Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Orson Scott Card a Mormon, Jack Campbell the Writer, and the Chief Rabbi of England all Agree

I can't split this post in half - I tried, but the second half makes no sense without the first.

A Chief Rabbi, Orson Scott Card a Mormon, and Jack Campbell SF-Romance Writer All Agree? ??? !!!

Yes, they agree, but I doubt they all know it or would want to know.

Way back when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I was incensed when networks pre-empted my favorite programs and replaced them with news flashes usually regarding politics and war.

I thought about that very hard. It is hard to think when you're that young and don't have any experience to think with, but I came to a conclusion that I stand by to this day, "Fiction - i.e. story - is more important than war or politics."

What does that mean? It means simply that what makes a difference to you in how you live your life, what you decide to do, to be and to become is tied more closely to fiction than it is to current or historical events.

What is important in life (i.e. Romance, Love, Bonding, Compassion, Sharing, Healing, Faith, children, grandchildren, peace, etc.) is inherent in fiction (even fiction about war) but is not present in news stories about current conflicts in war and politics.

You learn to be who you truly are in your fiction, your inner story, your "his"tory, which sums up to a big component of your Identity.

From the vast outpouring of fiction about TV shows on outlets like fanfiction.net we see clearly that fiction cuts to the quick, to the roots of the Soul.

See my blog post on a writing lesson derived from a bit of fan fiction about the TV show White Collar, illustrating how to transform a "tell" passage into a "show" passage in fiction, so the fiction doesn't remain totally internal to yourself, but can "speak" to others.

That White Collar post is http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com posted May 4th, 2010.

The energy you see pouring out of fanfiction.net is an exchange of ideas, of theories, of passions.

The passions of one writer ignite the passions of another. Yes, people write fan fiction that makes fans of the TV show out of folks who have never watched that TV show (so they watch it streaming or buy the DVD to catch up).

Now go to a political site with news stories and read the comments on the stories. You see a totally different sort of dialogue. Each poster seems to be yelling and screaming (or being very formal and officious) while expressing their own opinion. Those who agree with each other inflame each other's passions on the topic. Those who disagree just loudly and emphatically disagree, inflaming their opposition's passions. But the passion tapped into is rage, hate, rejection, self-righteousness, or the acceptance of being a member of a powerful gang that can beat down all opposition.

I've seen some exchanges on news posting comments where a person drops a URL and another person reads it and says "thank you, that changed my mind on this topic" to the one who dropped the URL.

I've seen that, but it's very rare.

For the most part, people just express their opinions and call those who disagree names. They aren't engaging in a dialogue, sharing a passion and changing minds by providing insights the way fanfic community does.

Such news posts draw comments that are all "tell" and no "show" -- and because the comments are "tell" they don't change anyone's mind. They don't change minds because they're not part of the story. Story is always SHOW DON'T TELL.

"Show" does change minds.

Stories change minds, and even hearts. Stories form opinions, not just express them.

Remember, one of the objectives in my posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com
is to discover how to change the public mind on the subject of Romance in general and SF-Romance in particular.

Changing minds is a very dangerous thing to set out to do. You really don't want to implant your ideas, values or attitudes into someone else's mind where they are not native. That would not help them.

You don't want to use any power of yours to override or overshadow the free will choices of another person. Ever. No matter how much your own interests are at stake, no matter how much you stand to lose by their misbehaviors, you never, ever, use expertise, authority, knowledge, or any other power to control or even limit another person's available options. Even if it's for the other person's own good, it's still power abuse.

You only want to offer people more choices from which their free will can select what they wish -- NOT what you wish.

You want to open doors, provide glimpses of new vistas.

OK, "criminals" - that's another matter. The insane - another matter. Each is a problem in its own right. Our current culture is not handling those matters very well yet, but we're a work in progress.

Being forced into jail, hospitals, rehab, is painful, but ultimately the best way we have of opening new opportunities for such people. That's not the sort of person, though, that I'm talking about here. They don't form, shape and energize the main culture's over-arching story.

But in that mainstream of our culture(s), in the center of our river of culture, we are developing so many choices, ever more choices to make every day, that we are overloading the basic human nervous system's ability to make choices.

If a person becomes surrounded by more open doors than they are prepared to deal with, they may become confused and that could be worse than simply being wrong about something. So more choices is not always a benefit - and it's not your place to judge how many choices another should or shouldn't have.

The only way I know of to provide others with a plethora of choices but leave it up to them to decide how many choices to become aware of is to "show" don't "tell."

Really, two people reading the same book will take away two totally different descriptions of that book because each chooses to see different open doors and ignore other open doors as if they aren't even there.

When you "tell" - you hammer your idea into another's mind whether they're ready for it or not.

When you "show" - you invite only those who are ready, to come play in your back yard with your toys, your ideas, your concepts, your passions.

A really good novel (or novel series) invites reader participation in exploring beyond those open doors.

One such series out there stumping for SF-Romance while garbing itself in the guise of plain old Space Opera War Stories is Jack Campbell's THE LOST FLEET series. He's up to #7, THE LOST FLEET: VICTORIOUS

"Victorious" is the name of a ship in the Fleet of one of the interstellar combines engaged in this huge galactic war.

Two Human interstellar governments (each controlling dozens of star systems) are the unknowing victims of an alien species playing "let's you and him fight."

So the war which has been going on for 100 years is based on a trick.

John Geary, our Hero, was in a space battle at the beginning of the war, got stuck in an escape pod in cold sleep for a century, was rescued in book I of this series and catapulted into command of the Fleet when the old commander was ambushed and killed. Now, 7 books later, he has returned The Lost Fleet to it's home base (so it's not technically lost anymore), and set out again to end the war, penetrating deep into "enemy" territory to end the war.

Meanwhile, he's fallen in love with the Captain of his flagship -- they both know they're both in love, but flat refuse to acknowledge it because of chain of command complications -- and Geary is also in lust with a married woman who is a Politician, Co-President of his Alliance.

The story of the politician's husband and Geary's brother, both captives of "the enemy," is a complication worthy of any Romance genre time travel novel.

Jack Campbell, by showing not telling the place of Relationship and Love in the affairs of humankind, in the affairs of war and politics, is making huge inroads into the broader market for a Romance, and the issues of Romance most dear to our hearts.

The Lost Fleet is set in space, in a complex galactic war, but, just like Star Trek, it is about here and now, and life in our crazy world.

This series addresses the issues at the core of the Romance Genre, and the problems created by the modern "Sexual Harassment" laws. It's about Relationship between Equals, and that theme plays out on the personal level and on the interstellar political level.

On the other hand, as Linnea Sinclair pointed out, an action SF-Romance story has a serious problem with the balance between the progress of the relationship (which is the Romance plot) and the progress of the action-conflict which is, in this case, the War plot.

In The Lost Fleet series, the actual science takes place "off-stage" - experts in various parts of the fleet, geeks in closet-sized labs, discover and master new vistas of science that is the foundation of new technologies, and all that advancement affects the politics and the available offensive and defensive armament, thus the tactics and even strategies.

It's masterful worldbuilding, and tight writing that leaps over many of the scenes that would occupy entire novels in other genres.

For example, Geary is given a promotion at a debriefing directly to the highest ranking elected officials (not the equivalent of the Pentagon chiefs, but the equivalent of Congress, not the White House).

At this briefing, it is decided to promote him from Captain to Admiral of the Fleet (not just Admiral, skipping a lot of ranks, but Admiral of Admirals - Fleet Admiral). This rank has never in history been conferred (like Five Star General in WWII). But just by convenient happenstance, the leader of the politicians happens to have the new insignia in his pocket!

All 7 novels so far are riddled with major skips like this. Although the space battles happen with enough back-and-forth between opposing space fleets, and Geary has enough setbacks to show his victories aren't easy, he always wins. That makes it all seem just too hokey, too easy, to corny for a 7 book novel series.

But that's Jack Campbell's solution to the problem of that balance between the relationship-politics-people story and the action-plot. Just SKIP some stuff, and there's enough room for both. So these aren't "perfect" books - but they are a refreshingly different read, and as such raise some interesting issues to think about.

The Lost Fleet series is Art. And it is about the messy turbulence in our world created by a massive change in our culture's "Story."

What do I mean by "our Story?"

Orson Scott Card explains the narrative, the story, of a prevailing culture and pinpoints where we entered the whirling change in this culture that's resulting in a change in our narrative we haven't actually taken notice of.

Here is an excerpt from a speech Orson Scott Card gave before a Mormon group -- it's thus slanted, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater as you read. There are ideas here and a challenge.


Storytelling is the essence of a culture's lifeblood.

Orson Scott Card says the inflection point of change in our world's culture began in the 1960's and hit hard in the 1970's. That seems valid to me, but keep in mind I'm not talking about our "reality" here - I'm talking about a principle behind that reality, the culture's narrative and what that implies about the role of fiction in life.

As Orson Scott Card points out, what has not happened (yet) is a public evaluation of the results of that change that started in the 1960's (flowerchildren) and 1970's (women's lib).

We bemoan a lot of what seems to me to be the direct results of the changes -- disintegrating family, shift in the way employees are treated as temporary, replaceable or self-employed, and a difference in what education is (vocational training only, as opposed to "a Classical Education" teaching how to think not what to think)

And more apparent to me every day is the fragmentation of fiction-audiences (TV, film, books (more titles, fewer readers per title), games (was only D&D, now thousands).

An obvious result of the audience fragmentation is that we haven't got any fictional language in common in which to communicate about intangibles like values.

Many people who see these trends don't see them as consequences of a shift in our national narrative, our STORY, the way Orson Scott Card does.

But if you look closely, and evaluate what we've shucked off against what we've gained, you might begin to see the opening where Romance and especially SF-Romance, seems to fit like the right key in a lock.

Maybe the name of what we've lost is RELATIONSHIP, bonding. Maybe the solution is narrative about how to form bonds strong enough to last a lifetime.

Consider that the fragmentation I've described here might ignite xenophobia among many groups who would then, in fear, strike for domination over other groups.

Or maybe that's not what's actually happening? Orson Scott Card looks at the sweep of history to find how what was good disintegrated into something not so good. But maybe it's really an improvement?

I've written in this blog about the impact of Web 2.0 on fiction and politics as well as the business model of writers. In general, I'm wildly in favor of our new world of connectivity.

Despite where I personally stand at this moment in time, it's an open question for me. Is the change happening now going in a "good" direction -- or a "bad" direction? Is it change itself that makes me uncomfortable? Or is it the valuable elements we've lost (spelling for one thing). Or is the apparent destination of this change disquieting?

How do you make that value judgment?

Card suggests testing the direction of change against the ultimate goal for any culture - self-perpetuation. Can you transmit living values to the children? And they to theirs? Does this culture "time-bind" up and down as well as sideways across probability lines (or into alternate universes).

Is that test of the direction of change valid?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, offers another way to test the product of the changes made in the 1960's and 1970's.

Before he was a Rabbi, he got a Ph.D.in Philosophy and was headed for a teaching career in that arcane field. So when he speaks of Hellenistic philosophy, he knows what he's talking about.

His Lecture is a huge long article, longer than my blog posts even!

Rabbi Sacks has done this 6 part Lecture Series on "Faith" - and the item I'm focusing on is Lecture #2 in the series.

Lecture #1 is

He calls this lecture series a journey of Ideas. SF is the Literature of Ideas.

Here is Lecture #2 in this series:


#2 is titled:
Faith Lectures: Judaism, Justice and Tragedy - Confronting the problem of evil

At this writing, I find that the Lecture #2 is truncated about in the middle. Perhaps they will fix that by the time you read this. I have the whole text in print.

Here's a quote from #2 as Rabbi Sacks recaps Lecture #1 in the series:

Friends, I was trying to explain in my first lecture that Judaism, as you will understand from that story, is a religion of multiple perspectives, of many ways of looking at the truth. Some of you who followed that lecture - did any of you follow that lecture? [Laughter]. It was a bit tough going but some of you followed that lecture and understood absolutely correctly that it was nothing whatsoever with the title of that lecture which was "Faith". Listen, I'm sorry. What can I do? The truth is: I will come to faith, I promise you, probably in the third lecture, possibly in the last. One way or another, we'll get there. But first of all I really have to take you with me on a journey to see Judaism as different, as less familiar, as more radical than we ever imagined. If we can do that, we will be able to take things we have known about for ages and see in them something new. We will undergo what I call a 'paradigm shift'.

My thesis in the first lecture, the story so far for those of you who missed it, as far as I can summarise it, is this: that Judaism as I portrayed it was and is a radical alternative not only to the ancient world of myth but to the central paradigm of western civilisation, namely to Greek thought whose characteristic mode is philosophy, at least Platonic, and Cartesian philosophy, and whose master discipline is logic. As I said, the unspoken assumptions of western thought - and of course I am being crude here but you don't want a lecture with footnotes as well - are the following:

That knowledge is cognitive.

The metaphor of cognition is sight. It's a visual matter; truth is something we see. ...
--------END QUOTE-------

What have I been TELLING you in all my posts on screenwriting? Story in pictures. Show don't tell. The metaphor of cognition is sight. hmmm.

After I read that quotation above, I had to read the whole Lecture because, as you know if you've read my published book on Tarot (NEVER CROSS A PALM WITH SILVER), the trick to understanding Tarot is understanding how it's basis (Kabbalah) is so absolutely different from our ambient USA culture which is so thoroughly Hellenistic in all unconscious assumptions.

Took me about three hours to read just Lecture #2, every word, slowly and carefully. I had to set aside reading THE LOST FLEET: VICTORIOUS to get that read in. Then I just had to find it online so you could read it too!

The title of the Lecture doesn't make it sound like it has anything to do with Romance. But it does have to do with the story, the narrative, we share as a culture - not just Jewish culture, but the whole of the world that was involved in World War II. And some of the best Romance I've ever seen has been WWII films!

A good Romance is always fraught with tragedy. Justice in Romance means that the destined couple end up together - after it all. It's Happily Ever After, not Happily In The Beginning. Romance is about overcoming the obstacles to happiness. (News stories are not about happiness, nor about Events that are merely obstacles to happiness.)

Tragedy is rampant in our world today, separating lovers and interfering with family life. That's part of our narrative.

Is Justice just as rampant? And if so, is that a good thing? Is there such a thing as Justice run wild? Can "Justice" turn to evil in the wrong hands?

The 7 novels in The Lost Fleet series do address this problem via the character of the fleet commander, Gear, and his two loves.

Another long series of novels that discusses how Values shape and armor Character is the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, which I rave about periodically here.

Most of the Urban Fantasy you see these days is based on some elaborate worldbuilding to create a backdrop for a battle between Good and Evil, with the result being a draw, or leaving Evil a bit ahead.

The biggest box office films are Good vs. Evil, clear cut and stark.

So reading up on the philosophy behind our culture's angst over "Good" vs. "Evil" is part of the 7 Endeavors I discussed as training for a writer in these posts:



Fiction, I contest, is more important than reality because fiction conveys our cultural narrative, our story. I figured that out when I was four years old, so don't take it as defense of taking up the trade of writing. I had no idea I could or would be a professional writer back then. I didn't know there was such a thing as a "profession."

What so much of our fiction is conveying now is very different from what our fiction written before WWII conveyed.

World War II made "Evil" a newspaper headline. A generation grew up in a world traumatized by a battle against "Evil." (BTW all 3 sides saw the other 2 sides as Evil, just as Terrorists are fighting the insidious Evil of modern culture.)

Now the children of WWII veterans seem to be stuck in a fascination with that battle, replaying it in every fantasy universe in every medium that can carry fiction.

That's what's so interesting about THE LOST FLEET series. The battles there are not against "Evil" at all, just against greed, revenge, invaders, fear, misplaced courage, and an assortment of human motives, and maybe eventually non-human ideas of proprietary rights. There's nothing clear cut about the motives or the stakes in this galactic war.

And The Lost Fleet is a New York Times best seller. There may be something going on here that we need to pay attention to.

Rabbi Sacks talks about the problem of "Evil" - that if G-d is Good, and if G-d exists then how can Evil exist?

Here's another quote from Lecture #2
...see if we can understand in a new way that most difficult of all problems in religious thought, perhaps in human thought as a totality, namely the problem of evil or the problem of injustice, the thing which we describe when we talk about 'when bad things happen to good people' or what the rabbis said in terms of tzadik vera lo, which is the rabbinic equivalent.

That problem is so deep that it has given rise to a whole theological discipline, primarily a Christian one, a very distinguished discipline. And I please pray of you, all of you, that whenever I contrast Judaism and something else, I am never trying to denigrate that something else. I really mean that. To be a Jew is to make space for 'otherness'. If I were to sum up the whole of these six lectures, it would be in that phrase: "To be a Jew is to make space for otherness". But that means we do our thing and we respect those who do other things. Therefore, Christianity developed a whole theological discipline which so too did the Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages which is called theodicy. It is the whole attempt to understand how if God exists evil exists.

---------END QUOTE-----------

See? To understand what Orson Scott Card talked about as a change in our culture in the 1960's and 1970's, you need to go all the way back to the Middle Ages, before the Mormon's existed as such.

You may also want to use Astrology to trace the effects of Pluto through the 1960's and '70's so read this:


"Theodicy" then is what all of modern Urban Fantasy seems to be about. That encompasses a lot of TV shows, and many movies. Action movies and action-romance too, likes to grab that one thing, Good vs. Evil.

This endless outpouring of novels about Good vs. Evil, and about how you survive in a world where both operate, may be due to the concept that the question can not be resolved, but it must be!

Here's another quote from Lecture #2

Now if that is so, if my interpretation is right, then Judaism begins not in the conventional place where faith is thought to begin, namely in wonder that the world is. Judaism begins in the opposite, in the protest against a world that is not as it ought to be. At the very heart of reality, by which I mean reality as we see it, from our point of view, there is a contradiction between order and chaos: the order of creation and the chaos we make.

Now the question is: how do we resolve that contradiction? And the answer is that that contradiction ..., between the world that is and the world that ought to be, cannot be resolved at the level of thought. It doesn't exist! You cannot resolve it! Logically, philosophically, in terms of theology or theodicy, you cannot do it! The only way you can resolve that tension is by action; by making the world better than it is.

.... When things are as they ought to be, ....- then we have resolved the tension. Then we have reached our destination. But that is not yet. It was not yet for Abraham and it is not yet for us. And from this initial contradiction, from this cognitive dissonance, are born the following four fundamental features of Judaism.
---------END QUOTE-----

WHEW! Is that, or is it not, an accurate description of the entire Romance genre with the emphasis on the HEA ending? What an unexpected place to find such a statement of the objective of the Romance genre, and the nature of the spiritual exercise of reading Romance!

Soul mates finding and bonding to each other changes the world, relieves that tension between Good and Evil by action, by changing the world, the whole world and all it's potential future paths.

The entire Lecture #2 really is needed to put this all into context. But the full text I have in a printed book is not on this website. Maybe it will be by the time you read this.

Making your own world "as it ought to be" is the essence of Romance.

Falling in love is the glimpse of that world of "ought" - when the Honeymoon is over, the struggle to recreate what "ought" to be in the cold light of reality begins. Some couples win that struggle. Others don't make it. Both kinds of couples change the world.

There is one philosophy that assumes it is a given that we will succeed in tinkering the world up to what it "ought" to be.

There are others that assume we will fail.

Is the pivot point of WWII and the subsequent 60's and 70's generational change we have seen a pivot from a vision of "we will succeed" to "it isn't possible to overcome Evil"?

That's the Horror genre premise - that Evil must exist so that Good can exist, and the most the Hero can achieve is to stuff Evil into a sarcophagus and bury it a mile deep behind sigils and signs.

The most Good can achieve against Evil is a draw.

Orson Scott Card is asking if our narrative has shifted from "we will prevail" (which won WWII), to one of "give up; it's a draw" or maybe to one of "give up; it's impossible."

Jack Campbell is answering, "Hell no! We're gonna win this sucker, and then we'll settle your hash, you meddling aliens."

What is the narrative we are passing on to our children? To what great heights will they aspire because of our story?

Rabbi Sacks has an answer to that in a unique analysis of the Passover story - not as about Passover itself, but about NARRATIVE, about story as a necessity for transmitting a culture.


The title of the piece says it all:

Never underestimate the power of a story to enlarge the moral imagination of a child.

It talks about Africa, Haiti's earthquake, and Rwanda.

Read that very short piece and ask yourself what does our modern cultural narrative spur our children to do?

What do you have to say, to contribute, to our modern cultural narrative? Show don't tell.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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