Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whole-world Government

Let us imagine....

The governments of Earth are desperate. They are thrashing around, grasping at straws, manufacturing crisis after crisis. Global warming. Banking. Manufacturing. Avian/swine flu. STDs. Terrorism. Deficits. Anything to increase government control over massive populations, to invoke war-powers acts, to oblige the public to accept 1984-like surveillance and also semi-mandatory mass injections of goodness-knows-what.

This isn't a whacky conspiracy theory. We're imagining. This is an alien romance blog, remember.

New, never before classified cloud formations are discovered. For instance, Asperatus. (I'm interested in clouds. It doesn't mean that they mean anything in particular, but they have potential as hiding places, and as delivery systems, and as shields.)

Meanwhile, UFOs are filmed over Ireland, and in other places. They move like nothing on earth. They're not configured like any super-power's secret aircraft or ABM.

The movie industry puts out movie after movie about aliens. Many are benign. Some are blue. Some have bony heads. Some are Messiah-like ie Klatuu (The Day The Earth Stood Still).... see a partial list of all the movies with aliens

Around 250 of them. Unfortunately, they are listed alphabetically. It would be really interesting to list them chronologically (with a synopsis) to see whether the portrayal of aliens has changed over time,  or whether there is any correlation between UFO sightings and subsequent sympathetic (or unsympathetic) alien characters.

I digressed. Those are really interesting lists, though.

Suppose there really are aliens, and suppose they are very much like us... only more advanced. I presume that aliens would wish to negotiate with us, and that they'd prefer to negotiate, say, with someone like Her Majesty, The Queen of England, rather with an ephemeral, quarrelsome rabble who might be voted out of office before any interstellar treaty could be ratified.

What would be the impact on all of us if these superbeings were all one racial type, and suppose that their one racial type was like our popular image of one of the three Magi?

This is a photograph of a lenticular cloud, but suppose it were a huge, god-like hologram. Imagine what would have happened if, at the same time that this appeared, a voice boomed from the clouds in which "he" is sitting. Suppose it did, maybe over some secluded part of Russia, where former President Putin was fishing, and over Crawford Texas where President Bush was clearing scrub. Or perhaps they appeared to Al Gore. Or Jeff Bezos!

Interesting article about contrails

Would international statesmen decide that it would be in Earth's best interests if our one-world leader looked as much as possible like the aliens? How would we achieve that?

How would we manage a one-world government or a one-world leader? It seems that every attempt at global domination by one tribe or another has eventually failed, no matter how benign in concept at the outset (or not!)  Plato's Republic, The Third Reich, the Roman Empire, Genghis Khan's Empire, the USSR all collapsed. Maybe Lord Acton's Dictum is all too accurate. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

If we were to try again, (because we really need the aliens' help) how would we go about it?

The options would include an election from among world leaders similar to that of the Pope as shown in The Shoes Of The Fisherman

Another possibility would be the mystical elevation of a child, much the way a new Dalai Lama is found.

Would the election of a virtuous child as temporary Queen and figurehead, as in Star Wars, work?
Only, I guess, if the aliens were childlike --or hobbitlike-- in appearance.

One of the first issues to solve would be whether humans would want a temporary leader (elected, or rotating) or someone appointed for life (a monarch, a Caesar, a Protector, a Chairman, a Dictator, a Big Brother, an Emperor). This choice might be influenced by the longevity of the aliens, and the need for stability. Then, we'd have to decide whether the leadership would be heredity, and what legal and/or religious mechanisms might need to be in place to remove unsatisfactory leaders.

This isn't one, but it's interesting

If the aliens were cool with elected bodies, we'd need a global version of Articles of Confederation

Otherwise, if they insisted on a one-world-leader, we'd want a global Magna Carta

If we look to literature, there's Machiavelli's model, and that of 1984 and of Brave New World. We see worlds ruled by consortia of business leaders, cartels, single imperial leaders; by parliaments, by oligarchies, theocracies... the Wiki list is comprehensive

In Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, the world is ruled by the Jesuits and the Japanese. In Jack Vance's Demon Princes worlds, distant planets were settled (much as North America was) by exiles and evangelists of various religious denominations.

Is there anything we haven't tried?

Should we try, anyway? If these imaginary aliens want us to have a one-world government, is that a good and sufficient reason to give it to them?

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heredity and Destiny

TIME magazine of January 18 contained an article on "Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny":


It explains how, through the action of cell components called epigenetic markers, which tell genes when to switch on or off, an individual's environment, diet, and life experiences can shape the traits passed down to offspring. This is a huge departure from the long-established Darwinian belief than environment has no effect on heredity. It turns out that, to some extent, the discredited theory of Lamarck—who championed the notion of inheritance of acquired characteristics—might have been right.

This news should interest horror and fantasy writers because it provides a mechanism for a scientific explanation of vampirism, lycanthropy, or zombification (if you treat those conditions as contagious) as caused by a virus that creates a permanent, inheritable alteration in the victim's DNA.

Speaking of vampirism as disease, by the way, has anyone else read THE STRAIN, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan? It's horror as well as SF, and very grim, but worth reading—the most ingenious treatment of that theme I've read in a long time.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Religion In Science Fiction Romance

Oh, this is going to be a painful blog entry to write and to read.

But a woman has to do what a woman has to do if she's going to be a kickass heroine of the writing craft.

Below, I'm going to get to discussing the TV Series, Sanctuary on syfy network, and a chat thread on twitter hashtagged #scifichat which discussed Children's Science Fiction and Fantasy on Friday Jan. 22, 2010, and is slated to discuss Religion in Science Fiction on Friday Jan 29, 2010 because we danced all around Religion in the discussion of kid-lit.

So before we get to the pain and rage of Religion, let's take a moment to imbibe a photograph of a Character from Sanctuary, John Druit the Vampire who was Jack The Ripper but is Magnus's beloved and still fights a compulsive need to Rip people to bloody shreds (talk about overcoming prejudice!).
That photo is from
where you will also find luscious episodes to watch and all the rest of the online stuff that's usual these days.

And I am ashamed to say I forgot to mention SANCTUARY as a case in point on the #scifichat about children's SF/F that blends religion and science -- (OK, the scripts are a little thin BUT! the worldbuilding is redolent of a theme at the core of many Religions).

On twitter I saw the following comment:
crside Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, reissues, re-releases, recreations, re-enactments, adaptations, and anniversaries etc....

And that's just what Sanctuary is, a "re" -- while at the same time it's original.  For that alone, the TV show is worth studying.

If you're young enough, the oldest stuff seems startlingly original -- and Sanctuary falls into that category.  They've rearranged and re-slanted the pieces of older material until it's relevant to today's audiences. The show is a bundle of cliche's arranged in an artful composition, and probably seems original to a lot of viewers.  Others yawn and surf away. 

On twitter's #scifichat, we tossed around a few comments on how religion appears in SF/F, and @rixshep answered a few comments, echoing my thoughts even after the chat had officially ended.  The @jlichtenberg at the beginning of the comment indicates the tweet was from @rixshep in answer to a tweet of mine, or requires my direct attention because of what I'd said earlier:

@rixshep @JLichtenberg Re: Pagan, christian & other symbolism in "classics". IMO, yes & no & both. Not always intentional, but reflects soc. gestalt.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 4:27 pm -

@rixshep @JLichtenberg For example of what I mean, see this review I did some time ago of a christian book about The Matrix:
Friday, 22 January 2010, 4:30 pm - 

That shorted URL is actually:
where @rixshep reviews a nonfiction book about the film THE MATRIX.

@rixshep really does know this field!  Here's more comments:

@rixshep @JLichtenberg RAH MAY have had religious symbolism, but knowing his conscious stance, it would be inadvertent, ingrained from culture.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 7:18 pm -

@rixshep @JLichtenberg Frank Herbert, otoh, could have put stuff in deliberately, just to yank chains of readers! Lol.
Friday, 22 January 2010, 7:20 pm

So Science Fiction has a grand tradition of enfolding the common religious contentions of the day into its most popular novels, both consciously and unconsciously on the part of writers.  And of course that continues.  

Now, what has Sanctuary the TV Show to do with Religion in Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance, especially since SANCTUARY wasn't even mentioned on the kid-lit chat #scifichat ?

Here we go all around Robin Hood's Barn (and you all know what happens behind the barn).

Religion in Science Fiction is a perennial topic at Science Fiction Conventions for a good reason.  It interests, astounds, repells, fascinates, and enrages.  It is a topic which somehow touches everyone in the broadest communities.

Agnostics and atheists have firm and unwavering opinions to air on the topic of Religion in general, nevermind Religion that shows up in fiction that includes religion either "on-the-nose" or off!

So even people who don't practice a particular religion as part of their daily lives have an urgent need to be heard on the topic of Religion.

Parents have positions on religion that they want their children to absorb,and many religions harbor a conviction at the deepest level that the biggest favor they can do a friend, relative or acquaintance is to convey the primary message of their own religion. Some people feel that convincing others that what the other believes is totally wrong is the highest act of charity.

Religion is very important to people from every profession and social stratum. And maybe it's most important to those who wish it would just go away!

Red faced, explosive screaming matches erupt when Religion intrudes into a conversation.  And nothing is resolved, usually.  People lose friends over those fights, and rarely gain a lover via religious acrimony (now there's a challenge for a red-blooded Romance writer!).

Yet the fact is that many organized religious institutions are shrinking in America, while more and more people are "unaffiliated" and raise their children to be as neutral as possible on the topic.

Just google Religion In America Today for more data than you could ever want.

Here's a headline from USA Today important to writers because this is the demographic profile of the intended readership for most fiction:
Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

That's a 2008 survey. Now it's 2010 and we're into a census year so in a while we may have more statistics, but I doubt such a huge trend will suddenly abate.

This article has links to explore and it says:
"These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990."
Another quote from that same article:
"Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Wicca, a contemporary form of paganism that includes goddess worship and reverence for nature, has even made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Pentagon now allows Wiccans' five-pointed-star symbol to be used on veterans' gravestones."

In the USA it isn't politically correct to discriminate against someone because of their religion, even if they don't have one.

But somehow, it's not really too bad to try to sell your religion to someone else, especially if they don't have one.

Many who hold religion tightly to themselves feel a sudden sense of emergency when confronted with an unaffiliated person possibly because of the sense of shrinking community. To survive, any community must grow and propagate values to their children.  Having lost a child to virulent hatred of the parent's religion, a parent might attack any new acquaintance, driven by a need to replace that member of the community by converting someone new.

Some religions regard Science Fiction and Fantasy, even some Romance with blatant sex scenes, as dangerous sources of ideas, attitudes and values that can undermine a young person's faith.

They may have a point because it's been proven that the 18-40 year old demographic is most susceptible to having their behavior modified under the impact of commercials. Repeated messages from Authority (such as teachers in school, or even more influential, the young person's peer group), can alter behavior and perhaps eventually beliefs.

Ideas truly are "dangerous" because new ideas, the specialty of Science Fiction and SFR, can alter perception of reality. 

The panicked need to convert friends may not seem so irrational if you remember the sense older people may have of a shrinking community.

Friends, contemporaries, are dying off, children are leaving the community, and nobody really knows why this dynamic has taken hold since 1990's.  In those circumstances, a parent may see anything as a threat, even to their own life, secure retirement, support group, and long range prospects for their posterity.

Many communities regard higher education as the enemy of their religion, for it is on the university campus that children must encounter the whole wide world of all religions, and open armed acceptance of every faith and non-faith or anti-faith, unless the campus is specifically constructed for one single Religion.

At college age, youth is easily indoctrinated in anti-doctrine attitudes.  Rebellion is normal, a necessary part of growing up.  Youth reaches across all boundaries to find a true-soul-mate.  Any way of life that's inherently easier may seem to be founded on an ultimate truth.  (Sometimes it even is!)

A well rounded university education has to come with some survey of the world's religions and historically how religion has sparked so many wars, so much violence, so much truly ugly bloodshed, so much really important Literature, and is still churning and erupting today.

The roots of today's worst wars must be studied, and those roots go back thousands of years into --- yep, Religion. 

Remember, Conflict is the essence of story.  Also remember the point I made last week
about how visual violence and purely primal images are easily accessible across cultural gulfs and thus have a broader potential audience, and bigger profit margin, than more nuanced stories, more "adult" stories.

The nuances, ethics, morals and philosophies behind Religion don't make popular story material.  The violence and primal angst generated by Religion through history do indeed make popular story material.

The violence and bloodshed take front-center stage while romance due to religion sinks into the background -- mostly because real drama that sells big time has to have violence and bloodshed along with some raw sexuality.

In fact, in many Romance genres (Regency comes to mind, but many Fantasy Romance series too), "arranged marriage" is portrayed as the ultimate evil in society, victimizing women, possibly even men, in the name of Religion, Society, Inheritance, Political Power. The philosophy behind using arranged marriage is rately discussed "on-the-nose" though.  It relies on symbolism. 

Most religious symbolism taps into the over-arching, primal mythos of all humanity.

Please stop reading this blog right now if you haven't yet read The Golden Bough, a seminal work surveying religious practices around the world among the most ancient peoples.  Every writer needs to read that survey (or one like it) because it is a vast "show don't tell" on the nature of all the archetypes at the root of the human psyche.

If your religion forbids you to read about other religions, maybe you have to find another source for that over-view of world pre-history. If you know such a source, please drop a comment on this blog entry about it.

In many previous posts here, we've delved into "Worldbuilding" as a writer's primary tool for sweeping a reader into a story.

Most writers and readers think that it's "character" that grabs and holds a reader, but "character" isn't it.  Readers feel it's the character that sucks them in, but that's not it.

A character is the product of the world he/she is embedded inside of.

Readers are dragged kicking and screaming into stories they would probably not ever want to read because they see, hear, and feel a specific character who is a version of the reader's Self handling a world that is ostensibly not the reader's world.  It is that contrast, that conflict, that sucks the reader in.

The Reader's Self in the Reader's own world would be boring.

Someone totally not-Self in the Reader's own world would be bewildering.

The Reader's not-Self in a not-World would be irrelevant.

It is the Reader's Self in an oddly challenging World that creates the dramatic vortex that sucks a Reader into a story.

"What would I do?"  "How would I survive that?" "Who would I save, the mother or the baby?" Quandries, plights, challenges, adventures, circumstances, arrowing straight at the Reader's heart and soul make fascinating reading. 

Reading is all about what the reader would do in those circumstances.

"Who would I be if I were a Princess with Magical Power?"

We all know there are lots of versions of Self that we could manifest.  Which one we manifest is partly a product of choice, partly a product of what choices were on that menu of choices at birth, and partly a product of aspirations, visions, wishes, fantasies.

As I learned from Alma Hill, writing is a performing art. 

As with an actor, a writer's most penetratingly real characters are the ones that partake of some unmanifested potential within the writer, being someone they really are not.

"Who would I be if I were in that world?"

Think about stories of being tossed into The Witness Protection Program and leaving your whole Identity behind (and how hard that is if you stay in this world!) Enter another World and you could be someone else!

We all know "who" we are now, in this world.  The parameter that changes, from "here" to "in that book" is the world, not the reader. And in that World, the Reader can be someone else.

Many Religions consider it wrong to strive so hard to escape the plight that Divine Plan has dictated for you.

Here's a blog entry by a Professor of Spanish who has been pondering many esoteric philosophies, and pulled a quote from one of my Review Columns about the Soul entering manifestation through the dimension of Time.

It is because of "dangerous" thinking like this that many Religions frown on frivolous pursuits such as reading fiction.

I, however, don't regard Fiction as a frivolous pursuit, nor do I believe that any form of fiction is "escapist" in nature.  The most "escapist" literature rubs your nose in the hardest facts of reality, such as Love Conquers All.

To create that kind of "escapist" literature, the writer's first job is to build a world for the reader, and the second is to build a character the reader can recognize as Self reshaped by that strange new world.

We've discussed many aspects of worldbuilding (here's a sparse selection of what there is posted on this blog):

When it comes to Science Fiction or Fantasy, whether it's SFR or Nuts-n-bolts, it's all about worldbuilding.

The world causes the problem.  The world shapes the characters and their inner obstacles to solving the problem.  The world provides the raw material the characters must reshape into a solution to their problem.

Shaping our own world into solutions to our own problems is what life is all about, and practice makes perfect.  So we practice living by reading fiction.

The bold philosophical questions, such as those by Religion, embedded in the SF/F "World" makes our literature different from mundane literature.

In mundane literature (where the world is reality), certain things exist, and others do not, and the rules of our real world are never broken, just illustrated (ho-hum-yawn).

In SF, Fantasy, Paranormal, SFR, some one thing about our general reality is different.  The writer chooses to change that one thing because in our everyday reality, many other things are based on that one thing.  Change the one, and everything else must change, too. The writer's job is to let the Reader see that if you change this, then that must change too because of the way things are connected.

The point of reading SF/F with or without Romance is to find new ideas about how the things in our everyday reality are connected without ruining any real lives with our experimenting. 

By tracing out the connections among things in this fictional "model of reality" we learn to understand how our everyday reality is constructed around us, and to find the connections between the manifestation of our Self at the moment and the World we are embedded in.

"How has the world shaped me?"  Answer that, and you gain the power to change your life.  There are Religions that believe it wrong to allow followers to have that kind of power, and others that work hard to empower their followers.

Armed with that understanding of what we can change by choice and what we can not change but must adapt to, we can make a new Self to live our life.  Fiction, especially SFR, is the arsenal for such arms because the fabric from which SF is constructed is woven from the fibers of Religions -- all Religions.

I discussed fiction as a woven fabric here:

One most common example of a "fiber" is The Hero Archetype and The Hero's Journey.

By living an "adventure" with a Hero in a novel, we can tap into the reservoir of heroism residing within ourselves and actualize that potential, becoming more heroic in our daily lives.  ("What would Captain Picard do in this situation?")

To create that effect for a reader, a writer must create a world, and know more about that world than is imparted to the reader.

So a writer may start with a story to tell (Heroism 101 for Dummies), and wrap a whole world around that story, making everything match by using Theme to select what to put into the world.  But once created, the world must make some kind of sense to the reader on an unconscious, subliminal level.

To achieve this sense for the reader, the world is built around The Theme, and the bits of the world that are imparted to the reader all have to illustrate The Theme.  The writer may know all kinds of things about the world that do not illustrate the theme, but the writer reveals only those bits that do.

The way those revealed bits are inserted into a narrative without yanking the reader's attention onto them (spoiling the effect the way seeing the wires in a flying scene spoils a movie) is to use SYMBOLISM.

Where do you get that symbolism?


You can't beat it for a source of symbolism.  In fact, you can't avoid it.

Every symbol that means anything to human beings has been used by some Religion at some time.  In fact, some might say that Religion invented Symbolism (writing itself is a form of symbolism as is mathematics).

Symbols are a tool for thinking, especially about abstractions, non-concrete things, things that don't actually "exist." 

Your symbolism won't "work" if it's not somehow related to, derived from, echoing or shadowing some religion or another.  Even if you deliberately make something up, it will (inevitably) evoke some religion, possibly one you've never heard of.

Every well built "world" has to define the "truth" as well as the "fantasy" about Religion because every human culture we know anything about has a place for Myth, for cosmology and cosmogony, for epistemology.

Symbolism must be in the fictional world or the fiction just won't work.

If you don't put it in consciously (as @rixshep pointed out with Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert's Dune ) it will slip in subconsciously, and possibly contradict your chosen theme.

All religious symbolism is old, public domain stuff.  Every archetype has been used in one or another religion because archetypes are really powerful psychological symbols that speak loudly even to (or especially to) those who have no formal education in them.

Everyone responds to these primal symbols.  It seems sometimes that the less education or intelligence someone has the more powerfully symbols speak to them.

But the real spooky thing is that even for those erudite few of the upper reaches of human intelligence, symbols ROAR their message and even control behavior while the scholar denies it emphatically in multi-syllabic rhetoric.

The more firmly denied the symbolism, the more powerful it is.  The harder you fight it, the more prevalent it becomes.

The writer who understands this and fabricates a world out of that raw material of religious symbolism can reach tender minds and reshape our reality.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

In the USA recently, starting probably in the 1990's, we've seen a gathering wave of Fantasy becoming accepted mass market fare.  The most popular, best selling, books and the most predominant television thows such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, share a worldbuilding quirk in common.

I've written about this trend in this blog

and in my review column  from about 1995 on.

If you've seen the film Avatar you should be thinking about it right now.  The very title means symbol.

"Good" and "Evil" are actually symbols, or in the parlance of mathematics, they are "Variables" -- having different values in different circumstances.  Think about that.  All "Villains" are desperately fighting the terrible "Evil" of "Good" which so adamantly opposes their goals!  And most Religion is about how to be Good.

I've discussed the trend toward building worlds around the theme that reality is a thin film over a seething cauldron of Evil.  The Hero's job is to keep the lid on that cauldron, to keep a finger in the dike holding back the demons of hell, and not let the masses know what's going on (the giant conspiracy theory of reality).

The thematic statement that seems most popular today is that the real world is actually a horror movie where the best we can do is hold off Evil.

The huge generation gap between fiction written in say, the 1940s and fiction written in the 1990's separates two very distinctive world views among reader/viewers.  These distinct world views are reflected in the tidal wave of defections from organized Religion noted in the USA Today article cited above.

The model of the universe depicted by the mixed-genre fiction composed of SF, Fantasy, Romance, Horror and Religion is that Good can not win against Evil.  Evil is a necessary and legitimate (Harry Potter's Hogwarts) part of our world and must not be conquered, certainly not obliterated.

In the 1940's, the guy in the white hat always won.  GOOD always wins in the end.  EVIL is always vanquished.

Today, the best we can hope for is a draw, and in fact Good must not win because that would upset the balance.  Besides who are we to impose our own idea of what is "Good" and what is "Evil" on others.  We must not be judgmental!

If you've been reading my posts on Astrology and Tarot, you have developed a grasp of the underlying juncture between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and modern Wicca as mentioned in the religion survey article.  That juncture is symbolized by the Tree of Life, the Kaballah.

The mystical view of the universe always depicts good and evil in balance, a dynamic equilibrium around a center pole.  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

But there is yet another view, and that view is embedded deep in the archetypes that depict the skeleton of the human psyche.

It is a view endemic to Science Fiction and exemplified to the mass market by Star Trek, and Sime~Gen.


Actually resolve the conflict of Good vs. Evil by understanding that, at a certain Soul level where Wisdom rules, there really is no such conflict at all.  Love does Conquer All.

Realize that the Horta is just a mother protecting her young.

Take the thorn out of the lion's paw so the lion can go home to the jungle.

Or the Biblical commandment that if you see your enemy's donkey foundered beside the road, you must stop and help unload that donkey. (In Kaballah it is understood that "donkey" is a symbol for the human body, the animal body that carries the Soul through life.)

Or the instant classic novella by Barry Longyear and later film, ENEMY MINE -- two fighter pilots from opposite sides of a war are stranded together beyond the edge of the fighting and must become allies -- then choose to become friends.

Making your most deadly natural enemy into your most valuable friend (lover, Soul Mate, Forever Partner, Alternate Self) is "Love Conquers All" in it's purest form, and has been an integral part of Science Fiction since my earliest memory.

That's why it's the central theme of my Sime~Gen Universe novels

And many of my novels involve a karmic plot, presupposing past life choices generate this life's plight. This is evident in my Dushau Trilogy, and you can find free chapters at

Love Conquers All is a theme garnered from shared symbolisms embedded in our extremely diverse religions. Wherever you see a theme of Love Conquers All, you are looking at Religion manifest in the fiction, whatever the genre, even if the rest of the fictional work embodies an Atheist point of view.

Love has been appropriated by Religion since long before the Ancient Greek Mythology promulgated stories of the dysfunctional families of their gods.  Love was worshiped as a Goddess, remember.  Love is primarily a Religious issue, even when it's not.   

"Soul Mate" a key element or potential in Paranormal Romance, is at bedrock a Religious theme because it presupposed a Soul (whether that soul is actually immortal or not).

Again, I refer you to

Most people might attribute the concept "Soul Mate" to more recent neopaganism and the modern practice of Magic.  Some might trace it back to Christianity's origins.

But it's also a Jewish concept, and integral to most Kaballistic thought on the origin and purpose of Souls, what life is and what marriage is about, and why traditionally only married men were allowed to study Kaballah. (Google Bashert)

So an element of the worldbuilding in a Soul Mate story needs to be (not necessarily revealed) how the Souls got into reality to begin with.

The Soul in jeopardy by Demons (from wherever) and the Soul Mate's rescue is a primal story that is always a winner if the worldbuilding is done well.  But the worldbuilder has to ponder whether Souls can be destroyed or fundamentally altered in any way.  What exactly is the jeopardy?  What horrible thing could happen if this other thing doesn't happen?

We have seen variations on that theme of Souls In Jeopardy in every sort of built fantasy world.  And all those worlds that I remember are built around the Aristotelian notion of the universe as a zero-sum-game (because it's hard to depict a war in a world where everyone always wins without making someone else lose).

I've discussed the philosophy of the universe based on a zero-sum-game (where if I win, that necessarily means you lose) in many posts here.  Here's an example:

SANCTUARY The TV Show on the syfy channel does not take place in a zero-sum-game universe because Magnus (Amanda Tapping from Stargate: SG-1 )
 flat refuses to allow that premise (I win means you lose) to invade the Sanctuary.

The premise of Sanctuary blends Science with Magic into a seamless whole, where magic is just another natural occurrence of our everyday world, treated something like ESP.  The world of Sanctuary includes shapeshifters who can change mass during a shift, telepathy, empathy, levitation, and much more.

But all the magical looking effects are based in genetics.  Magnus is a geneticist with a tiny bit of Vampire blood (and a titch of immortality).

But none of those elements that I deem important or interesting are sited on the page "about" the show.  Here's their description pitching the show (study this all you writers who want to learn to pitch).

The following is from

Sanctuary blazes a trail across the TV landscape with never-before-seen production technology. Starring Amanda Tapping, best known to fans as the brilliant Col. Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary is the first series to shoot extensively on green screen, using virtual sets and extraordinary visual effects.

Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population — a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans.

Along with her new recruit, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), her quirky tech wiz Henry (Ryan Robbins) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect this threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence. The series also stars Christopher Heyerdahl as the sinister John Druitt.

Created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis), Sanctuary is produced in association with Syfy and is distributed by Tricon Films and Television. The show is executive produced by Damian Kindler, Sam Egan, Amanda Tapping, Martin Wood, Keith Beedie and N. John Smith.

Since that was written, they've killed off the daughter Ashley and replaced her with a stray girl Magnus picks up, Kate Freelander, played by Agam Darshi.

If I'd just read this description, I wouldn't bother to watch the show.

The interesting part of this show is the half-vampire in love with a Vampire who (we learn only this season) is possessed by an energy-being that is "Jack The Ripper."

That's right, they borrowed Jack The Ripper from Star Trek where Jack was a disembodied spirit that could possess the main computer A.I. of the Enterprise.  And this season, that entity possessed the computer system retrofitted in the Sanctuary building itself.  If you know, love and appreciate cliche, and know how to use it in writing, you can tap into the root power of all symbolism with it.  

See?  @crside was right -- everything is "re" this or that.

So why shouldn't our fiction be "re" too?

In fact, the best stuff is "re" because practice makes perfect.

So, now you see the Vampire Romance hidden in Sanctuary, where's the "religion" in the show?

It's in the worldbuilding, deeply buried inside the world that Magnus lives in and defends with her life.

None of the characters are especially "religious" and they don't talk about God or any transcendent Power that controls their lives.  When they're in deep trouble, they don't even pray (so you would notice, anyway).

Nothing that happens is attributed to God.  They haven't done a bunch of Star Trek like stories where they meet "God" and it turns out to be a powerful alien entity.

One can easily see why parents who want to impart their religion to their children would object to Star Trek which shrugs off God as an insane alien entity, a childish alien entity, a power-mad alien entity.  Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was a Humanist as were many who worked on the show, and the show embodied that philosophy about the nature of divinity.

So, again where's the religion in Sanctuary?

And again, in the premise, in the worldbuilding and in the theme, where it belongs in a good story. Out of sight. 

Sanctuary depicts all the demonic forms and demonic forces you could ever ask for (they aren't kidding about the unique appearance of the visuals) but takes a Star Trek attitude toward them.

The "abnormals" that Magnus collects from the wild and brings to her Sanctuary often become friends and allies, but in any case she tries to provide them a secure home while preventing the mayhem they would visit upon our world (or our world would visit upon them).

These "abnormals" are genetic oddities, like her, not "supernatural" in origin.

But the things they can do are things we ordinarily attribute to the supernatural.

The Vampire John Druit can teleport and do most all the usual vampire things.  And he admits, in front of others, (when the Ripper entity is not inside him) that he loves Magnus. 

From their various encounters in different episodes, we can see that they are soul mates. They never use that term, of course.  Too religious.  Too "on the nose."  But if you know anything about Romance, you know what you're looking at with the Vampire and part-Vampire in this desperate alliance (that has produced a child between them, too). 

Yet Magnus has had to kill John to prevent him from killing her (and revive him in an act of desperation).

When the Ripper entity was not inside him, John chose to take that horror back inside himself and exile himself from the Sanctuary to protect Magnus (and the world).

This energy-being is not (apparently) genetic, and it's more "horrible" (and Magical) than anything else they've dealt with.  It's not a misunderstood but well meaning freak of nature, as far as we can tell. And they couldn't destroy it.

It's the force of destruction and death - it is the essence of pure glee feeding on human pain, blood and most of all suffering.  It torments and tortures.

It's a game-changer in understanding this TV Show's universe and a revelation about the nature of this world built out of a philosophy that says "It's all good."

Magnus's universe simply has nothing EVIL in it -- even the Ripper-entity, somehow, will have to turn out not to be Evil.  This is a universe where there is no such thing as supernatural evil.

Sanctuary depicts a universe in which the seething genetic soup of Earth's biosphere (the science element) has produced a completely integrated, harmonious whole composed of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.  That is GOOD and EVIL and the synthesis or half-way blend of the two in dynamic equilibrium have combined into ONE.

That's the Religion element embedded in the worldbuilding.  

Early in the 20th century we held that Good could and should win.

Today it seems the argument is that Good can and should hold back Evil, but never, ever actually win so that Evil disappears forever.

But Sanctuary shows us a world where it's all GOOD.  Not one conquering the other or one vanquishing the other or the two in tension.  No.  It is ALL good. 

I can think of one religion that looks at it that way.  Can you?

As I said above, it's possible that Friday Jan 29, 2010, #scifichat will be about Religion in SF/F.

You can attend the #scifichat (and contribute or just follow the moderator's questions and writer's answers) by going to and filling out the signup (it's free).  You don't have to "follow" anyone or even complete your "profile" telling the world who you are.  You can just look on the right side of your home page, type #scifichat in the box labeled SEARCH, click the magnifying glass SYMBOL, and at the top of the page it shows you, click to save the search for the future.

Refresh your screen to watch comments scroll by.  If you see someone interesting, click on their name to see the screen with their profile displaying usually their personal website and a list of recent tweets.  You can "follow" that person by clicking "follow" in the upper left part of the screen.

Twitter is simple, but many use "clients" (free or paid downloads) that display the data differently, sometimes more handily.  I use sometimes.

The #scifichat happens at 2-4 Eastern time on Fridays.

There are other chats on writing you can attend with or without participating.  Another is #litchat.

After you create your twitter account, you can follow me by going to and clicking FOLLOW.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why is Science Fiction So Popular With Pirates?

This morning, E-Bay very kindly sent me my regular daily update of the ebooks that I might care to purchase from their honest vendors.

I post this link to make a point. I do not encourage anyone to actually bid on any of these items. I do encourage you all to click the Report button as and when you see an ebook or ebook-on-CD being offered that you know for a fact ought not to be on EBay.

There are Immortals, Jules Verne, Star Trek, Harry Potter, the usual Vampires, A Princess of Mars.... I won't advertise. Some of the classic, sci-fi collections are probably out of copyright, and may be legal. Some most definitely are not!

Who is selling this stuff? What motivates them? Who put them up to it? Why do they think they can get away with it?

Don't they know that they are breaking the law... several laws? Do they realize that if they sell stolen ebooks through EBay and PayPal, their real names and addresses are available to the FBI and anyone else who might care to prosecute them?

Are they reporting their illegal income to the IRS? If they are using the USPS to mail their bootlegged CDs across state lines, are they aware that they are compounding their crimes?

Who are these science fiction fans with an outrageous sense of their own invulnerability?

Apparently, a lot of them are young males! Surprise. A Publishers' Lunch report on a Verso study claims that

"questionable downloading, while affecting all age and gender brackets, is concentrated disproportionately among younger male readers. Among males aged 18-34, over 45 percent report engaging in such downloading activity within the past twelve months."

I googled "males 18-34" and found
where a commentator offered this enlightening theory:

"My guess is most 18-34 agers don't read mysteries, but rather sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, anything that doesn't require a lot of intellect, anything that stimulates the imagination and provides rapid pace. All normal, of course."
My own reading of online commentary would tend to back up what Dan said.

and on a more refined level on CNN

It does seem to be largely young gentlemen who are eager to discuss the merits of stealing. Robin Hood lives in cyber space! He's redistributing intellectual property; disseminating knowledge. From what I've seen on a pirate-hosting site, a lot of these young men are especially interested in sharing carnal knowledge with one another. That, and text books, and science fiction... and vampire stories. Half of them must yearn to be Edward.

Now, I'm all in favor of as many people as possible reading science fiction. It may not be educational, exactly, but it is aspirational and inspiring. Scientists seem to follow where fiction has led. This is a good thing. However, fiction and non-fiction authors need tangible encouragement. The better they are paid, the more time they can spend on research and thought, and excellence in the quality of their content and in their writing. Right now, most of us are not very well paid.

"Net Neutrality" isn't going to help if "Net Neutrality" is Orwellian 1984-speak for leveling the playing field for pirates.... as if it's not already an uphill battle for authors and publishers!

EFF Files Comments on Net Neutrality | Electronic Frontier Foundation

"We know from bitter experience that dragnet copyright enforcement efforts often end up inflicting collateral damage on lawful activities," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Neutrality regulations should not excuse ISPs that discriminate against or block innocent content just because they claim it was done to protect copyrights or cater to law enforcement."

My problem with this is the definition of "lawful" and "innocent". Too many Internet users, especially "EBayers" don't know what "lawful" and "innocent" mean. They don't seem to grasp the first principle of what an ebook is, or what copyright notices in the fronts of books say or mean.

For those who have never noticed, here's a selection of front matter warnings from a variety of publishing houses:

St. Martin's Press copyright notices.  
"No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010."

"All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying or recording or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises limited..."

Dorchester Publishing:
"All rights reserved. No part of this book in whole may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law."


Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringe-ment without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Total-E-Bound Publishing.

All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

LL Publications/Logical-Lust Publications
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, transmitted, or recorded by any means whatsoever, including printing, photocopying, file transfer, or any form of data storage, mechanical or electronic, without the express written consent of the publisher. In addition, no part of this publication may be lent, re-sold, hired, or otherwise circulated or distributed, in any form whatsoever, without the express written consent of the publisher.

All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Under The Moon... 
Excluding legitimate review sites and review publications, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

Copying, scanning, uploading, selling and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without permission from the publisher is illegal, punishable by law and will be prosecuted.


What all these publishers are saying is "You do not have the right to make a copy of this book!" and also "You do not have the right to 'share' or sell COPIES that you have made of this book."

Too many people think that if they scan a paperback or hardback novel, or cut and paste an ebook,  and put it on a CD they have somehow created something new and original that is theirs to do with as they please.

Well no. It's still the same copyrighted story that took a hardworking author months or even years to imagine, research, write, hone, polish and promote.

Taking a bunch of favorite novels, copying them all, putting them all onto a CD and calling them "My Private Collection Of My Own Favorite Sci-Fi Novels" does not make them "yours". The authors still own the copyright. You cannot burn ten or more copies of this "Private SF Collection" and sell them on EBay or iOffer or Facebook or Blogger or Wordpress or any other virtual bookstore.

Nor are you free (legally) to upload them to pirate sites. If you didn't write every word of it yourself, from your own imagination, then it is not yours.

An author has the right to make copies or to give written permission to someone else to make copies. An author has the right to perform her work. An author has the right to control the distribution of her work.

First Sale Doctrine confuses a lot of people. Basically, this is what it says. If you bought a hardback or a paperback (or a vinyl record, or a DVD etc) from a legitimate seller, you may sell it, or give it away. But, you cannot keep a copy. Once you give it away or sell it, you do not have it any more.

With an ebook, you cannot give it away or sell it because it is impossible to do that without creating a copy or six.

If some crook tells you they have "Re-Sell rights", do take a moment to think about that. Is it logical that 3,000 ebayers have all personally met with King, Knight, Kenyon, Grisham, Rowling, Roth, Harris et alia, and all have personally been given a signed contract from each of those authors?

If those authors are still living and making a living from their writing, is it logical that they would give every EBayer the right to resell their books and to pocket all the profits (apart from EBay's listing fees and PayPal's payment fees and the post office's postage fees if unlawfully copied CDs are being sent through the mail?)

No. It isn't.

Until every blank CD costs the same as it would cost to purchase a library of books (which isn't going to happen) authors aren't going to get paid for bootlegged and burned CDs.

So, do authors everywhere a favor. If you see an unbelievable bargain collection of authors' fiction for sale somewhere, click to "Report" it. Tell the author. Tell the publisher.

Thank you.

Thanks, too, to Pamela Fryer and Brenna Lyons for collecting some of these samples of publishers' copyright notices.

Rowena Cherry

PS for authors.
If you are on please join the White House group, and keep the discussion about e-book piracy alive.\

PPS for everyone
Kid Rock rocks! See his "Steal Everything" video.

Other blogs on piracy (not all about alien romance fiction by any means):

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Authors Guild - Last Call: Google Settlement Seminars by Phone

If Susan Kearney posts today, my apologies (admin!)

Author friends may be interested in this free opportunity

The Authors Guild - Last Call: Google Settlement Seminars by Phone

For those still seeking more information about the Google Book Settlement, we'll be hosting five phone-in seminars next week. These are open to all authors and agents. The seminars are free, except for your usual long-distance phone charges. We've expanded the capacity to accommodate many more people. We encourage you to forward this on to other authors and groups of authors.

Each seminar will provide a short, clear explanation of the settlement and will answer all questions from participants. Each seminar will last about an hour. The seminars will be conducted by Paul Aiken, Jan Constantine, and Anita Fore, the Guild's Executive Director, General Counsel, and Director of Legal Services.

Here are the dates and times, click on a link to sign up:

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 10:00 AM Eastern Std Time

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 3:00 PM Eastern Std Time

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:00 AM Eastern Std Time

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:00 PM Eastern Std Time

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:00 AM Eastern Std Time

When a seminar is full, it will be removed from the list of options on the online registration form.

Feel free to forward, post or tweet. Here's a short URL for linking:

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Things to All Readers?

Jacqueline has mentioned that each reader of a book reads a different story. I’ve been rereading bits of Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and started thinking about what most appeals to me in that novel. It’s Michael Valentine Smith’s analogy to Tarzan. Both are human orphans brought up by members of another species to think of themselves as members of that species, and each develops superhuman powers as a result of his unique childhood. The aspects of STRANGER I enjoy most are the expositions of Martian biology and psychology and Mike’s “raised by wolves” difficulties in adjusting to life as a Terran. There must be millions of other readers, however, for whom the center of the book rests in its satirical reflections on human society or in the “water brother” religion Mike creates (as evidenced by real-world cults based on it).

Suzy McKee Charnas has written that her postapocalyptic first novel, WALK TO THE END OF THE WORLD, was inspired in part by THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. She based one of the central characters on the roguish villain of the two Zenda books, Rupert of Hentzau. I would never have guessed that connection from reading her novel. She and I apparently like widely different things about ZENDA. For me, Rupert exists to provide a foil for the hero, Rudolph Rassendyl, and the center of the Zenda duology is Rudolph’s self-sacrifice. Heinlein’s DOUBLE STAR, on the other hand, is an obvious rewrite of ZENDA, with the twist that in the classic novel the substitute, Rudolph, is superior to the weak king he replaces, while in DOUBLE STAR the narrator is the inferior—a thoughtless, self-centered young actor who grows into the role of the wise statesman whose role he assumes.

I recently read SWORD OF AVALON, Diana Paxson’s latest prequel to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s MISTS OF AVALON. I like it better than most of the prequels published so far because it focuses on an event directly related to the Arthurian mythos, the forging of Excalibur. The Atlantean prehistory and the reincarnation theme, which doubtless appeal to many readers, hold no interest for me. What I want from the series is more explicit Arthuriana. Yet another example of how different readers focus on different aspects of the same book. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in reading reviews of S. M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” series. At least one reader finds Stirling’s emphasis on the rebuilding of society with a revival of paganism tedious. That reader would probably welcome more action and battle scenes, which I skim over to get back to what, for me, is the real story—the cultural and sociological stuff.

Likewise, Jacqueline’s Sime-Gen series initially fascinated me because of the quasi-vampiric elements. I’ve come across comments from other readers who hardly noticed that aspect of the books.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Competing For A Mate

On twitter I found the following somewhat rhetorical question - or perhaps perennial complaint:

jeannevb Divorce lawyer on train talking nonstop on phone w client. Y can't ppl be civil/mature during divorce & remember they USED to luv ea other?

One possible explanation lies at the interface between love and business.

The dynamics of business competition for a market share leading to the resulting monetary profit have altogether too-spooky-much in common with the dynamics of a bid for a share of a partner's romantic attention and the resulting boost to self-esteem from being chosen and loved.

Having believed oneself to be chosen and loved - only to discover it is not so leaves one with less self esteem than before the romance.

Believing that one has received Love triggers an investment of giving Love, of giving the Self. This great out-pouring of the self can create an inner deficit, but in real Love that doesn't matter. Eventually, it all flows back in even greater abundance.

It's the same with a manufacturer who sells you a product, which you open and use, then return for a full refund. The manufacturer has invested more than just the price of the product, and thus has poured out more than can ever be recouped because a return means bad word-of-mouth rumors around the product.

Manufacturers figure returns into their list prices.

People don't figure returns in when they give their hearts to another only to have their S.O. choose a third person instead.

Divorce is as bitterly powerful whether you're legally married or living together. The investment is the same. The loss is felt as robbery, or worse a scam.

We read, write, and extol stories about the eternal triangle. Two women want the same man. Two men want the same women. Three men. Three women. Whatever the triangle, one will be chosen. The other not.

And sometimes, even after choice and full investment, decisions can be changed.

Mating seems to be a zero sum game (where if one wins, the other must therefore "lose.")

Many Alien Romance novels are actually about trying to change that situation of the zero-sum-game. I have to refer you to my interstellar, human/non-human love story novels, Molt Brother and City Of A Million Legends (both available as e-books on - for free chapters see the middle of ) as examples of "different" ways humans can arrange their family affairs.

There can be arrangements where 3 make a couple. If it works, who's to complain? We can always point to Biblical stories about really strange living arrangements.

As I pointed out on #scifichat (on twitter where I'm jlichtenberg) on Friday Jan 15th, 2010, fiction writing is actually, when you come right down to the essence of the process, merely editing reality.

We take a point of view, (a theme), narrow the angle (select a character), and present a picture of reality that is both actually real and totally not-real. But because it's not-real, it is actually more real than reality.

That is the conundrum created by "modeling" reality as a scientist builds a mathematical model of a system in order to predict the behavior of the real system. The simplification of the "model" allows the moving parts to become comprehensible. But the simplification makes the whole thing very not-real.

Any resemblance to reality is purely accidental, as the disclaimer goes.

I have repeatedly mentioned that the whole structure of the business of "being a writer" -- of being self-employed as a freelance writer in fiction or non-fiction -- has changed totally with the advent of the e-book, of Print on Demand, and perhaps most markedly, of digital video and YouTube.

These changes are more profound than the changes brought about by the invention of the microprocessor chip.

Our fiction consuming customers now spend most of what used to be "reading time" either watching TV, DVD movies, or online videos. For both instruction and entertainment, people now prefer a real "show don't tell" in the form of a video.

Online comics and novels told in picture-panels (both animated and not), as well as games like World of Warcraft and Second Life absorb the time that such creative and intellectually developed people would have spent reading printed books say, 50 years ago (or even maybe 30 years ago).

Meanwhile, the whole generation born to a world when radio drama was THE new-fangled thing has been dying off. Those folks were readers, too, and though they enjoyed an occasional theater movie, really never learned to program a VCR.

It's not just taste in entertainment sources that has changed. It's a turnover in generations that has brought to the peak purchasing years a generation raised on the internet.

The current set of 40 year olds raising their own kids barely remember a time when their home didn't have a computer, and only vaguely remember that computers weren't originally attached to the internet. Most of them remember the tweedle-tweet of dialup song.

Those folks, raised in an online environment learned "keyboarding" in school, and spent a good portion of their college years working on a screen instead of on paper. Today, they earn their livings staring at computer screens.

And these are the tiny slice of the world who would have become book readers.

Those who read as children don't read as many books today as their parents did when their parents were 40.

There used to be an estimated 10% of the population that read 3 or 4 novels a year. They were considered our customers, the audience writers had to write to, to "hit" to sell enough copies to get paid enough to buy groceries.

There still are young people becoming addicted to text-reading for pleasure, but the % of the total population that does that has been shrinking.

I haven't seen any really recent statistics on this, but judging from the way big publishers are twitching this way and that every time something changes in the e-book market, I suspect that the total percentage of people who read fiction for fun may actually have started increasing again -- but only on the e-book side.

There is a whole population of commuters, busy carpool drivers (who have to arrive early to get a good spot in front of the school, then sit for 20 minutes), take-the-kids-to-the-park parents, stop-at-the-doctor-on-the-way-home-and-wait errand runners, people in a hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle who are opting to spend their waiting intervals reading e-books.

Of course, they also play games on their cell phones, read twitter, scan the news, and text-text-text, not to mention gab-gab-gab.

But kicking back with a good book no longer requires carrying even a paperback stuffed in a pocket. And you don't have to depend on a doctor's waiting room to have a current magazine either. Read magazines on your cell, or on Kindle and other readers.

The price of paper books is going up and up (because in mass market, volume determines price), while the price of e-books and electronic copies of magazines seems to be going down and down because the e-book doesn't have to be mass market to turn a profit.

Big players like Barnes&Noble and Amazon are trying to capture and cage a segment of that e-reader marketplace.

Which brings me back to "competing for a mate."

The Romance plot resembles Marketing in a host of particulars.

Marketers are focused on "luring" you with "enticing" advertisements designed to attract your attention with the promise of pleasure or satisfaction.

Typically women (and men too) "package" themselves with clothing that makes a "political statement" or an "availability" statement about themselves. Or maybe a "prosperity" statement. Who hunts for a poor mate on purpose?

Marketers compete for your attention and your money.

The un-mated compete for attention -- and maybe a dinner date and more.

Now we have online dating services that leverage that competition for a potential mate -- as a business model.

Finding a mate is a business which, to be profitable, needs a good "business model" (a way to take raw input and create output that shows a profit).

Business is often viewed as "combat" -- often in the form of Chess or less elegantly in the form of Football. The language is the same as any action novel would use -- "beat the competition" = "beat the enemy."

Finding a mate is often viewed the same way. A woman may dress to "out-shine" her rival at a party, or very possibly to "vanquish that bitch once and for all." Competitive dressing is learned in High School. (Just watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes!)

And finding a mate is all about "possession" as is business.

"He's MINE!" she snarls just as the businessman closing a deal on a hotel at a prestigious address might snarl, "That's my hotel now!"

Avariciousness, acquisitiveness, jealousy, revenge, protectiveness, all that and more are motives in business and in romance.

In love, the object is to marry, to cement a permanent relationship involving the giving and receiving of fertile material.

In business, the object is to "close the deal," to cement a reciprocal relationship involving the giving and receiving of money.

It's really the very same transaction, for very similar motives.

So a good writer should have no trouble understanding the world of publishing?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

No? You think you understand publishing both as a writer and a reader?

Let's look a bit deeper.

Here is a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. It was brought to my attention by Patric Michael, a writer and Roweena Cherry noted it on Facebook.

That article is titled THE DEATH OF THE SLUSHPILE.

It essentially says that publishers (and producers) simply will not and can not so much as flip through unsolicited manuscripts.

To sell your fiction to such markets, you must come to them through an agent (a matchmaker!) whom that particular editor trusts, or you don't even get glanced at, nevermind "attract attention."

In the world of arranged marriages, parents ponder long and hard before choosing a matchmaker. Furthermore, matchmakers are paid really big bucks because the matches they have arranged do NOT end in divorce but happiness and fertility (the HEA ending personified).

The article essentially says that publishers (and producers) have decided for business reasons that they can't afford the time and expertise that has to be devoted to reading slush (unsolicited manuscripts) and making matches.

They will look at manuscripts that come through agents. But agents can't afford to read slush either (just browse some Agents websites and see.) I know enough Agents that I understand their business model. It does not include leeway to make the investment of time and money necessary to sort through a slushpile.


That's it. A decree made simply because of the profit motive.

Why has this happened?

As I've been noting from time to time, the entire world of the Fiction Delivery System is under major stress and is changing markedly.

Publishers were once (as recently as 35 years ago) in the business of delivering fiction (and non-fiction) to their specific markets. They chose books to publish not because of how many copies they could sell, but because the content of the book should be read, should be published, should be preserved for future generations. Readers could trust their favorite publisher's judgment on that.

That is no longer true.

With a change in the USA tax laws a couple decades ago, it became unprofitable to print a slew of copies (price per copy goes down as number of copies in the print-run goes up) and warehouse the copies until the little trickle of sales for that title ended, then "remainder" the rest. That's a business model. It was changed by Congress, the elected folks who rarely have any business experience, are not known to be avid fiction readers, and who made a law that treats printed books the same as say, boxes of roof nails.

"Remaindered" means the book goes out of print, and the publisher can continue to sell copies but not pay the writer a royalty. Roof nails don't "go out of print" and then not-pay the nail-designer.

That tax law still taxes inventory kept in a warehouse. E-books don't have an inventory in a warehouse. Neither do POD books.

This tax law drove many publishers out of business and started the cascading collapsed the entire book distribution system in the USA, a collapse which is continuing today.

As a result, bigger more predatory businesses with a different business model bought up publishing and distribution. Most of the USA publishing houses now have been bought by non-USA based publishers.

Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt is one of the biggest publishers, and the company that owns Houghton Mifflin recently filed for "restructuring" (which means they just don't pay their debts -- it's one step above bankruptcy).

Here's the story from Reuters.

And it's the same story we've been hearing with banks and other businesses going bankrupt during this recession -- too much debt, too much risk.

The new publishing system is in the business of making a profit, not of delivering fiction. And it has failed to make a profit.

The new distribution system, automated though it is now with robots and computers, still can't get enough of a "margin" to thrive, and distributors are still folding or being bought, or raising prices to where publishers can't afford to publish.

The smaller publishers went first, and now the biggest are failing. Meanwhile newspapers and magazines likewise have fired writers and reduced payroll.

Why can't they move this printed paper through the system at a profit?

Because the MARKET has changed.

Those willing to pay to read text on paper are dying off. Of the tiny fraction of all humanity that has ever been willing to read text for entertainment, the newest additions to the ranks actually prefer electronic copy. But the ranks of new readers are not growing as fast as the elders are dying off. Younger people prefer other forms of entertainment.

Marketers tried to turn publishing into a profitable business. They failed.

Perhaps they failed because they chose books to publish for profit, not because the content "ought" to be preserved for humanity?

Maybe not. Publishing was never, ever, run for a profit. Just ask the Monks in the Middle Ages who spent a lifetime copying books. They were supported by donations to The Church and didn't make a profit on their books. (and they didn't do a lot of fiction, either)

Meanwhile, today, self-publishing and e-books carefully chosen by small publishers for well defined markets are thriving.

There's a question I seldom heard anyone ask. "Are e-books competing for the attention of the same readers who read print books?"

I don't think so. People who want an e-book won't buy a print book. People who want a print book simply will not buy an e-book. There's a bit of a venn diagram style overlap in the two populations, but it's a tiny slice who are "in transition" -- and who tend to drop paper buying once they get "the right" reader device, one they really like.

Many traditional publishers are trying to distribute their titles as e-books either simultaneously or after the print edition. They see e-books as an alternate distribution channel, another way to make a profit with titles carefully chosen for profit potential (and no other attribute).

Unfortunately, the proliferation of e-books and self-published books (not the same thing; "e-book" publishers do edit and select for profit potential) created something of a different problem. A self-published book may not go through the "select" process, but the author usually dreams of a profit.

There is just so much stuff being published (and produced) that "should not be published" that there is no economic way for anyone to find, amidst the torrent, the one or two items that humanity really, REALLY needs preserved.

The noise has swamped the signal.

And the gatekeepers have given up and welded the gate shut, as you see from the article sited above.

This is not the first time this gate-shutting has happened. And I don't think it will last.

But for the moment, no new writers are being admitted except via agents (who are not set up to read slush). And agents can only deal with items that actually will make a big profit -- and already appear enticing to marketers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010, I found an article that puts another perspective on all this.

Listen up, worldbuilders, because this is how world building is done.
Observe reality, edit reality, create a new world.

While text-based fiction on paper is declining, and/or shifting to e-delivery, a portion of those who would have become text readers are shunning text for movies and TV. But text-consumers have never been a significant market. That's why films make so much money. Text-readers will go to films, but film-buffs won't read a book (unless it's a spinoff).

It's all economics and business model.

"I'll make you a star!" was the cry that went up in the 1930's -- not from publishing but from Hollywood.

Hollywood became the world's iconic source of video entertainment.

But the USA is a tiny market compared to the world. So by the 1970's, no Hollywood studio could make a profit without a strong after-market in other countries. By the 1980's or so, Hollywood products also needed a strong VHS sell-through, and now DVD, Blu-ray, download and streaming video.

Alien Romance readers all know how Manga and other Japanese products have swept into the USA. The Japanese have specialized in telling tender people-stories in video done very cheaply -- so it's very profitable. British TV and film has always been popular here, but not with every demographic, and it takes "every demographic" to make a profit on an expensive product.

The market in the USA for foreign films has always been small. But with the success of Canadian TV imports (now made unprofitable by a USA tax law so we don't get made-in-Canada TV shows like Forever Knight and Highlander anymore), the USA has shown itself open to other country's fiction products.

Meanwhile, Hollywood, once the unquestioned source of all films worldwide, met up with the "Spaghetti Western" made in Italy, then higher quality items emmanating from less likely markets. The world learned a lesson. Hollywood's products could be out-competed for the necessary "mate".

In the last 20 years, the technical production of Hollywood films has moved "offshore" -- to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and less likely places. New Zealand did the LORD OF THE RINGS and other extravaganzas. The biggest driving force behind that move was the artificial increase in the value of the US dollar - held too high too long, contributing to the worldwide recession we're in now.

It's all taxes and politics, competition and compromise. (The SFR question is, "Does it have to be?")

As I said above, you'd think knowing how to plot a Romance would teach you how to run a business.

But if you have missed the connection between the politics behind the value of the US Dollar, the choice of Federal Reserve governors and Chairmen and the choice of which scripts or screenwriters to buy and make into expensive films, you have no clue what business is all about and are seriously impaired when it comes to worldbuilding.

So, back to Hollywood. The US film industry began losing market share in markets much bigger than the USA. Recently, "Bollywood" has become the primary supplier of motion picture entertainment in India, unseating the US films.

The icon status of Hollywood is confirmed by the nickname "Bollywood" -- a name which isn't Indian at all.

Hollywood, this great, iconic engine of entertainment which iconicised American Culture many places in this world, saw their market share trickling away.

The value of the US dollar tanked, big time and that has a huge effect on profits of international companies. There's talk of abandoning the US dollar as the "Reserve Currency" and the denomination for pricing oil.

Panic set in. Dominance and ownership is threatened.

This is a feeling just exactly like the feeling the losing member of a love-triangle feels. "Oh, no!"

And the response of Hollywood was very much the same as a spurned lover.

Gradually, over the last 20 years as Bollywood became the preferred source of motion picture entertainment in India, Hollywood has strained to capture the attention, to preen, strutt and entice that international market.

Why? Because even with offshoring production costs (when the US dollar was strong, it became ultra-cheap to do extravagant productions in Australia or Canada), Hollywood was dancing on a razor thin margin as dangerous as that now totally lost by paper publishing. With the reversal in the value of the dollar, the whole business model of Hollywood had to change - fast!

The world was out-competing the USA in entertainment-production for the first time in history.

So what did Hollywood do?

A long time ago, Hollywood began selecting and creating scripts entirely and totally for the story's ability to be understood WITHOUT DIALOGUE.

Subtitles are awkward and translations and dubbing only "work" across narrow cultural gulfs.

The biggest audiences flock to films they don't have to understand, just to be wowwed by intense and impossible visuals.

Hollywood went for the ACTION FILM that needs no translation (i.e. primal as I've mentioned so often in connection with Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series).

Hollywood has been practicing and in this latest crisis environment, has perfected the ability to choose this type of film script. The biggest big bucks have to go to the projects that can sell well in all worldwide markets.

And since that's what Hollywood was investing the big bucks in, that's ALL USA audiences were ever allowed access to, which has cultivated a taste for that type of film in the USA too.

The scripts have become subordinated to the actual people-stories to avoid cultural gaffs, and bewilderment.

We've all wondered why that is. We've seen it on TV -- scripts with holes you can drive a truck through win awards.

Why? Because they're exportable. They were never done for the USA audience to begin with, and nobody really cares what we like because we're a minority in the world audience.

Anything not exportable to the broader market just doesn't get made -- or if it does, it gets mangled in order to simplify it and make room for more self-explanatory (a cave man could understand it) visuals, chase scenes, fight scenes, battle scenes, sex scenes.

So Hollywood, the great icon of the USA's industrialization years, went to war with all rivals to win the "mate" of India's movie-going population.

IN 2009, Hollywood finally began to win. The film AVATAR is a perfect example.

Here's an article in TIME magazine on Hollywood vs. Bollywood in 2009/2010.

And this article says:
"Hollywood films, which only cashed in on 1% of the total Indian market 10 years ago, now skim 7% of that growing market."

As a result of that win, however narrow, you can expect the product coming out of the big production companies in Hollywood to become more and more suited to the non-USA marketplace, i.e. Bollywood's market, or China's market.

With the US dollar becoming cheaper, an imported Rupee buys Hollywood more Dollars. That makes it more imperative to please India's movie-goers than it does to please USA movie-goers.

It's the same in publishing, especially in e-book. Fiction writers' mating habits must change to woo the international market's fiction consumer.

Your reader/viewer is the mate you as a writer are seeking and the clergy who will marry you is your publisher, the Agent is the matchmaker. Other writers are your competitors.

That's how it is in 2010. How will it be in 2025?

Can publishing and producing (via small publishers, e-book publishers, small producers, the indie producers) once again afford to disseminate fiction because it "ought" to be cherished and passed on to posterity?

Or are we forever trapped in a for-profit-or-die scenario?

Can you see a similarity between that question and the question, "Can lovers afford to get married for love alone? Or are they forever trapped in a for-sex-or-die scenario?" Or maybe, " a marry a rich spouse" scenario?

Sex and money are the obvious profit. But love is the real point of romance, just as "ought to be preserved for posterity" is the real point of publishing.

Or not?

Build your own world. Then write in it.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg