've got a bad guy from the future trapped in the past and a heroine from the past sent to the future. I've got a time portal that can not be destroyed and I've got a plot that has to sound believable.
Difficult? You betcha. But also fun!
Thursday, March 01, 2007
The Illusion of Consciousness
TIME magazine for January 29, 2007, had a special feature on the science of the human brain. Among the many thought-provoking elements in this issue, an essay on the nature of consciousness especially struck me. Did you know that many prominent authorities on the human mind now maintain that consciousness—the existence of a self we can call "I"—is an exercise in self-deception? (Yes, I composed that last statement in a spirit of deliberately highlighting the theory's apparent oxymoronic quality.) TIME puts it this way:
"The intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive 'I' that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshoots the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along."
The author of BLINDSIGHT, a first-contact novel I think I mentioned here a few weeks ago, uses this theory in creating his aliens, which are intelligent without consciousness and regard the self-awareness exhibited by the human space travelers in the novel as an incomprehensible threat. As a model of the process of creating fictional characters, this notion of the idea of "consciousness" as a rationalization of a "maelstrom" of discrete neurological events works out nicely. As writers, we build imaginary people out of a collection of mannerisms, physical traits, personality quirks, moral values, etc. to lend them an illusion of three-dimensional individuality. Analyze this technique in the works of a great novelist such as Dickens, famed for his vivid characters, and notice how few "brush strokes" he often uses to establish an unforgettable imaginary person. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, these collections of traits and behaviors take on such an illusion of life that we feel we know what they would think and do in any given situation, not unlike our real-life acquaintances.
As an explanation of how the human mind actually works, however, I find this model of consciousness less than satisfactory. Like strict Skinnerian behaviorism, it's not a theory one can live as if one actually *believes.* My first reaction was to ask, if consciousness is an illusion and a rationalization, who's doing the rationalizing? Doesn't there have to be some kind of "self" to experience the false impression of being a self?
There go Descartes and all his followers down the tubes! According to this particular school of cutting-edge neuro-psychology, “I think, therefore I am” becomes the least reliable statement one can make, rather than the most reliable. It seems to me that anyone who actually believed in the “consciousness is an illusion” model on a personal, emotional level (as opposed to on an abstract level as an intellectual hypothesis)—a person who actually experienced him/herself as not having selfhood—would be mentally ill by all generally accepted standards. What do you think?