Thursday, January 16, 2020

Freedom of Speech Online

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column explores the distinction between freedom of speech in the legal sense and the pragmatic limitations encountered on the Internet:

Inaction Is a Form of Action

He focuses on the effects of the dominance exerted by tech giants such as Facebook and Google. The Constitution forbids government interference with freedom of speech, but it doesn't prevent private businesses from setting their own rules. Constructing a parable of two restaurants, one that forbids political conversation on its premises and another with no such prohibition, he acknowledges that customers who don't like the restrictions of No Politics Diner can eat at Anything Goes Bistro. But suppose No Politics Diner not only buys up all its competitors but branches out to own a variety of other kinds of businesses as well? It's theoretically possible that soon there won't be any privately owned public spaces in town where customers can discuss politics. Without any interference by government, freedom of speech has effectively been limited.

With the pithy comment that Facebook "has hostages, not users," he applies this analogy to online services. When the giants have swallowed up so many of their competitors that (in an exaggerated but still chilling quote) the Internet has become “five websites, each consisting of screenshots of text from the other four,” policies set by these companies can restrict online speech even though no state censorship is involved. Services such as Facebook make rules, followed by exceptions to the rules, then additional layers of regulations to close the loopholes created by the exceptions. The resulting incomprehensibly complex tangle of exceptions and loopholes, according to Doctorow, "will always yield up exploitable vulnerabilities to people who systematically probe it." While the trolls run rampant, the rest of us may have no means of defending ourselves against them.

He has a list of suggestions for "fixing" the Internet to transform it into an environment "that values pluralism (power diffused into many hands) and self-determination (you get choose which tech you use and how you use it)." One thing he urges is breaking up the Big Tech monopolies. I have reservations about whether this course of action is practical (or, under current law, legal, but that's an area I don't know much of anything about). It's hard to argue with his summary of the problem, however: "When the state allows the online world to become the near-exclusive domain of a small coterie of tech execs, with the power to decide on matters of speech – to say nothing of all the other ways in which our rights are impacted by the policies on their platforms, everything from employment to education to romance to (obviously) privacy – for all the rest of us, they are making policy."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Headlines to Rip Stories From - Part 1

Headlines to Rip Stories From
Part 1 

OK, from which to rip stories! But who says that?

Since my house has been undergoing renovations, at the same time as I've had pneumonia, I have fallen behind creating these posts.

I do have plenty to say, and a number of topics to explore, but meanwhile, here are some articles that have captured my attention.

Here is a headline to "rip" if you need to make a Character mysteriously sick, or perhaps contrive a murder method.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 12, 2020

B.Y.O.B. (On Acronyms and Metonymy)

With acronyms, one has a choice.

B.Y.O. or B.Y.O.B. traditionally suggests Bring (you own....) and the optional, final "B" could refer to Booze, Beer, or a Bottle.

And "Bottle" could mean a container of strong liquor, which is also known as Dutch Courage (or Irish Courage), or in some parts of the word "bottle" is slang for courage itself.

Metonymy is a particularly useful literary device for alien romance world building, if one would like one's aliens to have their own slang.

This is an excellent starting point:

B.Y.O.B. could also stand for BUY your own BOOK.  Apparently, it is an established practice, especially among politicians.... and among writers with bread to cast on the waters.

Sarah Nicholas of Book Riot has an interesting History of Buying Books onto the Bestseller list, from how it all started up to the present day and what those little dagger signs signify on the N.Y.T. bestseller lists.

The article may not be quite even handed. One can be fairly confident that the counterparts of the cheating authors who were cited probably did the same thing, and may even have used taxpayer funds instead of mere campaign donations.

One might also find that Amazon will delete bad reviews for very well connected friends of Amazon, but for most authors, even bad reviews of books that have not been published, let alone sold, will stay up in all their miserable glory.

Amazon is also in the writing world news for (another) instance of rather poor quality control. "Waffle" is hardly literature, but one follows ones stream of consciousness, if only for the joy of the pun!

A Canadian over Christmas showed a little too much bottle (as in "willingness to take risks") when he took to social media to lambaste his American corporate employer over their seasonal gift to him of barbecue sauce. We are not told if it is the type of sauce that comes in a bottle.

His sauciness was not appreciated, and he lost his employment.

The American First Amendment protects one's right to speak one's mind, but does not guarantee freedom from the consequences of ill-advised speech... as CNN also discovered, and as is an object lesson to any humble participant in social media discussions of current events.

While DuckDuckGo-ing "B.Y.O.B.", one notices many references to a music group by that name. This blog is not about them, but they may deserve attribution for turning the acronym to "Bring Your Own Bomb".

But, on the topic of bombs, Colin R. Jennings, Ann J. LaFrance, Garon Anthony and Ericka Johnson blogging for the law firms Squire Patton Boggs, give timely advice for all internet users on preparing for the possibility of a well-coordinated cyber attack.

Lexology link:

Original link:

While an international cyber offensive would not be directed at alien romance writers, it might sweep us up in collateral damage if we could not back up our files to our preferred cloud, use credit cards, access our banks, etc.

Write safe!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Adaptation Weirdness

Has anyone else here watched the new DRACULA miniseries streaming on Netflix? This post includes spoilers on the assumption that by now anyone interested in the show will have either seen it or read reviews. Like most DRACULA adaptations, the program begins with a more-or-less (sometimes less) faithful rendition of Jonathan Harker's stay at Castle Dracula, but with the clever addition of framing scenes in which Jonathan narrates his ordeal to a nun in the nursing convent where he was taken after his escape from the castle. After the Castle Dracula sequences, like many other film treatments, the story, shall we say, veers. Sister Agatha reveals herself as Agatha Van Helsing, a Dutch nun residing at the Hungarian convent and a scholar of superstitions such as vampirism. Jonathan himself has been more radically changed by his experience than his book counterpart. The final scenes of the episode portray Dracula's attack on the convent while Sister Agatha strives to hold him at bay. The second installment of the three follows the voyage of the doomed ship Demeter to England. Unlike in the novel, where the Demeter is a cargo ship and Dracula remains hidden except from his victims, in this program the Demeter is a passenger vessel on which the Count travels openly. This change allows fascinating interactions between Dracula and his mostly unsuspecting fellow passengers. I admire the way this series restores the visceral horror of Dracula as a powerful, demonic vampire. (And I speak as a devoted fan of "good guy vampires" and a champion of Fred Saberhagen's THE DRACULA TAPE, with the Count as narrator and hero, as one of the best vampire novels ever published.) It's also interesting that Dracula can absorb memories and skills from the victims whose blood he drinks, a gift he uses with planning and discretion. The final episode, however, departs completely from the novel to skip from 1897 to the present. Count Dracula comes ashore at Whitby having remained dormant underwater, after the wreck of the Demeter, for 123 years. He's met by an armed security force led by the modern Dr. Van Helsing, a woman scientist who heads the Jonathan Harker Foundation for study of arcane medical conditions, including vampirism. I enjoyed the "fish out of water" dimension of Dracula's adjustment to the twenty-first century, while he remains both charismatic and terrifying. Aside from several familiar characters with the same names and similar narrative functions as those in Stoker's original, though, this third episode has no connection to the novel and, as some reviewers have noted, might as well be an entirely different story.

Since I'm more familiar with DRACULA than any other novel, I take intense interest in the various, often strange ways it has been filmed. Granted, the original is a long, complicated story that only a miniseries, not a standard-length feature film, could hope to render with any degree of fidelity. The 1977 BBC miniseries starring Louis Jourdan comes closest. Aside from combining Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood into one character and making Mina and Lucy sisters (a change I like because it reduces the element of wild coincidence in Dracula's first English victim just happening to be a friend of his solicitor's fiancee), this version follows the novel pretty faithfully. The classic Bela Lugosi movie, however, is derived not from the novel but from the stage play (in which Lugosi also starred), which takes place entirely in England. The Lugosi film restores the opening scenes set in Transylvania but otherwise limits itself to the general outline of the play. This version, oddly, has Renfield rather than Jonathan Harker traveling to Transylvania to finalize the Count's real estate purchase.

One of my favorite movies, although it follows the play and the Lugosi version more than the book, is the 1979 film starring Frank Langella, mainly because Langella makes such an alluring, sensual Dracula. A major weirdness of this adaptation comprises the reversal of names between Lucy and Mina. "Lucy," for all practical purposes, is actually Mina. The Lucy character, now called Mina, has also become the daughter of Van Helsing. A TV adaptation that starts by following the novel but eventually veers, the 1973 Dan Curtis production starring Jack Palance (in my opinion, one of the least suitable Draculas ever cast), draws upon the history of Vlad the Impaler, a cinematic innovation at that time. In addition, it introduces the trope of Dracula's obsession with a woman whom he considers the reincarnation of his wife, in this case Lucy. Coppola's not quite accurately titled BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992) adopts this motif, with Mina as Dracula's long-lost beloved, an element detested by many fans. This one also identifies the Count with the historical Impaler. Otherwise, this production does fulfill its claim to incorporate all the major characters and the general plotline of the novel, including the heroes' pursuit of the Count back to his Transylvanian lair.

The 2013 DRACULA TV series, while set in England in the 1890s and featuring several characters from the novel, otherwise strays so far from the original that I gave up on it after a couple of episodes. In this re-imagining, Count Dracula poses as an American entrepreneur who invests in scientific and technological innovation. His true agenda, however, is revenge on his nemesis, the Order of the Dragon—??!!—the medieval knightly order of which the real-life Vlad Dracula and his father were proud members. This character impressed me as so unlike any Dracula I could recognize that I quickly lost interest in him.

How far can a film adaptation of a book depart from its source before it becomes effectively a different story? Mostly, I have a low tolerance for movies and TV programs that claim to translate books to films but have little resemblance to their alleged originals. Other readers and viewers may happily accept more radical transformations.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Sime~Gen Book 15 Now in Kindle, iBooks, and Paper

Sime~Gen Book 15
Now in Kindle, iBooks, and Paper 

Here we are now in 2020, and just at the end of 2019, the 15th volume of my Sime~Gen Series appeared on Amazon, Apple iBooks, and probably places I've never heard of.  It is in e-book and paper formats.

We have talked about Star Trek, and the impact a mere TV Show has had on the world.  Teens and college students were (and still are) inspired to create the devices and capabilities Gene Roddenberry built deep into the background of Star Trek.

And those tantalizing possibilities still lure young people into the sciences.  New Series set in the Star Trek Universe are now Streaming hits.

How did that happen? Why? Could someone do this on purpose?

The first non-fiction book I wrote, STAR TREK LIVES!

 is all about why young people were so inspired, driven to develop skills to manifest their creativity.

To demonstrate the validity of my theory, I wrote my first novel, HOUSE OF ZEOR, appeal to the Spock fans among Star Trek fans.  I sold the (at that time very expensive) hardcover with a money back guarantee - if you don't like it, mail it back to me and I'll refund your money.  I sold 60, and never had one returned. 

I targeted a readership.  A very small subset of a huge readership.

The first novel in the series drew heaps of fan mail with questions about the worldbuilding.  I answered by letter -- and the created the fanzine Ambrov Zeor to publish my answers as I kept getting the same ones over and over.

STAR TREK LIVES! blew the lid on Star Trek fan fiction.  For years, fans had been publishing their own original fiction (with original characters not seen on screen), in fanzines.  That explosion of creative fiction was replicated by HOUSE OF ZEOR and subsequent Sime~Gen Novels.

As soon as I established Ambrov Zeor as a fanzine, I began to get fiction submissions even from people I didn't know.  I handed editorship of the fanzine over to a fan so I could go on writing books. 

At a Star Trek Convention, Karen MacCloud and Katie Filipowicz (two I didn't know at the time, since become best friends for life), approached me to ask to found other Sime~Gen fanzines.  They did exactly that and never had too few submissions of fiction and articles to get an issue out for another Star Trek con. 

By the time the second Sime~Gen novel was in hardcover print from Doubleday, one fan who was already a professional writer, Jean Lorrah, had written for the Sime~Gen fanzines just as she had written Star Trek fanfic.  Then she submitted to me a novel about the first channel to discover how to channel selyn.  We sold her novel to Doubleday and went on to do more Sime~Gen together -- then she wrote independently in Sime~Gen and I went on to develop the story line. 

So just like Star Trek, Sime~Gen captured reader interest and jolted creativity into motion. At one point there were 5 Sime~Gen fanzines - replicating the phenomenon in microcosm.

Star Trek, meanwhile, went on to generate Animated TV Series, and then new Prime Time drama series (most of which we love). 

Years later, Sime~Gen fanfic writers, some of whom had meanwhile become professional writers, made new, original, contributions to main-line Sime~Gen, first with a professionally published anthology

.. and now Mary Lou Mendum has transformed some of her Sime~Gen fanfic into professionally published novels, the Clear Springs Chronicles - a series within a series.

Her second Clear Springs novel is now out, and she's well into drafting the 4rd.

Plot and story lines had to be added to blend the fanfic onto the timeline, and she has been tasked with inventing some scientific advancements that change the direction of Sime~Gen history.

In the Clear Springs Chronicles, we follow the spread of Sime Centers deeply into Gen Territory.  As the interface between Sime and Gen deepens, creativity sparked and NEW science emerges.

Mary Lou is a Ph.D. in plant genetics, so we tasked her with identifying the plant source of a staple drink, adding to the Worldbuilding both a new kind of organic battery, inventing heavier than air flight, and a new disease.

Jean Lorrah is working on more novels covering the industrial spread of the organic battery via the Entertainment Industry -- and in the process, incorporating Mary Lou's new disease, showing how the death of one person from this disease motivates a descendant to transform the world yet again.

These fans are working, and re-working, the Worldbuilding behind the novels I have written. 

It is up to readers to decide what there is about Sime~Gen that seems to echo the effect on fans that Star Trek has had.

Mary Lou first drafted these new novels, then I made changes, Mary Lou re-drafted, and Jean Lorrah did a final polish edit -- then I did a polish draft, and Karen MacCleod did a copyedit, then it was sent in to the publisher, and we got back the usual final-final-final check this again, draft.

So here is Sime~Gen Book 15:

E-book for Kindle


You can find it on iBooks by searching Sime~Gen.

Books 16, 17 and 18 are in the works, detailing the way human personalities blend and clash to produce the structure of science and technology which transforms humanity's lifestyles around the globe, and eventually into space.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, January 04, 2020

One New Piracy Host, One Old Pirates' Friend

Linked In owns Slide Share.
It looks like Slide Share makes available a lot more than slides.

Linked In is protected by safe harbor under the DMCA as long as it removes infringing links, and also removes repeat infringers.

Here is Linked In's page to report infringement.

Some commentators feel that it is a waste of time to bother trying to take down piracy links because they are usually re-uploaded in a short period of time, however, there is a glimmer of justice on the horizon.

As Adi Shoval reports for Pearl Cohen, Cox Communications was recently fined a billion dollars for not removing repeat infringers (in this case, music infringers) from its platform.

The jury awarded $100,000 for the piracy of over 10,000 individual music works.

Meanwhile, just one senator is holding up the #CASEAct. For anyone active on Twitter, the CopyrightAlliance is asking creators and their friends to use the hashtag #AskWydenWhy and to tweet @RonWyden.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, January 02, 2020

SF Seasons

Happy New Year! The days begin to lengthen, even if imperceptibly at first, but nevertheless I have to brace myself for over two months more of early darkness and damp cold. We temperate-zone residents are used to a year divided into the conventional four seasons, recurring in a predictable annual rhythm. My family had a funny encounter many years ago at King's Dominion (an amusement park) in northern Virginia, while standing in line to check out of the hotel adjacent to the park. This happened on a day at the height of summer, and the weather was as expected in a Virginia summer, high humidity with temperatures in the eighties or low nineties. An apparently British couple in line with us asked whether "it was always this hot" all year around. Mentally (not aloud, of course) I collapsed with laughter. In this area we have four seasons just like most other locations in North America, with pleasant springs and falls and miserably cold winters. If our family's experience of living in Hawaii in the 1970s was typical, tropical regions have two basic seasons, rainy and dry, with little variation in temperature or length of daylight.

Science fiction and fantasy often feature imaginary worlds with seasons different from those familiar to us Earth dwellers, but the stories don't always take full advantage of the possibilities. The setting of the Game of Thrones saga famously suffers winters that last for years, whose timing and duration vary. Yet I don't remember noticing in either the novels or the TV series an explanation of how human civilization in Westeros survives those ordeals. How could enough food possibly be stored to sustain entire nations over a multi-year winter, especially with no way of knowing when the cold season will descend upon them? Maybe the southern regions of the inhabited world escape mainly unscathed and supply provisions for the affected areas? The economic effects would be calamitous, though, even if most people managed to scrape by. Isaac Asimov's classic story "Nightfall" takes place on a planet in the middle of a cluster of stars, so that it experiences full darkness only once in several centuries. Although a short story can't cover every aspect of worldbuilding, admittedly, even in the story's later novel-length expansion I don't recall any consideration of how different a culture that develops in perpetual light would be from ours. Agriculture alone would evolve in ways strange to us, wouldn't it? Recently I read SHADOW AND LIGHT and SHADOW RISING, the first two books in an excellent fantasy series by Peter Sartucci. They're set on a planet that revolves around a double star. No results of having two suns, in terms of either circadian rhythms or climate, are developed. As in "Nightfall" with its planet of multiple suns, not only weather but seismic phenomena would surely be affected. With more books to come, however, maybe this aspect of the setting will be elaborated later.

One novel I've read within the past year takes full advantage of its setting's weird seasons, as the title indicates: THE FIFTH SEASON, first book in the Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin, offers a devastating, in-depth portrayal of a world periodically ravaged by geological disasters of apocalyptic scope. Fifth Seasons appear at unpredictable intervals and can last from a few months or years to an entire century. At those times, worldwide tectonic cataclysms cause earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, with side effects such as climate change, crop failures, poisonous fungal growths, etc. Appropriately, this world's cultures are crucially shaped by the Fifth Season phenomenon, which includes the ambiguous role of the few people with the gift of controlling seismic events.

Here's a page that lists eight SF novels about climate change:

Sci-Fi Books That Highlight Climate Change

And here's a different list of fourteen novels focusing on climate catastrophes (including some overlap with the previous one, naturally):

Sci-Fi Books for Earth Day

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt