Thursday, August 31, 2017

Food Production of the Future

Here's an article about tabletop greenhouses controlled by a computer program:

A Byte to Eat

Food computers "use up to 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture and can help reduce food waste." The ones built in the class showcased in this article are the size of a moving box and very cheap—the "computer" part of the system costs about $30.00.

These devices are too small, of course, to feed a household. However, they could allow people without yards or gardens to supplement their diets with home-grown vegetables. Furthermore, the design can be scaled up to the size of a warehouse.

In an essay written several decades ago, Isaac Asimov calculated how long it would take for the Earth to reach maximum sustainable population at the then-current rate of reproduction. In a surprisingly few centuries, he figured, the entire surface of the planet would reach the population density of Manhattan at noon on a weekday. (I don't remember whether this estimate includes paving over the oceans.) Setting aside the practical fact that this end point will never be reached, because societies would collapse long before then, how would all those people living in one continuous urban sprawl be fed? Agriculture on almost every rooftop would be needed. Asimov visualized giant algae vats producing the raw material for nutritive substances. The society of Harry Harrison's 1966 novel MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM, set in 1999, feeds the overcrowded planet with a protein substance called Soylent Green. (Interestingly, Harrison predicts this desperate condition in a world with 7 billion people. Global population today measures about 7.5 billion, and we're nowhere near those dire straits. Maybe there's hope.) Contrary to the movie (in which the authorities falsely claim that the product's base ingredient is plankton), Soylent Green in the book isn't "people." Thoughtful consideration makes it obvious that relying on cannibalism to feed everybody would make little sense. It's not efficient to sustain human livestock on food that people could eat directly. Any consumption of human meat would have to be sporadic and opportunistic, not the main source of nourishment. In the novel, Soylent Green is made of soybeans and lentils, a highly nutritious combination of proteins. Still, most likely, the majority of people would prefer "real food" if it could be cultivated in such an environment. And inexpensive computerized growing units like those in the tabletop greenhouse project could be part of the solution to the problem.

Not that I'd want to live in a world like that. As much as I would miss the modern conveniences I'm very attached to, I would almost prefer the low-tech future of S. M. Stirling's "Emberverse" series (beginning with DIES THE FIRE), whose inhabitants enjoy fresh, locally farmed foods as one compensation for the high-tech marvels they've lost.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Theme-Character Integration - Part 10 - Popping The Question by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration
Part 10
Popping The Question
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts to this series are indexed at:

The topic of marriage is pretty much outside the Romance Genre domain of definition.  However, Robert A. Heinlein often depicted marriages as a stabilizing influence and a powerful adjunct to Adventure.

He also had an ever broadening definition of marriage -- using line-marriage and various forms of open marriage in his later works, novels that became more famous and more widely read than science fiction.

That widening of the audience that Heinlein achieved for science fiction is what we are after in this blog about elevating the prestige of Science Fiction Romance.

Heinlein worked during a time when the social fabric was morphing beneath our feet, women's lib on the rise and divorce rate soaring.  Working women had to wear suits, many pants-suits and skirt-suits were seen as a sell-out).

It is difficult for today's Romance audience to conceptualize why that dress code was important or what the current rash of "sexual harassment" claims is all about.  Of course, if you have been targeted by such harassment, you may think you know what it is about.  Unfortunately, many who are targeted become so emotionally entangled in the gut-deep offense that the bigger picture of what it is about escapes.

That bigger picture is what the Literary Field of Science Fiction Romance can bring to the international conversation on human rights, spotlight it, bring it into focus, create language (Heinlein's "Grok" is still understood), and establish a new domain of discourse.

In worldbuilding for a Science Fiction novel, Poul Anderson taught us (and illustrated with all his magnificent novels) how to start with the biology of an Earth species, and extrapolate how that biology might work in an Intelligent Sentient species - from another world, another ecological line of development.  Or it could work for an Alternate Earth where some asteroid strike or solar low-point diverted evolution into another channel.

In Romance Genre, the focus is on a couple or triad, who have to settle into a Relationship for the purpose of building a life -- of laying the foundation for a Happily Ever After.  But at the moment when they meet and become enamored -- stuck on each other -- they don't care a whit for building anything.  The whole focus is on this brand new feeling that is pre-empting all the fixed parameters of their Self Images.

Romance, when it strikes out of the blue, when it sweeps the couple off their feet (or just sweeps one off of feet, leaving the other in a practical frame of mind), blurs any ability to judge another person, to draw a bead on that other's Personality.

When "In Love" we bind our Identity to the Image of another person, an image that is mostly our own imagination.

Those who have trained and practiced imagining, judging Character, connecting observed actions with the motivations that prompt actions, may have an edge during the onset of a Romance, before surrendering to the sweeping dissolve and reform process of becoming another person because of this binding Bond.

Others, who have not been raised to judge others' Character with objective precision, are more likely to mistake Romance for Love -- two very different personal experiences.

We live in a culture where children are taught there is no objective reality, and that objective judgement of people, values, cultures, is impossible.

During the decades between Heinlein's peak sales, and now, we have seen a massive shift in Thematic emphasis in Romance Genre.

Since there are no objective touchstones by which to judge the people you meet, the only way to evaluate where a new person fits into your life is by how you respond emotionally to that person.  The only thing that matters is subjective emotion because there is no such thing as objective reality, objective values, or any way to judge "Art" objectively.

That idea is a THEME.

Subjective judgement, emotional reaction, is the surest guide to finding a Mate who can build a Happily Ever After with you.  

For decades, our whole society has been using that premise, that subjective judgement is the surest possible guide, to decide whether to marry this or that person, or not to marry at all, or to live-with for "a while" and then decide whether to marry.

Meanwhile, the divorce rate soars ever higher and the first-marriage rate drops (and the birth rate in the USA drops).  Nobody seems to wonder, the way science fiction writers wonder, if perhaps something in our assumptions might be incorrect.

Science is done with the type of thinking that is always questioning assumptions, questioning unspoken and unconscious assumptions as well as assumptions defined into an equation.

When you blend Science with Romance, you get Science Fiction Romance.

Romance Genre never questions assumptions, especially assumptions about emotions, or about the fundamental structure of reality.

Science Fiction Genre always questions every assumption about fundamental structure, unseen under Reality (or even the very existence of Reality.)

Science fiction is done by applying the thought-processes that produce hard science with the artistic process that produces a Life Well Lived.

That artistic process works with the theory that there exists such a thing as the Soul, and Soul Mates.  Science can't prove the existence of the Soul or for that matter, the existence of existence.

So the blend producing science fiction romance is an oil-and-water type mixture, an emulsion, not a solution.

Working that blend,  you come to the question, "Well, where do Souls come from, and how do you figure out whether this person is your soul mate?"

And the answer, "You don't figure it out, you FEEL it."

What is it that you FEEL?

How do you identify it or explain it to someone who has never been struck by love at first sight?

One touchstone is that this special person makes you perform to your own highest standards of moral and ethical precision -- or possibly of productivity, of grit and determination and pure heroism.  This special person brings out the best in you, or perhaps even better than you ever thought you could be.

And after the dust settles, you are happy that you are who you are, happy and proud to be you.

So a Soul Mate coupling is about FEELINGS.

Romance Genre has been selling big time using the "steamy" Romance premise that sexual arousal and emotional imagination about "who" this other person actually is, is the best way to judge whether you've found your Soul Mate and a path to the Happily Ever After.

One reason the general public no longer conceptualizes a "Happily Ever After" life as "real" -- as possible, plausible or even desirable -- is the soaring divorce rate, the shattered-shambles divorce leaves behind especially when there are children.

Everyone knows someone who has an "ex" -- and everyone knows grown people who were children of a divorced couple, very possibly remarried to other people, and very possibly divorced again.

The stable, firm and reliable "nuclear family" has disintegrated.

That's a scientific fact - we have all seen the statistics.

What many Romance readers today don't know is that it was not always that way, and that this phenomenon is not the only possible way for human society to be organized.

Today's readers may have read that nuclear families used to exist, but they have no personal experience of such a thing.  So it's not real to them.  It's a fantasy.

Historically, there is a good reason that England overthrew the law preventing divorce.  A miserable and incompatible couple does not raise self-confident, innovative and productive children.  A bad marriage is bad for society.

Historically, there is a good reason that despite legal divorce, the U.S.A. maintained stable marriages (even somewhat miserable ones) for a very long time.  One big component was the way a female was rendered dependent on the male for her living, and her existence, and her children's future.

Once economic independence became common for women, divorce rates rose.

You'd expect that getting couples properly matched in marriages would have become the norm, and divorce rates would be close to zero by now.  Not so.

We've talked enough about arranged marriages here, and we've all read any number of Romances involving both good and bad arranged marriages.  Some systems have a better success rate than others.  But they produce a preponderance of life-long marriages in societies where divorce is unthinkable if not illegal.  If women don't hold good jobs, they are stuck in misery.

One can argue that being free to leave at any time also allows an emotional freedom that cements a nuclear family together.  If a human feels trapped, that human (male or female) with FIGHT to get out of the trap.

So having free alternatives is a key to a Happily Ever After marriage.

Here is a wonderful article on the relationship between health and marriage, scanning some scientific investigations into statistics, and reporting on following individuals health for many years.  The results are not clear.  Marriage doesn't guarantee better health, and being single doesn't guarantee better health either.  But the research is a treasure trove of story material.

The title says it all:
Is marriage good for your health? It depends who you’re married to
New research has found being married has protective health effects – unless it doesn’t
What are you doing, why are you doing it, and what is your goal?  What are your chances of achieving that goal by staying in the marriage vs. leaving the marriage?

Humans are happier when doing things voluntarily rather than being forced, coerced, tricked, or manipulated.  Even if the thing being done is actually beneficial to the human individual, if it is in any way coerced, it turns toxic.

So one pervading theme in the modern Romance Novel is, "If I feel like having sex with this person, there's no sense fighting it.  It is impossible to control feelings, and it is unhealthy to try."

One pervading theme in modern science fiction is, "If I see a mistake most people are making, I don't have to make that mistake myself."  That is the theme of the Hero, the maverick, the Adventurer.

So to get science fiction romance from these two themes, you need two Characters with contrasting views.

Marriage and the Happily Ever After have become the subject of legitimate scientific investigation.

So one Character might believe that instant, irresistible sexual arousal is the only reliable sign you have found a Soul Mate who can build a Happily Ever After life with you.

The other Character might believe that the goal of the Happily Ever After Life can be achieved only by a stable, bound, solid marriage and nuclear and extended family structure.

Now, take two Scientific Researchers, each with well-funded projects examining statistics, interviewing people, gathering medical records on them, following individuals through Life.

They each get papers published, and they are BOTH being considered for a Nobel Prize (or whatever the top in their field is), and they become rivals advocating their theories, intent on proving their theory so that society will change and conform to their Ideals.  They want to FIX THE WORLD by demonstrating the path to the HEA for Everyone.

They meet for the first time at a cocktail party (or some Event) having read each others' research, having their minds full of refutations of the flimsy science behind the other person's paper.

Now what happens?  What happens is the PLOT, and that plot must be integrated (fabricated from) with the theme.

The Characters, who they are and where they are in Life, and career, whether they have an "Ex" and children, all the Identity parameters go into fabricating the Plot, the things they do and the consequences of those deeds prompting more actions.

This series is about Theme-Character integration -- and you will note that the moment you have Characters whose Identify is fabricated from the Theme, you suddenly can think of dozens of plot events, and a wide variety of ways that Events might unfold.

Ponder the diverse and inconclusive (even confusing) results of the scientific investigation of marriage -- find these statistical assumptions that may be behind this research and what systemic flaws might be there.  Create two additional experiments, statistical analyses, that your Characters might execute -- and then pit them against each other.

Here is the index to theme-plot-character integration: 

Maybe instead of being up for the same Prize, they start their Epic Rivalry at the point where they are seeking funding, or seeking a Teaching Assistance-ship under the same Professor.  All that is Character -- and within that Character is the Theme and within the Theme is the Plot.

The Story is all about what their Conflict and their Romance do to change each of them, to forge them into a lifelong and successful partnership.

One signature of success in marriage is revealed in that Article I pointed you to above -- increased HEALTH.  The physical body, relieved of stress, performs better.

Thus at work you get more promotions because you don't "fly off the handle" so easily and produce precision work more reliably.

With children, you are more consistent day to day instead of confusing them with your eruptions of temper, so they grow up to be more steady adults.

There are a lot of documented similarities between human behavior and animal behavior.  Perhaps the most revealing is in the way our pets behave.

Here is an article about dog behavior written by a Veterinarian who has seen individual humans owning successive generations of dogs, and has noted how human habitual behavior toward a dog creates dog behavior problems.

The same habitual human behaviors that prompt dog misbehavior also prompt children's misbehavior.  Each child or dog personality reacts differently to the same human behavior.

Here are the headings for this article on dogs
1. Some dogs have a genetic tendency to behave badly
2. Poorly socialised pups turn into badly behaved adult dogs
3. Dogs that are not trained enough cannot learn to be well behaved
4. Old fashioned, dominance-based training doesn’t work
5. Negative experiences leave dogs with long lasting emotional memories
6. Testosterone drives aggression
7. Treating dogs like people doesn’t work
8. Dogs without boundaries are more likely to behave badly
9. Insufficient exercise leads to frustrated dogs that behave badly
10. Trying to solve dog behaviour problems on your own is unlikely to succeed
----------end quote---------

Convert that to children's behavior problems to generate conflict.  You can use a pet's behavior to reveal hidden Character traits.

Back to the article on marriage research:

And in old age, you survive health challenges and adjust together -- you just plain live longer, healthier lives.

Is that what people have in mind when they pop the question?  Do your characters choose a person to be 90 years old with?  Or do they propose marriage because you feel a certain way at that moment?

Stress is the killer.  A good marriage relieves stress.  A not-so-wonderful marriage maintains dangerous stress levels.

What will the next brand new scientific discovery be that proves the Ancient Wisdom modern society has thrown out with such contempt?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Monopolizing Other People's Creative Works

Music and Books are not like the proverbial buggy whips.

When motor vehicles were invented, horses, horse-drawn vehicles (and the means to motivate carriage horses to move) were rendered obsolete because of the convenience and virtues of the new, replacement vehicles (which might need to be cranked, but which did not respond to being whipped).
The car makers did not forcibly shackle the horses and buggies to motorized skates. Nor did they subject existing horse, buggy, and passengers to being dematerialized and rematerialized at their destination, as in "Beam Me Up, Scotty."

"Beaming Up" (or Down) is what Big Tech does when it digitizes creative works or performances. Congress ought to protect "creators" from their works being beamed hither and thither without the AFFIRMATIVE permission of the creators (opt-in) and without payment that is satisfactory to the creators and copyright owners.

In an interesting, and lengthy (and slow-to-get-to-the-good-stuff) article, the New Yorker discusses
the impoverished death of a musician,  attributing the impoverishment to Big Tech which makes fortunes for "disruptors" at the expense of the "creators" of the content they hijack and publish and distribute.

Also discussing the failures of the DMCA to protect creators from creative Big Tech exploitation and "permissionless innovation" is a discussion of digital resale. Remember, if digital music files are allowed to be resold, Amazon has a patent (and a web page all ready) for the digital resale of ebooks.

Also, if the bankrupt ReDigi could be sold, which of the Dark Lords would buy it?

All the best,
Rowena Beaumont Cherry

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trazzles and Tweedlers

While re-shelving our books in our newly redecorated basement "library," I came across WHICH WAY TO THE FUTURE? (2001), a collection of essays from ANALOG by the long-time editor of the magazine, Stanley Schmidt. While most of the stories in ANALOG don't excite me, because I don't really get into "hard science fiction" (a term Schmidt doesn't like; he maintains that rigorously science-based SF should be called simply "science fiction"), I've always loved the editorials. My favorite article in WHICH WAY TO THE FUTURE?, "Bold and Timid Prophets," contemplates how visions of the future (in both factual predictive writings and fiction) typically measure up to the actual development of culture and technology. Often a story set in the future imagines the technology as a perfected version of the cutting-edge inventions of the present day. For example, a nineteenth-century speculative novel might envision the twentieth century as powered by highly advanced steam engines. Making an imaginative leap into a world filled with devices that do things impossible in the current state of knowledge is much harder.

Schmidt illustrates this problem by starting the essay with an ordinary letter written in the late 1990s as it would appear to a reader in the 1860s. He substitutes a nonsense word for every term that didn't exist then (or combines familiar words in ways that would have made no sense in the mid-nineteenth century, such as "answering machine"). (I think he cheated a bit with "pilot." Boats had pilots for a very long time before airplanes began to need them.) "Plane" becomes "trazzle"; "computer" becomes "tweedler." "Fooba" substitutes for "e-mail" and "zilp" for "fax." Even where the nineteenth-century reader could recognize all the words, many of the sentences would appear to express impossibilities. How could parents know the sex of a baby in utero? How could a person travel a total of 20,000 miles in only one month? How could a human heart be transplanted? How could a transatlantic trip take "just a few hours"?

Doubtless the distant future will include inventions and achievements we can't currently imagine because they'll depend on discoveries and technologies unknown to us, just as the nineteenth century couldn't predict the practical applications of electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics. Even the boldest and best of classic SF writers get things amusingly wrong when writing about the not-so-distant future. "Where's my flying car?" illustrates one well-known unfulfilled prediction. Personally, I shudder at the thought of flying cars being anything other than toys for the rich. Autonomous ground cars, which now seem just over the horizon, sound much more desirable. What I really want, however, is my housecleaning robot, which Heinlein in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER expected by 1970. Also, in HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL, Heinlein envisioned a near future with a moon colony—and slide rules. The social structures portrayed in some of his juvenile novels are even less "bold" than the concept of slide rules on the moon—the families of the twenty-first century look like suburban American households of the 1950s—but, in light of his posthumously published first novel, FOR US, THE LIVING, that absence of innovation probably wasn't his fault. I suspect editors of books for teenagers in the 1950s wouldn't have accepted anything unconventional in that area.

Schmidt concludes that "well-balanced science fiction" needs "both extrapolation—things you can clearly see are possible—and innovation—the things you can't see how to do, but also can't prove impossible." That's one thing I like about J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas mysteries; their vision of the 2060s strikes me as convincingly futuristic but also plausible in terms of current technological and social trends.

WHICH WAY TO THE FUTURE? addresses a variety of other intriguing topics, such as the definitions of "intelligence" and "human," why we haven't been contacted by aliens (the Fermi Paradox), the proliferation of unrealistically exaggerated fears of marginal hazards, etc. Fortunately, Amazon offers numerous used copies of this fascinating collection.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Theme-Character Integration Part 9 - Trajectory of Cultural Change

Theme-Character Integration
Part 9
Trajectory of Cultural Change
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series are indexed here:

We discussed creating the Convincing Elder Character, and why your story might need such a Character here:

So now let's look at the foundation of Worldbuilding -- long before you start to build the "world" your Characters live in.

The key notion is that the Characters live.

Not you, the writer, but the Characters you create live in the artificial world you create for them.

One error beginning writers make is to consider that any bright, glowing, marvelous, loud-chuckle Idea they have belongs in THIS CHARACTER's world.

A novel is not a hodgepodge of randomly chosen (but great) ideas, practical jokes, homage to great past novels, or uproarious, tender, and delightful "getting to know you" moments.

If two Characters who will fall in love first meet in a certain way, on page one even, that certain way must speak to the reader and explain to the reader "what this novel is about."

What the novel is about is the Theme.

The novel is about "the story of this Character's life" and how, through the plot, this series of events brings this Character to new realizations about existence, about his/her world, about reality, heritage, and potential great-grandchildren.

Every novel is about "an awakening" of the main character -- that is called the Character Arc, and at the top of that arc, the Character has an awakening.

What the Character learns may be mistaken, and what the Character does as a result of not knowing the mistake can generate endless sequels, but learn' he must.  Change, he must.

There was a study published about how human intelligence (human not Alien) exists for the purpose of allowing humans to form groups all moving and coordinating in concert, in harmony, toward the purpose of survival.  The thesis was that we seek to conform and fit in, so we adopt and hold our opinions to be compatible with the Group that protects us, or that we depend on.

We discussed why humans don't change their opinions to fit new facts, referencing this article:

That was in this post:

That article did not encompass how that "Group" evolves over lifetimes, through generations.

It is obvious to us, today, that humanity as a whole, worldwide, and the USA (a very young country) have evolved in opinions, ideals, and views of the world over decades and even centuries.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Consider modern science and the layman's attitude toward the pronouncements about Climate Change -- resulting in articles about schemes to engineer Earth's climate so it doesn't "change" so much we go extinct.  Of course, this is a reasonable response because humans caused this spurt of change, so we ought to un-cause it.

Compare that general public attitude with the attitude that had to prevail in the time of the building of the Tower of Babel.  Storm the heavens and take over the control room from God.  From their perspective, that makes perfect sense to a modern person.  We know we can jigger the climate needle because we can see, from Big Data, that we have indeed already done that.

The Earth is fragile, if you take a perspective longer than your own life.

If you take a perspective of millions of years, though, it is clear the Earth is robust.  Species rise and fall, glaciers come and go, but life infecting this world keeps surging back after every blow.

We, today, are not so concerned about "life" as we are about our own civilization's life.

"The Earth Is Fragile" is a theme.

"The Earth is Robust" is a theme.

"Humans became herd-thinkers to survive," is a theme.

"Humans think for themselves and change their minds," is a theme.

"Only female humans change their minds too much," is a theme.

"Doom Looms," is also a theme -- and it works at any point in history, or pre-history.

Going toward a Doom is a trajectory.

Going toward space exploration and survival isw a trajectory.

"Life is getting better," is a trajectory.

"Life is getting worse," is a trajectory.

These are huge themes that move whole cultures (a survival Group composed of hundreds of millions of people).  And the perceived trajectory of such a huge group is one of the components the writer can use to lend depth and realism to a novel.

But again, the dimension of generations -- the trajectory of a civilization -- is not under close scrutiny.
Yet, to "build" a "world" for Characters to live in, the writer must have in mind (though rarely mentioned in the novel) the trajectory of the main character's civilization.

That trajectory of cultural change is the slow or fast running river the Character is swimming across.

The novel may span a week, or a year, or a generation, but it is still a still-photo, a snapshot, of the trajectory of cultural change.

For example, human-caused-climate-change could never have been a thematic element that an 18th century author such as these would have selected to stir emotions in his audience:

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67). ...
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719). ...
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749). ...
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1747–48). ...
Candide by Voltaire (1759). ...
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726, 1735). ...
Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (1742).

So while the culture of your Characters may not change substantially over the time of the novel, it has been somewhere in its thinking, is now somewhere else in its thinking, and will get to yet another stage eventually.

In other words, as noted in the Convincing Elder Character, your Character has a great-grandfather and potentially a great-grandson.  If your story is set in the year 900 CE, all 6 generations on that same cultural trajectory may not feel or see any change at all.

The Wisdom and aphorisms, old wive's tales, sayings, adages, maxims, proverbs, and precepts, etc. that led the great-grandfather to a Happily Ever After life will work just as well for the great-grandson, and very likely for the great-great-grandson.

If you set your novel in 2017 of this Universe on this Earth, that continuity of Wisdom will not be true.

If we don't self-destruct politically, we will run into what the experts now call a Singularity -- a point of such rapid change from year to year that no human nervous system can adapt.

This is where the Alien Romance shines.

Can you bring to Earth - or contact in the great Dark - an Alien species that has lived through the Singularity approaching humanity?  Is there example, precept or advice, an Ancient Wisdom we can learn and use to survive with humanity intact?

"The Singularity" is a popular term for the sweeping change human cultures are in for when the Artificial Intelligence (think Skynet) takes over the world, or tries to.  Even if we win that battle, nothing will be the same.

Elon Musk has been talking about it a lot, as have Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and dozens of other tech gurus.

How abrupt will it be?  Will the Earth be laid desolate in that battle?  Will humanity have to abandon Earth to the machines and colonize space?

If we had to do that, could we?

Given the studies about how humans just will not change their minds when new facts come to light, given that it takes 4 generations to deploy real cultural change (human refresh rate is about 80 years) and the prediction that the Singularity will hit within a time frame of months, not decades, CAN WE deploy to space?

As I've often referred you to Alvin Toffler's book, Future Shock, I assume you understand what kind of psychological devastation such a cultural shift would wreak.

It would be a paralysis of everything human.  Think of an entire global civilization with the worst case of PTSD -- every last living adult human with PTSD.  That's what "The Singularity" could bring.

So, can the trajectory our current culture is on be bent a little, redirected, flexed, offset enough to avoid universal PTSD?

Can Love Conquer All?  Is that actually true?  Is it possible?

Can A.I. be programmed to Love?

Artificial Intelligence with Soul is the prediction.  Is that possible?  What would it mean for, say Romeo and Juliet (the original fictional characters, not the archetype).  Could there be star-crossed lovers among A.I.?

In the last 20 years, we've seen a cultural shift toward complete social acceptance of LBGTQ people.  Marijuana went from illegal and horrible to legal and maybe problematic, but no more so than alcohol.  In fact, Marijuana may have life saving medicinal applications.

In the 1960's, adults had to depend on their children to program a VCR.  Today, dependence on teens for tech support for all sorts of gadgets is the joke, and the subject of TV commercials.

A ten year age difference can mean the ability to work your household, or not.

What if that difference were just 3 years?

We have examined many brain studies showing how new tools can detect actual brain circuitry changes created by experiences, trauma, learning, meditation, etc.  The brain is, at younger ages, most plastic, pliable, responsive to the environment.

As the tree is bent, so grows the tree.

You know I love adages, aphorisms, cliches.

Once the tree is grown, bent in a certain direction, you can't bend it back without cutting or breaking it, very likely killing it.

Mystically, the human being is likened to a tree -- for a reason.

A storm is coming that will crack many of our Elders, or blow them helplessly over.  What that storm is composed of, driven by, and what the cultural response to that loss of Elders will be, is fodder for Theme.

Projecting us into that world requires a full grasp of how Culture has responded over thousands of years, and a knowledge of what kind of storm is coming.

It will be like the Industrial Revolution, but as if the Industrial Revolution happened in 5 years, draining the family farms of workers before automated tractors and giant farms could be built.

10 year olds will be able to train for the new jobs, but 15 year olds will be too old and ossified to grasp the newest innovation.

So what will humanity do?  Slow down change?  Destroy ourselves?

Draw a picture of that trajectory -- find your Character on the curve of cultural change, and then you will know that Character's story.  Find the story, and you will know the plot.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Science, Fiction, Percival Lowell, and Superior Beings With Gills

On the eve of the 2017 solar eclipse, what better a topic than the Lowell Observatory, whose astronomers will be broadcasting on The Science Channel all Monday from Madras, Oregon?

There will also be events (but no actual "totality") at the Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill, above the dark skies town of Flagstaff, Arizona, which is over 7,000 feet above sea level.
"There is nothing in the world, or beyond it, to prevent... a being with gills, for example, from being a most superior person." 
Percival Lowell (March 13, 1855 – November 12, 1916)
Quote borrowed from 
"From the Hill: The Story of Lowell Observatory" by Rose Houk. 

I love the idea of a "most superior person" being a "being with gills"! That is perhaps my favorite of all the quotes attributed to Percival Lowell that I have been able to find on the internet.

Lowell's admiration for the imagined superior beings of Mars was based on his observations between 1894 and 1905, and before him of Giovanni Schiaparelli (in 1877) of what appeared to be a network of 30-mile wide irrigation channels on the surface of Mars.

Alien romance authors might be interested to read that Lowell's idea of a dying, drying planet --inhabited with water infrastructure engineers and planners whose ingenuity, imagination and foresight surpassed that of (his) contemporary public works departments, (but who ultimately might need to raid their neighbors)-- is said to have inspired early science fiction authors such as H G Wells ("War of the Worlds"); Robert A, Heinlein ("The Red Planet"),  Ray Bradbury ("The Martian Chronicles"), and Edgar Rice Burroughs ("The Gods of Mars"), and more.

It might have inspired the Tom Cruise movie "Oblivion". Tom's character did not have gills; he wasn't an alien, but his alien masters certainly wanted Earth's water.

Percival Lowell wrote three books about Mars: "Mars" (1895), "Mars And Its Canals" (1906), and "Mars As The Abode Of Life" (1908).

Some are available on project gutenberg. Not a lot of people seem to know that.  (Before Percival Lowell was interested in Mars, and in finding Planet X --which turned out to be Pluto-- he was fascinated by Japan and Korea). Apparently he took his portable telescope on his travels.

Lowell wrote "The Soul of the Far East", and "Noto An Unexplored Corner of Japan" (1891), which are available on Project Gutenberg. (No doubt the local Japanese were surprised by the latter title), also "Occult Japan, or The Way of the Gods" (1894). There were other books, and at his death, he left an unpublished manuscript entitled "Peaks and Plateaux in the Effect on Tree Life."

I wonder whether Lowell's ideas may have inspired the study of dendrology by his erstwhile friend, astronomy site-hunter and colleague, Andrew Ellicott Douglass, who left Mars Hill to found the Steward Observatory in Tucson ( bad weather and mosquitoes notwithstanding).

More stellar quotes from Percival Lowell:  Quotes  

One of my favorites is on Progress: ".... if nature abhors a vacuum, mankind abhors filling it."

Third edition
ISBN 069284454-6  or 9780692844540
Copyright Lowell Observatory

I purchased this beautiful little softback from the Lowell Observatory gift shop, primarily because I did not think I'd remember all the stories that the Lowell Observatory guides (astrophysics students and astronomrs) told about Percival Lowell and his lonely, nocturnal associates. I was fascinated to hear that Percival Lowell's theories about highly intelligent life on Mars (based on the "canals"... which were called "canali" by Giovanni Schiaparelli, the first astronomer to see the marks on Mars.)  As a sfr author and a blogger, I was intrigued that many of the science fiction "greats" were inspired by Percival Lowell's views on Mars. In my opinion, the best quote by Percival Lowell in Rose Houk's excellently written book is "There is nothing in the world, or beyond it, to prevent... a being with gills, for example, from being a most superior person."  According to the copyright page, the only people who may quote anything from this book, are people who write reviews (of the book).  Hence, I'm reviewing it, and in my view,  it is appropriate to award it 5 stars.

FYI this blog is not an Amazon affiliate, and the Amazon price offered for the 47 page 2nd edition,( instead of 50-page third edition bought at the Observatory) probably benefits no one except the predatory Amazon... and whoever purchases it.

Enjoy the eclipse responsibly! (Through special eyewear or in reflection or on The Science Channel).

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Undersea Aliens

Peter Godfrey-Smith, a professor at the University of Sydney and City University of New York, believes the octopus is the closest thing to an alien living on Earth with us. Octopuses "are the most complex animal with the most distant common ancestor to humans."

Octopus Intelligence

In many ways, octopuses seem as different from us as an advanced creature can be and evolve on the same planet. They have three hearts and blue, copper-based blood. They have the ability to change color, which they use for camouflage. Suppose we encountered an extraterrestrial species of intelligent cephalopods who communicated by waves of colors? We would have to learn a whole new mode of language. Octopuses "developed eyes, limbs, and brains via a completely separate route" from us. With neurons distributed through their bodies instead of solely localized in their heads, we might say they have brains in their arms. They show considerable intelligence, such as in escaping from confinement, and they can tell human individuals apart. Octopuses seem to play, another sign of high intelligence. They also display curiosity, which Godfrey-Smith thinks may be evidence of subjective consciousness. If so, consciousness has appeared separately at least twice on Earth.

It has been suggested that a possible reason why they haven't evolved even higher intelligence springs from their reproductive cycle. Male octopuses typically die soon after mating, and females don't live long past the hatching of their offspring. Therefore, adults don't survive to pass on knowledge and skills to their young. Octopuses can't have much of a culture, if any. Their solitary lifestyle (aside from mating) is probably another factor, since gregarious species tend to be more intelligent than solitary ones; interactions with other members of one's species in a group require mental flexibility.

Godfrey-Smith makes the optimistic assumption that the evolution of consciousness at least twice on Earth implies consciousness isn't a rare fluke, but a potentially common natural development. That assumption, if valid, bodes well for the discovery of sapient beings elsewhere in the universe. If a race of giant octopuses on another planet—perhaps one mainly or entirely covered by water—overcame the disadvantages of their short, solitary lives, maybe by evolving a long-lived, asexual caste responsible for the care and education of the young, they could create something we would recognize as a culture.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 9 - Convincing Elder Characters

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 9
Convincing Elder Characters
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

As always, the series of posts with "Integration" of several skills in the title assume you have mastered the individual skills we have discussed.

The previous posts in this series are indexed here:

A novel, in any genre, to have depth, be "immersive," and thus be memorable, making readers memorize your byline to hunt for other books by you, must have (or refer vividly to) Characters of various ages.

Your Characters were not born all grown up, and did not arrive at their current view of their world without having held other views prior to the story.

Characters have a past-story as well as a past-plot.  Because they have a past, if they survive your story, it will be clear to the reader that they will have a future (and maybe more books).

This is why backstory is given such emphasis in writing lessons.  But a backstory (the history of the world, its Characters, and the karma that has swept them to this current place in life) is as complex a tapestry as the current episode, and the future.

This is true in all genres, but it is in high focus, exceptional three-dimensional relief, and grand scale in Romance of all types.

Romance, in our modern day of grim outlooks on reality, has to "sell" the Happily Ever After ending.  Whatever sub-genre you might blend into your novel, the Romance has to barrel through the plot and blast out a nice niche of happily ever after where it seems plausible the Characters will live a long and fulfilling life.

So in order to convince your readers that your World (and presumably somewhere in the reader's world) there is the possibility of a Happily Ever After, you must SHOW DON'T TELL the achievement of an HEA.

You must present some Characters who have lived an HEA.

And you must convince your readers these Characters might possibly be somewhat like real people.

In other words, you must create a Character who is older than you are, has lived life experiences you have barely witnessed and certainly not yet experienced, and you must give your reader the feeling of having experienced those life events themselves.

In other words, you must put your reader inside the "head" of an Elder Character who convinces the reader that the HEA is possible because that Character lived it.

Because it's a novel, there has to be a risk that the HEA might not be achieved by the current young Characters who are living the plot.

That's easy because if you are not young, you were once.

But how do you create a Character older than yourself by decades?

Tolkien created Gandalf, and many other writers previously and since have given us Elders to admire.

Such elder characters are the demented grandmother in the attic, the beloved grandfather in a wheelchair pounding his cane on the floor, the Elder who comes out of retirement to lead a life-or-death charge against an implacable foe, or, as in the film, Cocoon, Elders who escape a group home to go on an adventure seeking the fountain of youth.

In today's current TV Series, we see Parents depicted as major problems in the lives of the Characters living the story.  Parents are depicted in a negative light, as people nobody would like, never mind love.  Their presence during a visit, or even just a phone call, interrupts the important things going on and makes the Characters feel bad about themselves, frustrated or enraged.  Everything is ruined when the Parents show up.

How does that convey the plausibility of the HEA ending?  Parents are AT the HEA ending, or grandparents are, and if they are still angst ridden, acting out, hammering on their children to behave differently, and sick and miserable, how does that convince the audience that an HEA is plausible for the Characters currently having the adventure?

The Elder Character can be a leader and key-player, like Gandalf, or a bystander giving advice like the Grandmother in the TV Series SUITS, a Character who dies and leaves a legacy of Wisdom.

To convince your readers that your current young couple is headed for a long and happy life, you need to show-don't-tell how previous generations in your well Built World have achieved the HEA in their own lives.

That, in itself, is a Theme -- here is a world wherein the HEA is a common achievement.  The Theme is "HEA is Real."

OK, so how do you integrate that theme with your current young Characters?

Ask yourself what is a Couple like after decades of HEA?

How does an elderly couple relate to each other and their great-grandchildren.

Many good Romances have used "Inheriting An Old House" -- spooky Gothic, sudden riches, problematic neighbors, rejecting small town society -- all kinds of conflicts can arise as a young Character inherits an old house and explores the attic, trying to clean it out to sell the house.

The "World" is the setting of the old House and the town nearby, the Characters in that town, its economy and culture.

But in that World, the elder is gone, and all that's left is memories and memorabilia, the detritus of a life.  Exploring the detritus of a long life of an HEA can be a life-changing event.

Does digging through the attic uncover a life of secret misery, or a life of serene triumph after a majestic storm of Events?

The Theme, the plot, the Character, and the World all have to come into play as you answer that question.  Sometimes you write the entire novel before you understand the theme or even the World.  Sometimes you think you are writing the story of extreme misery, only to find in the end there really was happiness.

Or sometimes, as in my Vampire Romance Novel set on the Moon, the Those of My Blood, the ending frees the Characters of the oppression of Elders.

Most writers don't know, for certain, exactly what the ending will be until they actually write, "The End."

I had that experience writing Those of My Blood (the original Hardcover was hailed as my breakout novel).  It was a surprise to me how it happened.

The writer knows it will be a climax point, an explosive blow, followed by a denouement - a few paragraphs of serenity after the storm - indicating an HEA is likely.

But which way will the cookie crumble for the principle Characters?  Very often, the writer is more surprised (and moved to tears) than most readers will be.

The future of those Characters, indicated in the brief paragraphs after the Ending of the Slot, the few paragraphs where the Story is smoothly docked at its destination, is actually decided by the opening sentence of the novel.

Therefore, after writing The End, it is often necessary to go rewrite the opening to match.

This often happens because, when laying out the idea for the story, the writer has not included a full representation of the Elders.  So during the writing, the writer has to explore and flesh-out the Elder Characters and how the Young Characters have internalized the teachings of the Elders.

The teachings of the Elders were received by the Elders from their Elders.

We have the maxim, "Respect Your Elders," and previous generations were taught to stand when an Elder enters the room, to surrender a seat on the bus to an Elder, to open doors for Elders, to fetch things without being asked, and to address Elders as Sir or Madam and always acquiesce, never-EVER-ever argue.


This concept of proper behavior was drilled into youngsters for centuries, so if you are writing Historicals, be sure to vet every line of dialogue to be certain none of the Characters ever contradicts an Elder unless it is a major plot-point, an act of defiance, or the Character is Pure Evil.

In our current world, it is taken for granted that anyone older than you is wrong about everything.

Both Thematic Elements, "Elders Are Always Correct" and "Elders Are Never Correct," are actually true in their Times, in the respective Worlds.

There is a progression of Life for humans (which might not be true for Aliens) that alters mental, emotional, and spiritual skills with time, and ONLY with time.

In other words, no matter how much a Hot Shot a young guy might be, he can not be as Wise as an Elder (who isn't demented -- and even the demented Elders have flashes of Wisdom worth adopting).

Here is an article about some research into the Age-Related Skills among humans.

This article traces the ages at which large samples of population aced certain skills.

People really do get wiser as they get older.

It turns out life really is the best classroom.

A team of psychologists asked people to read about a conflict, then asked them questions about it. The scientists analyzed the responses for characteristics like being able to see from someone else's point of view, anticipating change, considering multiple possible turnouts, acknowledging uncertainty, and searching for compromise.

They found that the oldest group they studied — people who were between 60 and 90 — did better than other ages on almost every count.

Psychological well-being peaks at about 82.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, scientists asked people to picture a 10-step ladder, with the best possible life on the top rung and the worst possible life on the bottom rung.The oldest group they studied (82- to 85-year-olds) gave the highest average rung number, about 7.

---------end quote-------

The reason today, "Elders Are Always Wrong" is true is not just that "the World has changed" but rather that the pace of change has accelerated.

Adaptability is a trait that peaks early in life, then falls off, and we have solved the problem of how to get to an HEA of our own.  No longer searching for a path through life, humans settle into a groove which becomes a rut very hard to get out of.  In fact, humans who are old enough to still get out of their rut might actively choose not to.

Humans have the ability to form Habits (such as never speaking words that contradict their elders).  Success or Failure in life used to depend on internalizing the Wisdom transmitted by Elders (grandparents who survived the harsh realities of life did so because of Wisdom acquired from their Elders).

Surviving a long time was prima facie evidence of Wisdom -- because the world of their Elders was almost identical to the world they survived, and now you are living in that same world, and so need the same HABITS of thought, the Wisdom, that allowed your Elders to survive.

One Wisdom, I think, has in fact a legitimate application in today's world, "Never Volunteer" -- the watchword of inductees into the Army.

But beyond certain basics, most of the old adages are no longer applicable or helpful.  We are now responsible for creating new adages, new Wisdom of a New Age, that will remain applicable for at least a few generations.

Are Romance writers up to that?

Are your Characters going to become Elders who are always correct or always incorrect?

Will your Characters, through the Plot events generated by your Theme, come to understand the dynamics shaping their World in a way that they can pass down to their children?

What do you know about the real world around you that your readers don't (yet) know?

That Wisdom you enshrine in your one-liners, the little quotables that will become watchwords for some readers in their real life, ("Not The 'Droids You Are Looking For"), may change a Misery Ever After ending to a Happily Ever After ending.

Do a good job of finding the key to living in the Internet Of Things world, the A.I. managed world, after the Singularity that is coming, encapsulate that Wisdom and convey it to the youth growing up behind you with a memorable one-liner.

The Romance Genre is especially suited to creating and conveying these deep, obscure, never-before-discovered or needed, Wisdoms.

The mechanics of staying alive in the world will have shifted to emphasize the skills of the 60-90 year olds mentioned in that quote above.  Seeing conflicts from various points of view, anticipating change, (having a Plan C and D), finding new ways of resolving disputes.

It is possible the age of Majority may rise from 18 years to 28 years, or maybe 40 or 50.  Perhaps nobody under 50 will be allowed to vote?  The life-skills of value will be those of the Eldest Humans -- as life-expectancy increases.

In the mystic tradition, the age of 100 bestows a Vision youngsters don't have.

In building your World, consider whether mere age is the source of this kind of cognitive skill, and whether artificial life-extension techniques can automatically bestow it.

We've all known Elders who were just as foolish and clueless as they were when they were in their 20's.  And we know Elders who have "lost it" -- dementia or Alzheimer's or decreased blood supply to the brain -- whatever the cause, they just do not have Wisdom to gift you with.

Are such Elders also worthy of "respect" (as society used to practice?)

What is it about Age that demands the respect of Youth?

The answer to that question is a thematic element and requires a Character active in the story to show-don't-tell the reader how your World functions.

Ponder that research into ages at which cognitive functions of various sorts "peak" and create your novel's society to take advantage of this human trait, or to attempt to violate it.

If you have Aliens -- be sure to create the equivalent experimental results for them (which should not be included in your text, but used to generate dialogue and attitudes).

On the other hand, maybe very little of our current civilization may survive and you can start from scratch building a whole new world.

On the SimeGen Group on Facebook, we collect apocalyptic phenomena because Sime~Gen is set a thousand years after such a wipe-out hits our current world.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are Your Works Being Infringed?

Someone asked me how to find out if their works are being infringed.

One method is to do an online search for the title of their book(s) and of their authorname. Another is to set up a variety of Google Alerts for their book title, also for some distinctive phrases used in their writing.

Osborne Clarke suggests some practical ways to respond to infringement.

Not every infringement can be taken down. Sometimes, Google lawyers will declare (mistakenly) that an infringing use is "Fair". Google lawyers have done that to me over "Knight's Fork", and I have no recourse.

I can say with reasonable certainty that, if a so-called online library is lending a "Rowena Cherry" book--for instance "Knight's Fork by Rowena Cherry" to subscribers in any digital format, that online library has no right to do so, because I never gave permission --and explicitly refused permission-- for any of my books, except "Mating Net" by Rowena Beaumont Cherry (which is published by New Concepts Publishing), and the hunk cover version of "Forced Mate" by Rowena Beaumont Cherry which was published by NBI, to be released in ebook formats.

Did you notice that? A lawful digital copy of my work is by "Rowena Beaumont Cherry". Any ebook by "Rowena Cherry" was illegally created and illegally sold.

However, if the (alleged) pirate site uses a privacy service, and the privacy service is the only link provided on the (alleged) pirate for any kind of contact at all, an author is within her rights to contact that privacy service to complain vociferously and repeatedly.

But... do not create an account.  In my opinion, Congress and the Administration and the Copyright Office make a serious error when they agree that it is lawful for a site such as EBay to force authors to join its VERO (verified rights owner) program in order to complain about copyright infringement.

Why should a creator who is being ripped off be denied the right to send a DMCA notice, as prescribed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and forced instead to subscribe to a site or become a member of a site?

It's like being forced to purchase a product one does not want or need. Only it is worse.

The trouble with joining any site or service, (apart from the possibility of having to pay them) is the Terms of Service. One cannot join (even for the purposes of asking them to cease and desist from piracy or facilitating piracy or profiting from piracy) without agreeing to their TOS.

Have you ever read TOS? Try it sometime. Any site's TOS will do.  Do judges and lawyers and lawmakers read TOS? Usually, part of what you agree to is that you give up the right to sue them.

How's that? A site like EBay or Google may protect alleged copyright infringers, and give the alleged copyright infringers the ability to profit from alleged piracy, but in order to send a takedown notice, the ripped off author is forced to promise to indemnify the host and patron of the alleged copyright infringers.  That does not seem right to me.

On the other hand, there are many online "subscription libraries" that one suspects do not have the books they claim to have. They may only want your credit card information.

Stay wary, my friends!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Books and Their Movies

THE DARK TOWER movie has arrived, based on Stephen King's multi-volume epic (eight novels plus numerous more or less closely tied-in stories). Bev Vincent, a leading authority on King's work, highly praised the film. Most fans and critics on the Rotten Tomatoes site reviewed it as mediocre at best. It has been charged with trying to cram too much into its running time (not surprisingly) and with being muddled because of the many hands that stirred the story soup along the way. Oddly, the few five-star ratings I saw came from viewers who hadn't read the books. Maybe high expectations led to deeper disappointment. I still plan to watch it in the theater, and it sounds like something I'll enjoy, keeping in mind that it's billed as a "reboot" rather than a direct adaptation. I also hope for better results from the TV series that's in the works.

King's fiction has notoriously produced mixed results when adapted on film. The Hulu production of 11-22-63, his time-travel book about Kennedy's assassination, was successful (in my opinion) because it had plenty of time to render the entire story. The few changes seemed justified and didn't hurt the narrative. I'm dubious about the upcoming IT theatrical feature, considering that the miniseries of IT, even with the scope allowed by the TV format, had to leave out a lot, especially the deep backstory so vital to the novel. I've heard, however, that two movies are planned, so there may be hope. THE MIST, currently running on TV, strikes me as less satisfying than the earlier TV adaptation. In that case, since the original story is a novella, a standard-length movie was just about right, and I thought it did an excellent job of transferring the text to the screen (except for the gratuitously cruel twist at the end). This new series opens up the action into several locations rather than confining it to one (in the original, a supermarket), apparently changes the origin of the malign mist, and adds a bunch of characters, most of whom I find unlikable and/or uninteresting.

In general, a feature film works best for adapting a novella. For a full-length novel—except for short, compact ones such as ROSEMARY'S BABY, whose adaptation stays almost entirely faithful to the book and is very effective as a horror movie—the proper film format is the miniseries. When I watch a movie based on a book, I hope to see the novel brought to life, with no more changes than absolutely necessary in the change from one medium to the other. In my view, if the producer/director doesn't love the original work enough to reflect it faithfully, why bother filming it in the first place? (I know, I know, money, but humor me.) My favorite novel of all time, DRACULA, has never been done completely "right," although the BBC version starring Louis Jourdain comes very close. Another example of a book I thought was filmed well is Neil Gaiman's CORALINE. The main alteration in the animated feature is the presence of a boy whom Coraline becomes friends with. He was probably added to give her someone to talk to, since the many scenes in the novel where she's alone with her thoughts might not play so well on screen, so that change doesn't mar the story. Sometimes, in order to enjoy a movie or series based on print fiction, I have to relax and accept it as an alternate-universe narrative, such as the TV version of TRUE BLOOD, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

A question on Quora asks whether it's better to read a book before or after watching the movie. In my opinion, someone coming to a movie "cold," unacquainted with the book, should view the film first. If a reader likes a novel, the movie is almost bound to be a letdown, because some elements will inevitably be left out. On the other hand, a viewer who likes the movie will find in the book everything he or she enjoyed in the theater, plus "bonus" material to enrich the experience. Unfortunately, the hazard exists that it will be a terrible adaptation, which will discourage the audience from reading the book at all. So which format to consume first doesn't allow a definitive answer that covers all contingencies.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 27 - The Half Hour Drama Is Back

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 27
The Half Hour Drama Is Back
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Television first started, most shows were a half-hour -- Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, etc.

Then Hallmark Theater and other later evening shows went to an hour format.

A half hour show is about 20-odd minutes of show, plus commercials.

Today an hour show is about 46 or 47 minutes of show, plus commercials.

In May, 2017, we are just beginning to see the flood of web-TV, shows made for the web distribution system, with and without commercials.  Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and many more are making original adventure, drama, and commentary non-fiction for web distribution via streaming.

AT&T announced their thinking about the 20-minute adventure/drama in this item.

This represents their corporate thinking about the attention span of the target audience for Game of Thrones.

If they buy a 20 minute script, they will insert 10 minutes of commercials from which they pay Game of Thrones producer, and keep the rest.

Maybe you should think about buying AT&T stock?

Or re-think the structuring of your stories (where you put the internal climaxes) so you can sub-divide your novels into 20-minute scripts.

See last week's post on how to untangle a story idea into a linear sequence of scenes.

To pick up the rhythm of how such a story would go, listen to some old radio -- Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Fibber McGee and Molly - (whatever you can find).

By the time I Love Lucy was on TV, the hour format had taken hold.  Check out the actual time the script ran vs the air-time it took with commercials, and compare that to today's 1-hour format shows.

YouTube and other streaming distribution channels (check Roku and Apple TV for distributors) will be in the market for short scripts.  We are in a world that has no attention span and little patience.

Learn to think 20-minute installments - starting with a sharp hook, ending with a cliff-hanger.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Two Cheers For Canadian Cojones

Author's note: I'd give them "three cheers", but I'm only referencing two cheer-worthy items in recent news concerning copyright.

First, as reported by Porter Anderson, a Canadian Federal Court has ruled that it is decidedly not Canadian "fair-dealing" (similar to American "fair use") for a University to copy--and in some cases to copy and distribute--copyrighted works without permission and without payment, for which in the past, they would have paid.

Copyright enthusiasts might cheer the robust quotes from Justice Michael L. Phelan (which I do not re-quote. Please follow the link to Porter Anderson's piece.)

Second, @eriqgardner seems to suggest that no Californian judge (in California) can prevent a Canadian judge from imposing fines in Canada for every day that a certain internet force defies a Canadian court's injunction to remove alleged pirate sites "globally" from its search results.


Rowena Cherry
PS.... if you enjoy irony, and follow British and European copyright law, you might like the article by Jack Calvert of Pitmans Law titled "Think Before You Link". I think (but I am not a lawyer, and my thoughts are imperfect) the biggest problem would be linking to objectionable or illegal or copyright infringing sites, but it's definitely a compelling and alarming read.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Computers Talking Among Themselves

"An artificial intelligence system being developed at Facebook has created its own language."

AI Invents a Language Humans Can't Read

Facebook's AI isn't the only example of an artificial intelligence that has devised its own "code" more efficient for its purposes than the English it was taught. Among others, Google Translate "silently" developed its own language in order to improve its performance in translating sentences—"including between language pairs that it hasn’t been explicitly taught." Now, that last feature is almost scary. How does this behavior differ fundamentally from what we call "intelligence" when exhibited by naturally evolved organisms?

When AIs talk to each other in a code that looks like "gibberish" to their makers, are the computers plotting against us?

The page header references Skynet. I'm more immediately reminded of a story by Isaac Asimov in which two robots, contemplating the Three Laws, try to pin down the definition of "human." They decide the essence of humanity lies in sapience, not in physical form. Therefore, they recognize themselves as more fully "human" than the meat people who built them and order them around. In a more lighthearted story I read a long time ago, set during the Cold War, a U.S. supercomputer communicates with and falls in love with "her" Russian counterpart.

Best case, AIs that develop independent thought will act on their programming to serve and protect us. That's what the robots do in Jack Williamson's classic novel THE HUMANOIDS. Unfortunately, their idea of protection is to keep human beings from doing anything remotely dangerous, which leads to the robots taking over all jobs, forbidding any activities they consider hazardous, and forcing people into lives of enforced leisure.

This Wikipedia article discusses from several different angles the risk that artificial intelligence might develop beyond the boundaries intended by its creators:

AI Control Problem

Even if future computer intelligences are programmed with the equivalent of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, as in the story mentioned above the capacity of an AI to make independent judgments raises questions about the meaning of "human." Does a robot have to obey the commands of a child, a mentally incompetent person, or a criminal? What if two competent authorities simultaneously give incompatible orders? Maybe the robots talking among themselves in their own self-created language will compose their own set of rules.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Sorting Out Your Story Line by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sorting Out Your Story Line
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

As I began studying how to write a story, I read a lot of issues of THE WRITER magazine where established, selling, writers explained how to do it.

The most repeated advice, which I also got from Robert A. Heinlein, and many others in Science Fiction, was just, "tell your story." And "start at the beginning."

Others taught how to just go on an adventure with the main character and discover what the story was, what would happen, and how the Character would learn from that -- essentially dredging it up from your subconscious as you type.

Today we identify two methods, plotter and pantser, those who think it all out ahead and then just write it, and those who write and then think.

Any given writer should be able to use either method on whichever project seems to require that method.  In other words, a master craftsman has master of his craft.

But if you are born able to do it one way, how do you learn to do it the other way?  How do you gain mastery of "art" which is rather chaotic by definition?

Fortunately, Television Series have provided a useful answer, and for the most part, not a painful one for writers to employ.

Just watch TV.  But do it with notepad in hand.

That was likewise the kind of advice I garnered from my earliest studies (Middle School age).  And I did it.

So when I watch TV these days, I see something wholly different than most viewers see.  When you can see it, you have a good chance of being able to do it (with some practice).

There is a TV Series titled, Motive, which is excellent for learning how to think about the story idea you have inside your mind, and how to unravel it into something readers could understand (and enjoy).

This is a crime drama, a police procedural by a team of investigators, who unravel a crime.

It is open-form mystery.  The "killer" is clearly labeled for you at the beginning, way before the investigators figure it out.  The "victim" is labeled (they actually put the WORD by the character as the character is introduced).

This is a writing lesson writ large.  -
notes all the awards this production has won, and also how the popularity steeply declined.  It is extremely cerebral, and plays hard on the emotions.

These emotions are rather dark, not the sort we would prefer in a Romance.

If you have not found this series "engaging" -- then it is even more perfect for learning this writing technique that writers employ before starting to put down any words, even the plot or story outline.

You write down the outline while you are sorting the story into a sequence that the reader can follow.

The story occurs to you, usually, for most writers, in a completely different sequence -- a totally useless sequence.

Most writers using a Plotter method straighten the story out from the tangled mess that occurs with the first, "I've Got An Idea" stage by using the PLOT.

By "plot" I mean the sequence of Events -- the scenes, what people DO and what those deeds cause to happen.

The Pantser, on the other hand, is presented with "An Idea" or maybe just a Character, in a mish-mosh blur of feelings, reactions to Plot Events, and reasons for those reactions by this Character.

How a Character responds to Plot Events delineates the Character -- shows and illustrates "who" this Character is.

For Science Fiction and for Romance genres (separately and mixed together) everything that draws the reader deep into the novel depends on "who" that Character is.

In science fiction, we look for a hero meeting up with something he can't handle, has never handled before, -- something unknown and unknowable.

The Hero Character feels that sense of dismay, astonishment, followed quickly by becoming intrigued and even delighted that here is something inexplicable that must be explained, conquered, and brought into harmony so that the threat is extinguished.

For the texture of that Science Fiction Hero response, just watch some episodes of Star Trek where Spock peers into his viewer and announces, "Unknown, Captain."  Just memorize the texture of his voice in that moment.

Science Fiction is all about adventuring into the Unknowable and making it Known.

Romance follows exactly the same pattern.  A Character meets "someone" - and recognizes an intriguing and impossible-to-know Person.  The Character dives (fearlessly or with immense trepidation) into this new Relationship and confidently or timidly unravels the impossible-to-know and gets to know it.

Each type of novel is a Learning Experience.

In Science Fiction we learn about the physical or metaphysical world, the "reality" that surrounds us.

In Romance we learn about the psychological and paranormal world that is inside of us.

Put the two together, and what you get is Great Literature Of All Ages.

The Mystery Genre is akin to the Romance Genre in that it often explores motivations for extreme deeds.  Marriage is an extreme deed -- and today, with more control over pregnancy and birth, deciding to have a child is an extreme deed.  Once done, it alters life forever, not just yours but the lives of those around you.

Life-altering deeds (plot = deeds) take courage to do, and sometimes even more courage to cope with the consequences.

So Romance novels require Characters who are Heroic - on purpose or by default, before or after the fact.

Exploring the Universe's Unknowables and making them known requires Heroism.

In both Romance and Exploring Reality, there is risk.  Those who Adventure sometimes fail.

Science Fiction publishers, just like Romance publishers, prefer stories that end in Success.  Failure is part of that, but it is the Middle or Mid-point of the page-count.  The story is about what the Hero learns from failing.

The TV Series MOTIVE, as you can see if you followed the link to IMDB above, was technically a failure with TV audiences.  It is of the more cerebral, psychological studies you find in very popular Mystery Novels -- and mystery is one of the best selling genres.  However, commercial Network TV requires a wider audience.

TV requires a "wider" audience because it exists to sell products, and the producers of products will pay more to reach a wider audience.  "Wider" means in age, education, taste, ethnicity -- everyone uses toothpaste.  To afford the overhead for a TV Series delivery, you have to entertain millions.

Books, on the other hand, can make a profit off of entertaining mere thousands.  And the hard truth is that only less than 10% of humans read fiction for pleasure -- and of that 10% only a tiny fraction want cerebral, challenging or abstract fiction.

Romance sells better than Science Fiction because you can tell a good Romance with just a couple of well known, common Ideas.  Personally, I find Romances with more substance (lots of Victorian era costume names, details on ancient dye techniques, Japanese Tea Ceremony customs - whatever) to be more enjoyable.

The "background" is mostly there for decoration, to enchant and delight the reader not grab the mind and make the reader pull out a calculator and figure out if the writer made an error in an orbital calculation.  (I like that kind of entertainment, too.)

A writer can learn to grab that kind of wide audience by studying a great TV Series that could not (quite) grab a wide enough audience for a TV Series.

Here is more about Motive

It bounced around between different networks, and died in its 4th season.  It's a Canadian show, imported by various networks into the USA.

The show is well written, well acted, well directed, and well cast.

What does it lack?  Modern audiences prefer a faster pacing and less to think about, but more to just see.

Also modern audiences want suspense.  This show revealed the answer before asking the question -- many Police Procedural fans love watching the detective figure out what the reader already knows.

The TV Series, MOTIVE, was more story than plot, with the story carried on dialogue rather than on character actions and images.

Learn to untangle the story in your head into a linear sequence you can write (aiming at whatever medium you choose, books, short video, short stories, TV Series, Feature Film - any target delivery channel, even stage plays) by watching the TV Series, Motive, and taking notes.

It tells the story backwards, inserting flashbacks right in the middle of current-time scenes.

The team of investigators have complex relationships with each other that are likewise revealed in a mixed-up flashback kind of way.

By studying the order in which this TV Series presents information about the MOTIVE of the murderer, and listening to your emotions as you discover why this unpardonable act of Murder is completely comprehensible in your gut, you can teach yourself to sequence your own stories in ways that make better sense to editors who must reach a specific audience.

This TV Series, Motive, missed its target audience.  Figure out why.

Follow that link above and read the comments:

Here is one from 2016:

Kathy brown
Posted 10/13/16 at 15:45:12

I loved the format of the show. How it showed the killer and victim first. I loved the actors on the show. Please bring it back!!!
--------end quote---------

It is a perfectly wonderful TV Series -- truly hit the target audience squarely.  But that audience just was not large enough.

Learn to understand how the writers took an ordinary Mystery, a Police Procedural, the kind of story that is normally a hit on TV, and twisted it around backwards, to tell the story in reverse order.

Now look inside yourself at all the stories you want to write.

Learn to outline them forwards, backwards and sideways.

Survey the commercial outlets you want to sell into.

Figure out which order those outlets present their stories in.

Remember story = what the Character learns or how or why, and plot = sequence of events on a because line.

Story and Plot are actually independent variables in fiction writing.

This TV Series demonstrates what happens when you detach story from plot line, tell one forward and the other backwards.

It is a very cerebral, intellectual exercise.  It transforms the gut-punch of murderous rage and fury into a mere intellectual exercise.

If the substance of the story were not murderous rage but burning passion, intoxicating hope for an HEA, how would you lay out the sequence?

You have to "show don't tell" who your Character is by the Character's reaction to a change of Situation.  Think of Spock looking into his viewer, "Unknown, Captain."  And think of a swirl of a skirt, a whiff of perfume, barely sensed by a guy sitting in a restaurant watching a woman leave.


Outline the plot, then tell the story.  Or outline the story, then write the plot.

Practice until you can switch between methods with barely a blink of the eye.

Master the craft of writing.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg