Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Afterthoughts Part 3 - Grimdark in Genre Fiction


Part 3

Grimdark in Genre Fiction 

Part 1 


Part 2


I found a question posed on Facebook in Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers Group by Jonathan Russell on May 5, 2021, "Is anyone else sick to death of Grimdark in genre fiction?"  

----Wikipedia quote-----
Grimdark is a subgenre of speculative fiction with a tone, style, or setting that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent. The term is inspired by the tagline of the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000: "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war."[1][2]
---end Wikipedia quote-----

I responded as follows.  

Art requires contrast.  

The problem with "Grimdark" genre fiction is not the presence of ugly-underside-of-human-nature, or even the thematic statement that life is hopeless, Evil Always Wins. 

Those elements are present in the real world, and thus have a place in works of art such as Genre Fiction.  However, as in "reality" the whole point of there being "darkness" is that it showcases the "light."  

Light without darkness is just blinding and meaningless.  

Our current problem stems from an absence of "light" not the presence of "dark."  

This historic origin of this "Grimdark" view may be a shift in our daily vocabulary, likely due to popular self-help books trying to buck up the dejected.  

It was suddenly recommended, as a prescription to fix society, that strong demands for performance in any situation were responsible for an epidemic of depression.  Therefore, no employee should be required to do more than they "can." The employee got to decide what they can or can't do - where the limits to their efforts should be. 

As a result, it became "politically correct" to explain one's failures as "I'm doing all I can."  Which declaration immediately let you off the hook because you weren't responsible for doing something you obviously can't do.  That was an entirely NEW concept in American culture, peopled at that time with the "Can Do" Generation.  

Promises and guarantees went from "I'll do it," to "I'll do all I can" which morphed into meaning under no circumstances will I enlarge my inventory of what I can do in order to accomplish what I've promised.

We accepted limits imposed from without (or within) as "real" and the violation of those limits as "wrong."  We must stay within limits.  

Under no circumstances may you do what you can't.


Science Fiction is the literature of ideas -- and adopted that idea, that heroism itself is wrong because to be a hero you must do something that is beyond your ability, and beyond the limits of the possible.  

Going faster than light was (is) considered impossible. Science fiction presented many visions of what we could do if we could break the "light barrier" as we once broke the "sound barrier."  Breaking the sound barrier was deemed impossible.  We did it. Getting into orbit was deemed impossible. We did it.  And so forth -- life was lived for the purpose of doing what you can't.

Today it is deemed anti-social to transgress limits set by others -- you must only do what you can.  You are never responsible for succeeding if it means doing what you can't do (thus changing where the "here be dragons" line lies on your psychological map.)

Science fiction like all fiction and all art reflects the audience's view of reality.  Writers are spokesmen for those who can't craft words to describe what they feel.  

Is Elon Musk only doing all he can?  

Marriages fail when one party refuses to do something they can't do.  Marriages succeed when both parties ignore their limits and do whatever it takes, regardless of any previous limitations.  

Every first novel ever written was an exercise in doing something you can't do -- before writing that novel, you "can't" write a novel.  You change reality by doing what can't be done. '

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Hacker Ways And The Decline of Language

Decadent thought leads to decadent language, which leads to even more decadent thought... and a vicious vortex of decay and corruption ensues. Is the process accidental or deliberate?

In "Politics And The English Language", George Orwell compares sloppy language to a sloppy drunkard.

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." 
In 1945/1946, Orwell seemed to believe that the decline was reversible and clarity of thought and expression could be revived if writers and speakers made an effort and followed simple, critical rules such as:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Today, public speakers appear not to know the difference between a benefactor and a beneficiary, or between an expletive (noun) and something that is explicative (adj).  Badly written advertisements don't say what the advertiser intends: "Like you, my hands mean everything to me." "Report your allergy to your doctor."  "As a scientist, my dog..."  How supportive of vaccine acceptance is it for one Medicare coverage provider to be advertising, "With all the uncertainty of the virus AND VACCINE..."?
The one-time service to help copyright owners remove infringing copies of copyrighted works from the internet, MUSO writes about the predictive value of piracy , based on a study conducted in Europe.

They describe pirates as a bellwether, and explain (approximately) what a wether is... while decorously omitting the difference between a ram and a wether.  In a nutshell, a wether is castrated.
If one has to explain ones metaphor or simile, and if one cannot explain it fully, perhaps the metaphor is dead and the imagery stale. That said, I dropped the "nutshell" knowingly.
While MUSO  may or may not be pivoting to a marketing business,  the authorities in Canada seem to have less use for intellectual property pirates.

Legal bloggers Ken Clark and Lawrence Veregin  representing the combined intellectual property team of Aird and Berlis LLP and Aird and McBurney LP predict the beginning of the end of online piracy in Canada, and describe how Take Down and Stay Down will work --in Canada-- via real time site blocking.


On hacking, Mary B. Ramsay and Grant P. Dearborn of  Schumaker Loop and Kendrick discuss the devious ways of Hackers and the risk from phishers phishing. Never give your email address and PW in order to open an attachment, even if it appears to have come from your better half or significant other.
There is a story involving far greater effrontery than that shown by all those young men who make telephone calls to seniors in the hope that the senior victim will find it plausible that he or she has a grandchild in immediate financial distress... but with access to Bitcoin or Western Union.

Lexology link

Original link:

The news has covered the Colonial Pipeline and the JBS meat packer hacks but less has been said about the hacking of iConstituent, perhaps because the latter is less inconvenient to the public.

Apparently, according to at least two sources, sixty members of the US Congress have been hacked or phished, and as a result they lost their access to iConstituent.  If you notice a pause in the begging letters and emails, you might infer that your Congressperson's internet hygiene is --or was-- substandard.  Maybe if your trusted Congressperson sends you an attachment or link, you should not open it or click through.

On that happy note...

All the best,

Rowena Cherry   

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Plotting and Discovery

In the June issue of LOCUS, Kameron Hurley writes about how she gets from the beginning of a story to the end:

Endings and Beginnings

I'm always interested in the techniques used by other writers, and Hurley's current procedure isn't quite like any I've come across before. She describes how her method changed from free-writing in a process of discovery all the way through a piece of fiction to a hybrid of freeform and outlining. Early in her career, she "began every story with a scene, an inciting incident, a mood, a situation, and wrote until [she] figured out what happened next." She ended up with "dozens and dozens of beginnings, a few middles, and not a lot of endings." As she points out, it's hard to sell beginnings and middles to publishers.

Now she free-writes the beginning, works on it until the characters and their motivations become clear, and then plots the rest of the book. She needs to write a story opening that establishes all the vital ""problems, relationships, tensions, and setups" before she can move forward. Judging from the rest of the essay, Hurley seems to be very much a character-driven rather than plot-driven writer. She finds that, for her, it's "impossible to write an ending unless the beginning works." She concludes the essay with the principle, "Get the first part right, and you'll find the ending was staring at you all along."

This method runs contrary to the common advice to write the ending first and then work out what needs to happen to get there. Even if a writer doesn't literally compose the final scene first, it's generally assumed that for effective fiction writing the author has to know the culmination all along. On the other hand, Nora Roberts, in answer to a question at a conference session where I heard her speak, claimed she didn't outline her Eve Dallas mysteries (published under the name "J. D. Robb"). She was as surprised by the twists and turns of the murder investigations as Lt. Dallas was. The notion of writing a detective story that way boggled my mind. Imagine the backtracking and revision that must be required to make all the clues fit the solution. Yet clearly this method works for Roberts, who dependably releases two Lt. Dallas "In Death" mysteries every year in addition to the Nora Roberts romances.

I'm one of those dedicated outliners Hurley mentions, who would find her old process, if not exactly "horrifying" as she puts it, distressingly inefficient. As a novice writer, I surged forward through my narratives on waves of inspiration. In my teens, writing short pieces, I found that approach could work well enough, in the sense that I finished stories. (Whether they were any good is a different matter.) Holding a short-story or novelette plot in my head from beginning to end wasn't hard. When I started trying to create novels, though, starting at the beginning and charging forward to the end resulted in often not reaching the end because I'd get bogged down in the middle. I realized I needed to know where the plot was going and the steps along the road. For the same reason, although I used to occasionally write scenes out of order (as Diana Gabaldon, a bestselling "pantser," does), I've long since switched to linear scene-by-scene composition following my outline. With my early novel-writing attempts, if I yielded to the temptation of writing the most "exciting" incidents first, I tended to get bored with the necessary filling-in work. Some "pantsers" find an outline too limiting. I feel just the opposite; the outline liberates me from the fear of getting stuck in the middle and losing interest in the project.

Regardless of one's favorite method of composition, one of Hurley's discoveries has general application: Plot doesn't consist of "what happened to people"; it's "how people respond to and influence the world around them."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Afterthoughts Part 2 Good and Evil


Part 2

Good and Evil

See? I told you there'd be more afterthoughts. 

Part 1 is:


Part 2 is in response to an observation on a Facebook writer's thread asking how you show a Good Character turning to the Dark Side. 

The discussion thread got all wrapped up in the writer's view of one specific character, but to solve the writing craft problem you need the underlying principle, not the surface decoration.  

Here's the basic PRINCIPLE: 

"Good" respects the Free Will and Personal Integrity of others, and will not use power of any sort to over-ride the Free Will choices of others (by lying or by withholding information). 

"Evil" is so focused on gaining (whatever - money, power, relief from fear, pain etc) that the Free Will (both the power of Will and the Freedom to choose to act differently than Evil wants) of others is not important enough to make Evil hold back on use of force, and tediously explain and teach and illuminate until the other changes their mind OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL.  

Evil has no patience. Good has nearly infinite patience. 

Evil has no recourse other than FORCE - while Good has a life-time-created stockpile of various options.  

So just show your GOOD character taking pain to avoid forcing another -- then in later scenes show that character oblivious to another's right to choose their own actions.  

For more clues, read Blake Snyder's 3 book screenwriting series SAVE THE CAT!  

Previous mentions of SAVE THE CAT! include:





"Saving the cat" is the description of how to formulate an opening scene establishing the main character as "good" -- someone who would take a risk to help an innocent. See the SUPERMAN movies. 

First establish the "good" -- then the imperative reason that "good" has to impose his "good-ness" on another despite the resistance of the other -- then redeem your MC by showing the epiphany where he internalizes the difference in when to use force and when NOT to.  

If you need more clues - read some books on Martial Arts and/or training to use a Gun.  Law Officer training manuals.  

In Tarot it's called THE LORD OF SHORTENED FORCE - 5-Swords.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Sunday, June 06, 2021

The Subscription Model

There's talk on the author discussion boards about Scribd. Is it legitimate these days? I have email records of DMCAs for my books and stripped "document" versions of my books going back to 2010 or earlier, so I wondered. It is a subscription site these days. 

One has to pay just under $10 a month via PayPal, Google Wallet (or some such thing), or a credit card for the unlimited free reading, and apparently there is free Pandora stuff, too.

I wonder whether or not the musicians know? Songwriters and players are still not getting paid fairly or otherwise, owing to "Frozen Mechanicals".

There is a free trial period with Scribd, so I briefly reactivated my account, and was amused to see the fierce profile I'd left behind. I warned all comers that, if I were following them it was because I thought they might be a copyright infringer.

I noticed that, if I wish to do so, I can upload books and documents. I did not try to do so. I probably should have tried. I believe the purpose might be to enable authors and their critique partners to privately share works in progress.  I could not find anything untoward of mine, and I've heard that Scribd does deals with publishers these days, so all seems to be well.

The legal blogs have been pretty dry these last ten days, so this is a good time to remind readers that this blog will drop cookies on your devices, and there is nothing that the authors of this blog can do about it.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, June 03, 2021

The Joys of Derivative Works

I've just finished rereading THE HOLLOW PLACES, by T. Kingfisher, inspired by Algernon Blackwood's classic tale of cosmic horror, "The Willows." Her earlier book THE TWISTED ONES is a modern-day follow-up to Arthur Machen's deeply unsettling "The White People." I consider THE TWISTED ONES one of the best horror novels I've read in many a year, not excluding Stephen King's recent works. Readers don't have to know the classic stories to enjoy these two novels, but familiarity with their sources enhances the experience. Another recent read, THE HUMMING ROOM, by Ellen Potter, retells THE SECRET GARDEN on an island in the St. Lawrence River in the present day, with other variations. Again, it could stand alone with no knowledge of its model required.

On the other end of the sliding scale of derivative works we find oddities such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which embellishes the classic novel but makes few significant changes other than the insertion of zombies. This type of playing with texts enjoyed a fad after the success of that book. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS (by a different author) is more transformative, as are LITTLE WOMEN AND WEREWOLVES and LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN (each being exactly what it sounds like). WUTHERING BITES adheres pretty closely to WUTHERING HEIGHTS while taking the obvious step of making Heathcliff a vampire; in the original he's even referred to as one, metaphorically.

Most spinoffs from previous works, of course, are far more transformative to varying degrees. PRIDE AND PROMETHEUS, by John Kessel, introduces Mary Bennet, the bookish sister in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, to Victor Frankenstein and his creature. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE also inspired a mystery series, at least one portrayal of Darcy as a vampire, and a non-fantastic exploration of Mary's life, THE OTHER BENNET SISTER, by Janice Hadlow. Sequels, prequels, retellings, and side stories to fill gaps in the originals have been written for many classic works. For instance, there's a novel revealing where Heathcliff went during his absence from Wuthering Heights and how he made his fortune. FIVE CHILDREN ON THE WESTERN FRONT is a follow-up to E. Nesbit's FIVE CHILDREN AND IT (and its two sequels) set during World War I. THE WIDE SARGASSO SEA creates a backstory for the mad wife in JANE EYRE. SCARLETT offers an authorized sequel to GONE WITH THE WIND, while THE WIND DONE GONE and RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE tell stories parallel to GWTW from viewpoints very different from Scarlett's. John Gardner's GRENDEL gives a voice to the monster in BEOWULF, while Maria Dahvana Headley's THE MERE WIFE translates that epic into contemporary terms. Readers can enjoy the latter without knowing BEOWULF, but they'd need some acquaintance with the original to appreciate GRENDEL. In the decades since DRACULA fell into the public domain, innumerable such books have been published, including two starring Renfield (that I know of) and two novels on the backstories of Dracula's brides by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (a third was planned but never published). Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan have enjoyed similar treatment. Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON is only one of countless retellings and revisions of the Arthurian legendarium.

Critics who look down on such fiction as "unoriginal" have tenuous ground to stand on. The plots of most of Shakespeare's plays weren't original with him, but were based on history, legend, or prior literary works. "Originality" in the modern sense wasn't highly valued in the realm of literature until relatively recently. Authors who did invent their own stories were likely to make up fabricated sources for them to give them a veneer of respectable antiquity.

One major distinguishing feature of fan fiction is that the reader needs familiarity with the source material to appreciate original stories derived from it; that's true of some professionally published derivative works but by no means all (Kingfisher's horror novels, for example). Why is fan fiction disdained when it does the same kinds of things as the commercially published fiction mentioned above? I've read stories in the universes of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, FOREVER KNIGHT, and STAR TREK that I consider equal or superior to any of the aired episodes. The only consistent reason for the higher respect granted to the non-fanfic works seems to be their commercial status—which goes along with their legal status, but fanfic based on public domain sources doesn't typically get respect outside its own community, either.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Reviews 67 Hell Bent by Devon Monk A Broken Magic Novel

Reviews 67

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

A Broken Magic Novel 

Reviews have not been indexed yet.

Hell Bent by Devon Monk was published in 2013, 

but is relevant today because the worldbuilding is all about the energy-structure underlying "reality" or the universe, while the story is all about the use and abuse of "power" (money, politics, energy, weaponry) and how a person "just like you" might navigate a life in such a world.

Today we are learning all sorts of things (some true, some not) about sub-atomic particles and the glue that keeps the universe together -- about galaxies and stars and black holes.  There is a lot of "power" sizzling through our reality, some that might be bent to human will.  The Broken Magic series explores what some people might do with command of that sort of power.

The Devon Monk by-line continues to be associated with good, tight, vivid writing and Magic based worldbuilding.  

I've reviewed the Allie Beckstrom novels here, https://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/03/reviews-13-psychic-technology-by.html

and have read some other Devon Monk series -- and of the lot, there's only one I didn't enjoy - the "Age of Steam" novels, Dead Iron and Stone Cold.  


If you see "Relationships" as the foundation of human character that allows for firm, careful, wielding of "power," you will very likely enjoy Devon Monk titles.  Monk is particularly adept at portraying the seedy underside of reality, the ugly side of human nature, and what an ordinary person might do if submerged into such an environment.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Get Your Draws On

Summer time, and the drawings are easy. Or are they? 

Disclaimers first, which is always a good policy. I am not a doctor, not a lawyer, and do not have stock or any other interest in United Airlines or CVS. I do have a tiny holding in Kroger stock. I have run promotional free draws in the past, with very good legal advice, in order to promote my books. 

The random draws were not, in my opinion, particularly valuable for selling my books, partly because, to be legal, a sweepstakes cannot require a purchase or any valuable consideration.  With "Insufficient Mating Material" we had a poorly concealed chess piece drawn into the cover art. Contestants could see the cover without buying the book, and I am sure they did.

For a draw, sweepstakes, lottery, free raffle etc to be legal, the organizer has to post the full rules somewhere; the start and end times and dates have to be public; the prize must be specified; the process for the randomness of the selection of the winner(s) has to be explained; if there is some skill or activity in order to qualify, it must be set forth; it must be clearly stated that contestants are not required to purchase or do anything beyond filling out the entry form and submitting it in one of at least two methods; more than one method of submitting an entry must be advertised and permitted. 

"No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited." These six words are absolutely vital.

Legal opinion seems to be divided on whether or not a requirement to follow someone on a social media platform (or blog) or to subscribe to a newsletter, or to join a free membership or loyalty program counts as a "valuable consideration".
Legal blogger Irwin Mitchel LLP, writing for a British audience, offers some very thorough advice on private lotteries, incidental lotteries, free draws, for profit draws, customer draws, raffles and such extreme draws as raffling off ones house for one British pound sterling.

The original is an aws document, and for some reason, the url changes, so it is probably better to click the link on the lexology page.

Blogging on Gambling Law, for the USA law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, Sonia Church Vermeys, Erin Elliott, and Marckia L Hayes discuss gambling in Nevada.

One has to log in to Lexology to read it:

Not all the BHFS LLP articles are for Lexology pro members only, so it is worth clicking through for some interesting info on igambling, lotteries, and sports betting.


And also, on mandates for experimental vaccines:

Which all wraps up nicely with the current proliferation of sweepstakes to incentivize what (so far) cannot be mandated:

CVS vaccination sweepstakes:

Kroger vaccination sweepstakes:

United Airlines vaccination sweepstakes:  Unvaccinated may also enter.
United Airlines' Probably Exemplary Terms and Conditions:
Be sure to read all the terms and conditions, and especially remember those all-important six words: "No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited."

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry, SPACE SNARK™ http://www.spacesnark.com/  http://www.rowenacherry.com

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Human Domestication

Here's a cartoon, funny in a slightly warped way, about the alleged negative consequences of Homo sapiens domesticating ourselves in the course of our evolution:

Yappy Lapdog Phase

Of course, the complainer's argument can be countered by the observation that tall, attractive people skilled at slaying lions aren't best suited to our present-day milieu. Contrary to popular belief, "survival of the fittest" doesn't necessarily (or even frequently) mean the dominance of the individual or group that can win a physical fight. "Fitness" refers to optimal adaptation to one's environment. For a social species such as ours, that environment is composed in large part of other people.

An article on human "domestication," with comparisons to the differences in personality between chimpanzees and bonobos:

How Humans Domesticated Themselves

In short, chimps are the more aggressive of the two species. Bonobos (formerly known as "pygmy chimpanzees") base their social structure more on peaceful interactions, often sexual. Not that regular chimps don't display cooperative, affectionate behavior, of course, but bonobos may be thought of as the more "domesticated" primates. While male bonobos can be aggressive, the females tend to keep them in check, an appealing example of gender balance among our closest animal relatives. The "friendliest male bonobos" are likelier to succeed than those who make enemies through aggressive dominance and have to stay on guard all the time, not to mention facing the disapproval of the females—a primate analogy to the concept of women's role in "civilizing" men, as in the nineteenth-century American West, maybe?

An anthropologist quoted in the article applies this premise to a variety of species (even plants, which cooperate with insects to spread pollen), including our own: "When you look back in nature and see when a species or group of species underwent a major transition or succeeded in a new way, friendliness or an increase in cooperation are typically part of that story." The article doesn't gloss over the dark side of human community-building, however. One method of enhancing cohesion within a group, sadly, is to capitalize on suspicion of other people from different groups. To overcome this inbuilt tendency to prejudice, we need to resist the temptation to "dehumanize" others who differ from ourselves.

Reverting to the cartoon character's complaint about humanity devolving from lion-slayers to accountants, consider Andy Dufresne, a banker, the unjustly condemned protagonist of Stephen King's "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (filmed as SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION): Andy isn't physically suited to fighting off the bullies and sexual predators among his fellow inmates (although he makes a valiant effort and sometimes succeeds). But his intelligence, quick wit, and financial expertise enable him to make himself indispensable to the guards and the warden, thus ensuring his survival and relative safety in the jungle-like environment of the prison.

Even before modern Homo sapiens evolved, evidence shows that some hominids took care of physically disabled members of their tribe, a clear indication that ever since we began to "domesticate" ourselves, attributes other than lion-slaying prowess have been valued.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Reviews 66 The Collegium Chronicles Novels of Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey

Reviews 66

The Collegium Chronicles

Novels of Valdemar


Mercedes Lackey

Reviews haven't (yet) been indexed.


For staying power in publishing, Mercedes Lackey is to be admired. It is very hard to grab and audience and keep their attention as they grow up, and then have them present your novels to their teenage children.

That has happened with my novels, so I know what a thrill it is when a "next generation" (and even a next after that) reader turns up on Facebook recommending a series to their friends.

Lackey has not only pulled that generational trick off, but has also grabbed the fans of other writers. In fact, I was introduced to Lackey's work by fans of my books, and yes, there is a resonance.

I find Lackey's style and substance entirely luminous and easy to read - easy to sink into the story - easy to like (or dislike) the Characters, and I always pick them up again if I have to put them down.

So I can understand how our fans overlap. 

The Collegium Chronicles are focused on young people just deciding on a direction in life, and starting to implement it. They are taking inventory of their talents, adding skills, training, reaching to be the best they can be. And these particular young people are positioned at the center of government of a large, prosperous Kingdom.

That Kingdom has an heir-apparent getting married and starting life -- right next to the Collegium characters.

Most of the fans of the Valdemar novels are not so centrally placed in affairs of State, or the Economy, or the spy game.  I expect we, the readers, are mostly content not to be embroiled in the spy game, or life-threatening action.  Being the target of assassins is not how we really want to live.

However, I just took a walk around my neighborhood -- suburban, single family homes, quiet HOA style place. And there was a forensic unit parked outside a neighbor's house dusting their car for prints.  I'd never seen or heard of anything like that in this neighborhood but adjacent ones have had car break-ins.

Today all of us, everywhere, resonate to the symphony of emotions being a Target Of Assassins evokes.

Mercedes Lackey nails that pea-soup of conflicting feelings in Book Three and Book Four of the Collegium Chronicles.

Her main characters have just been through having a barn burned down, potential riots, and being kidnapped and rescued -- ending off Book Three, Changes, with potential assassins still on the loose and enemy countries brewing trouble.

Book Four, (of Four) Redoubt, starts with a Royal Wedding filling the Collegium and the adjacent Palace Grounds with people (hopefully trustworthy), and the main Talented characters who are still just students filling the roles of adults of their future professions.

The main viewpoint Character, Mags, a Herald Trainee is known as a Hero because he rescued the kidnap victim and he's the "Harry Potter" of the field ballgame popular at the Collegium (where magic is taught and disciplined.)  He is secretly being trained as a spy, and has scored some promotions there, too.  

By the middle of Redoubt, another couple who have been hot for each other get married -- to solve some family-politics problems as much as because they want to build a life together.

The main Character, Mags, likewise has a love-interest but hasn't gotten serious enough by the middle of Book 4.

So Lackey is telling the story of how Relationships, generation after generation, shape the macro-political landscape within which we live.  That is pretty much what Sime~Gen is about -- how us hapless, no-account, individuals just hammering away at our personal and problematic lives, do shape and direct the course of History -- often in ways we will not live to learn about.

The thematic question is, "Do your Talents, Powers, or just abilities, determine your place in the scheme of things?  Or does your place in the scheme of things evoke the Power within you, your "super-power" should you choose to use it?

Are Heroes born? Made? Or some combination of the two with other variables amidst circumstances?

How much of what we accomplish in life is a matter of our own, personal, choice?  Is there such a thing as Luck? Or do you make your own Luck?  If so, what rules do you follow to craft an amenable sort of Luck for yourself and your family?  

Lackey's main character in the Collegium Chronicles, Mags, is an orphan raised as a slave in a Mining operation.  He escaped (yes, you must read the earlier novels in the Collegium Chronicles) or was rescued (or both, depending how you look at it) and was discovered. He had an advantage (a Companion -- horse-like sentient telepath), but he has re-imagined himself.

In Redoubt, Mags is beginning to re-craft his identity by conquering his (wildly illiterate) accent, and taking some pride in his appearance.

Like Harry Potter, Mags goes from the bottom rung of the disregarded kid to "fame and glory" climbing up each rung of the ladder by dint of ever strengthening Will. 

Mags hones his problem solving ability and judgement in fluid situations filled with deadly enemies, and becomes a more formidable adult with each triumph.  

In Redoubt, Mags already knows the difference between Lust and Love -- and is aware he feels Lust that is not Love (yet).  I think the reader sees deeper into Mags than Mags, himself, does, and I think the girl has made up his mind for him. But that's just Lackey's smooth writing. 

He's not the King, so it doesn't seem the good of the Kingdom depends on his choice of bride -- but the master theme of the Chronicles seems to be that family matters, Relationships shape society, economy, and politics over many generations. Who you marry matters.

That's a theme dear to my heart. Love Conquers All.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Sunday, May 23, 2021

You're In Glad Hands?

Handshakes are back!  Today, I am at the Amelia Island concours d'elegance, where classic cars and safe hands are very much top of mind and some of the world's best insurers of very valuable automobiles are much in evidence. 

One possibly should beware of bundling-type policies when wishing to insure a car for an agreed value.

Jamie Weiss, legal blogger for the firm Ellis & Winters LLP 's What's Fair blog writes about a classic car insurance policy that wasn't. 

Lexology link:

Original link:

It's a lengthy cautionary tale to be continued, but apparently a purchaser of insurance needs to do more due diligence than simply to take ones agent's word for something.

Andres Arrieta of the Electronic Freedom Foundation has an interesting little experiment going on concerning Flock, or a homophone thereof. It's not really to do with hands, unless one thinks of the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the treasonous animagus rat character gets a hand of chrome.

It is very much to do with trust, and online privacy.

Extending today's "hands" theme, legal bloggers William M. Hayes  and Joshua Kipnees for Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP give two thumbs down for deception in review-writing.  Apparently, rigged product reviews can be actionable false advertising.

Lexology link:

Original link:

The case in question was particularly egregious, and concerned nutritional supplements but for any influencer or creator or publicist tempted to write or solicit a deceptive review, this might be food for thought.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Whale Culture

Do animals have culture, defined as the customs of a particular social group? Not too long ago, established science would have answered with a firm negative. Now, however, several examples of animal behavior are widely recognized as cultural. They're not merely cases of animals imitating others whose actions they observe, but of behaviors passed from generation to generation within a group and specific to that group. For instance, there's the well-known example of macaques on Koshima Island in Japan washing sweet potatoes in a stream or the ocean before eating them. One young macaque, Imo, started this custom, and long after her death, members of that colony still practice that behavior. Among chimpanzees, some groups use purposely modified twigs to "fish" for termites, while chimps in many other bands don't. Some species of songbirds "learn dialects and transmit them across generations." Even bumblebees learn from more experienced colony members which flowers to choose.

An article in the May 2021 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, "Secrets of the Whales" (from which the above quote about birds comes), explores the cultural practices of whales and dolphins. (If you want to read this article and can't find a copy of the issue, maybe at the public library if it's no longer in stores, you can access it online only behind a paywall.) On the Pacific coast, northern and southern orcas have different greeting rituals, breaching habits, and the behavior or not of pushing "dead salmon around with their heads" (no reason given for this habit). Orcas in the two regions even vocalize with different "vocabularies." Yet in most ways the two populations are "indistinguishable," and their ranges overlap. Whale songs and other vocalizations vary from one group to another. Among humpback whales, new song arrangements that become popular spread over thousands of miles as other whales pick them up.

To traditional anthropologists, who considered culture—"the ability to socially accumulate and transfer knowledge—strictly a human affair"—the idea that animals could have culture would have "seemed blasphemous." Some biologists remain skeptical on this point. The majority, however, at least as surveyed in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article, are inclined to attribute this capacity to at least some animal communities over a wide variety of species. Modern zoology has undercut one after another of the supposedly unique human abilities. Toolmaking, language, and now culture no longer seem the sole possession of humanity. Hard-line materialists might draw the conclusion, "See, there's nothing special about us; we're mere animals, too." I prefer to see those discoveries as evidence that many animals aren't as simply "mere animals" as we've previously believed. They may have minds, although not the same as ours, and maybe—souls? As the article points out, "Whales reside in a foreign place we're just coming to understand." We've mapped the surface of the Moon far more extensively than the bottom of the ocean. With whales, we have the opportunity to delve into the lifestyles and thought processes of "sophisticated alien beings."

Good practice for meeting alien beings from planets other than our own!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How Long Should A Chapter Be?

How Long Should A Chapter Be

This may become a Part One

A Chapter should be long enough to complete its structure and set up the next chapter or end the book. A chapter ENDS on a CLIFF-HANGER or question prompt, and the next one starts with a narrative hook, narrative being the PLOT DEVELOPMENT on the because-line.

What does THAT mean? 

Like a "paragraph" a "chapter" has a structure defined by PLOT (not story). Chapters are composed of SCENES, which like "sentences" in a paragraph, have a syntax. To construct a series of scenes that add up to a chapter, you use "RISING ACTION" (a term from stage play structure). The plot must progress at a pace determined by the genre you are selling into. 

The pacing speed shifts are a matter of ART -- and it is the speed of pacing shifts that demarcate the Chapter Length. Some are short (like declarative sentences with punch), and others are long with depths to float in and rest from the hard-paced-action.  I define "action" not as characters hitting each other, but as "rate of change of Situation."  

A "Chapter" (like the whole novel) begins with a NARRATIVE HOOK crafted artistically from the previous chapter's end. A Chapter has a Beginning (conflict initiated), Middle (conflict progressed), and End (conflict resolved.) Leaving more questions to pursue into the next chapter -- the structure is the same for a novel-series, or a serializable novel, or a TV Series Story-Arc.  

To create your query package to a publisher, you extract the CHANGE OF SITUATION narrated in each Chapter and boil it down to one sentence. This demonstrates you understand the difference between Plot and Story -- and that publishers' advertising departments are looking to sell good PLOTS.  

You will make your "Name" as an author, your byline's popularity, on STORY, but it is PLOT that sells to someone who hasn't read your books yet (such as the publicity department and the cover artist.)  

Writing teachers use a variety of definitions for PLOT and STORY, but every selling author I know can discern the difference, no matter what they call those two elements. 

I learned this teaching at Worldcon Writing Workshops where three pros and three students all read the manuscripts of the three students, then the three selling pros analyze the manuscripts the way an editor would.  

I've done that workshop many times, and I've been tutoring new writers for decades. New student writers HAVE A STORY TO TELL. Rarely does a new student's first draft have a cleanly delineated PLOT.  

PLOT vs STORY definitions I use: 

PLOT = Sequence of Events tightly organized on what I call a "because line."  Because this was done, that happened: because that happened something else was done; because something else was done - this other thing happened.  CONCRETE EVENTS ON A BECAUSE-LINE is PLOT.  Some call it a narrative line.

STORY =  Emotional Meaning of Events To A Character  The plot-because-line organizes the responses of the Characters into a CHARACTER ARC. The POV or Main Character is the one whose story this is.  That's the story you are telling, and it has a Beginning, Middle, and END -- by the end of all these experiences, the Character has changed in some fundamental or spiritual way.  That is the Character Arc - and it defines which character is the Point of View Character.

The artistic glue that holds Plot and Story together into an Art-form  is THEME.  

I discuss all the elements of novels separately and in combination in my Tuesday posts on Blogger.  Here's one recent entry:


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Importance Of Being Backed Up

Which is nothing to do with the alimentary canal, nor with being Ernest.
Please forgive today's brevity. After four days since my second Covid shot, I am still near-prostrate.
Back Up Lesson #1:
If I had the wisdom and foresight and organization of Jacqueline, I would have had a draft blog or two written, saved, and scheduled.
Back Up Lesson #2:
DarkSide. Colonial. Ransomware. Nuff said.
Back Up Lesson #3
And this is copyright related.
Apparently, some particularly deep-thinking ransomware distributors are targeting businesses by emails with specious, but relatively well-written allegations of copyright infringement. Naturally, the specifics of the alleged copyright infringement are detailed in an attachment or link to a download. Techlicious's cautionary tale is well worth reading.
All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Quantitative and Qualitative

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column analyzes the difference between quantitative and qualitative measurements and the pitfalls of depending solely on the former:


He begins with examples from the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign became the epicenter of a COVID outbreak as a result of putting too much faith in an epidemiological model produced by "a pair of physicists." (The article doesn't mention why they were chosen to work the calculations instead of specialists in epidemiology.) The predictions didn't take into account the variables of human behavior, the "qualitative" element. The article cites contact tracing as another example of similar problems. Regardless of how accurate the math based on the data may be, do the infected people trust contact tracers enough to supply reliable data? Those who work with quantitative elements such as statistics and mathematical models have to restrict their research to elements that can be quantized. As Doctorow puts it, "To do math on a qualitative measurement, you must first quantize it, assigning a numeric value to it," a difficult and dubiously reliable process. (E.g., "How intense is your pain?" I never quite know how to answer that question on a scale of one to ten.)

Quantitative disciplines, as he summarizes the issue, "make very precise measurements of everything that can be measured precisely, assign deceptively precise measurements to things that can’t be measured precisely, and jettison the rest on the grounds that you can’t do mathematical operations on it." He compares this process of exclusion to the strategy of the proverbial drunk searching for his car key under the lamppost—not because that's where he lost it, but because that's where the light is.

Doctorow applies the principle to an extended discussion of monopolies, price-fixing, collusion, and antitrust laws. As an example of the potential injustice generated by "treating all parties as equal before the law," he mentions the designation of Uber drivers as "independent contractors." When treated as equivalent to giant corporations, those drivers are forbidden to "form a collective to demand higher wages," because that's legally classified as "price-fixing."

Although Doctorow doesn't mention writers, the same absurdly imbalanced restrictions can be made to apply to them. If an authors' organization promulgates a model contract and puts pressure on publishers to adhere to it, that's prohibited as "collusion" in restraint of trade.

While, according to Doctorow, "Discarding the qualitative is a qualitative act. . . . the way you produce your dubious quantitative residue is a choice, a decision, not an equation," that doesn't mean quantitative measures are useless or inherently evil. The quest for objectivity has its legitimate role—"just because we can’t rid ourselves of the subjective, it doesn’t follow that we must abandon the objective." Reliable empirically based outcomes result from balancing the quantitative and the qualitative components of the available evidence.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Reviews 65 Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs

Reviews 65

Mercy Thompson



 Patricia Briggs

Reviews haven't been indexed yet.  Search Reviews on this blog to find more.

Patricia Briggs has been mentioned in the following post on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration titled Use of Media Headlines.


The previous parts of Theme-Worldbuilding are linked at the top of the post and 21 parts of the Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series are  indexed here:


I've recently read STORM CURSED, #11 in the Mercy Thompson series.  Mercy is the lead, POV character, and could be viewed as a "Mary Sue" since she acquires the high regard of a vast variety of Beings as she plows through the obstacle course of her life.

She starts out as an underdog, well, under-were-coyote, and marries a werewolf Alpha, as she gains the high regard of a number of sorts of supernatural creatures.

In STORM CURSED, Mercy has to hammer her way through a major confrontation with Witches who she thought were "White" but turn out to be the worst of the "Black" magic users.

In other words, she has been hoodwinked, fooled, scammed.

We all know that feeling from all the spam phone calls and emails - some of which we (hopefully almost) fall for. You know what it feels like to be a Patsy, even if you've never been a Karen.


Now she knows the dangers and the bad actors, she has to vanquish them.

She gathers her allies (werewolf pack and all) and mops up the problem.

Why is it her problem? Because in a previous novel, she declared in public that she, and the Werewolf pack, would take charge of this Territory and forbid Black magic.

The objective is to be accepted by the human majority as a self-policing minority.  

I like this series because Mercy is a genuine person with depths who seems to grow through surmounting her challenges. There seems an underlying thematic reason why she, of all people, SHOULD run "point" on these operations.

Part of that reason is her ability to be open, emotionally bonded to people through her admiration of their better traits and opposition to their lesser propensities.  She improves people she befriends -- and all these "creatures" are people to her, complete people.

I think this series is popular because we see these issues of polarization of society, separating mixed-bag-type-people into camps or teams in order to stage a fight which is a distraction from the real issues underlying the conflict.

Mercy is aswim in the pea-soup mess her world is in, but forges a path toward unifying the disparate factions. 

I highly recommend this series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Saturday, May 08, 2021

Geeks Doing Good #SFWAauction

Science Fiction Writers of America is partnering with Worldbuilders to hold a week-long silent auction starting on May 10th from 12:00 pm Pacific and the auction site: http://bitly.com/sfwaauction.

A promotional graphic for the SFWA Silent Auction with details, SFWA and Worldbuilders Logos, and a green & black background featuring a fantasy-style forest.


The SFWA Fundraising Committee welcomes questions at Funding, and gives permission for all comers to share auction details with non-members, in fact with anyone who would like to bid generously on auction items such as virtual kaffeeklatsches with Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Amal El-Mohtar and many more.

Also being auctioned: one-on-one virtual career sessions with authors such as N.K. Jemisin, Holly Black, Maurice Broaddus and Catherynne M. Valente.  There are also career sessions with literary agents such as Seth Fishman, Sara Megibow and DongWon Song!

One can bid on virtual or written manuscript critiques for authors, agents and editors, for instance Lucienne Diver, Jason Sizemaore, Arley Sorg, Tobias S, Buckell, or Lynne M. Thomas.

And, much, much more.   If you don't plan to bid, but do wish to be supportive, please use #SFWAauction on social media to spread the word.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Recently I've watched several Tarzan movies, including two of the classic Johnny Weissmuller films. It's always annoyed me that this version of Tarzan is so inarticulate, speaking in broken English although he seems to understand the nuances of standard English as spoken by Jane. The 1984 production GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES portrays him as eventually learning to speak grammatically, although he remains reserved and laconic. In Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels, Tarzan not only learns French and English in the first volume (TARZAN OF THE APES) but also becomes fluent in multiple other languages over the course of the series. Moreover, while still living with his ape tribe, he teaches himself to read English from children's picture books found in his dead parents' abandoned cabin. Which of these representations of Tarzan's language acquisition is more realistic, though?

Real-life "feral children"—those who've grown up with limited or no normal human contact—seldom acquire fully developed language skills in later life. (From my cursory skim of Wikipedia entries on the topic, possibly some do, but that's uncertain.) The majority consensus among linguistic scientists maintains that human children have a critical period for learning to speak normally. The innate "language instinct" needs material to work with during that window. Everyone knows the story of Helen Keller's childhood and how she learned language from her "miracle worker" teacher. Keller, however, didn't become blind and deaf until the age of nineteen months, so she had been exposed to the spoken word and had probably started learning to talk. Therefore, she didn't totally miss the "window" of the critical period. In recalling the moment when she realized the meaning of the sign for "water," she wrote that she experienced "a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." The concept of language, then, wasn't completely new to her but came as a "returning thought" of "something forgotten."

With these principles applied to Tarzan's development, does he have the required exposure to a template for language during the critical period of infancy and childhood? In Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel, Tarzan is orphaned when too young to start talking to any meaningful extent. Since he's about a year old when his parents die, however, he would have heard conversations between them and begun to recognize some words, maybe even say one or two. So, like Helen Keller, he's exposed to language during the early imprinting stage. After his adoption by his ape mother, he grows up learning the speech of the great apes—the Mangani. It seems likely that the Mangani aren't any known variety of ape (certainly not gorillas, as in the Disney animated movie, because gorillas are explicitly mentioned as different from Tarzan's tribe) but rather, as Philip Jose Farmer suggests, an almost extinct "missing link" species. As portrayed in TARZAN OF THE APES and its sequels, they have a language, but a rudimentary one. It seems to consist entirely of concrete rather than abstract words, have a simple grammatical structure, and focus on present needs. The limitations of Mangani speech, however, wouldn't necessarily prevent Tarzan from learning fluent English as an adult. He might be compared to the children of pidgin speakers (people with no language in common who invent a simplified mode of communication, a "pidgin" dialect). In many known cases, those children have used their parents' speech as the basis for a fully developed "creole" language. Tarzan's achievement of teaching himself to read with no prior knowledge of what books are might strain the reader's disbelief, but as we can tell from how easily he picks up new languages in later life, the author portrays him as a natural linguistic genius.

In the Weissmuller movies, Tarzan's ape friends are played by chimpanzees, which wouldn't have a true language. Therefore, it actually makes sense that this version of Tarzan might learn to comprehend standard English without ever gaining the ability to speak it fluently. He missed the critical window. In GREYSTOKE, he communicates with the apes by sounds and gestures, but there's nothing to indicate that they're speaking a language in the human sense. So it seems improbable that he'd master English as thoroughly as he does in this movie, especially since he looks well under a year old when his ape mother adopts him. Personally, though, I prefer an articulate Tarzan even if suspension of disbelief has to be stretched to accommodate him.

Robert Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, of course, reverses Tarzan's situation. The biologically human "Martian," Valentine Michael Smith, grows up among creatures MORE intelligent than Earth-humans, with a more complex and nuanced language. Mike, like Tarzan, has to learn to become fully human, but from the opposite direction.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Reviews 64 - Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade

Reviews 64

Transgressions of Power


Juliette Wade

Transgressions of Power is not a Romance, but it is intrigue with Relationships as the story driver, political revolution as the plot driver.  It is a suspense novel set amidst palace intrigue, and all about "power."  

Wade has spent the most time, words, and energy on describing and illustrating the social stratification of a civilization, rather than examining the human compulsion to acquire power over others. Power is the goal of the characters, and the author assumes the reader understands everything she wants to say about power rather than explaining and discussing power-mongering in the root theme.

The external "threat" is a species of flying somethings that kill people on the planetary surface but don't kill people who are in caves, underground.  So the civilization has built buildings in a large cavern with a river flowing through it (noise does not seem to be a problem).  

One (of several) lead characters is a woman who has excelled at killing the flying things on the surface, and loves the outdoors, but has been "rewarded" by being assigned a prestigious ceremonial guard position entirely underground.

Other characters are nobles of this civilization struggling over the succession for the "throne" or dictator position while engineering a revolution to overturn the caste stratification.  

Everyone we meet interacting with these characters seems satisfied with the caste system, but some nobles want to destroy it. There is no explanation of where the system came from, why it should be overturned (other than that it is a system, and one gains power by destroying systems) or what army will do the overturning and what that army will replace the caste system with that is better (and why it is better).

The author spends most of the book describing the involuted caste system with forgettable names and functions and never addresses any of the obvious questions.

Thus the married couple of nobles trying to overturn the system seem vacuous.  They intend to arouse a populace that is satisfied with their system (even when it leaves them trapped in poverty).

The highly skilled soldier is not satisfied with the ceremonial position, learns something odd is going on among the nobles, and gets herself appointed to be a spy on the nobles.  Nothing in her character makes becoming a spy any sort of triumph or defeat of her personal purpose in life. She's not made of the fabric of a Hero such as we have discussed previously:


The lack of show-don't-tell discussion of these points encoded into the worldbuilding and thematic underpinnings, illustrated symbolically, throws this novel into a category I could only designate as a polemic or possibly a screed.  The novel seems to be expressing disgust for a caste system, a disgust based on nothing. This makes it seem that the author doesn't actually have an opinion of her own on the topic of caste-structured-society, but has simply adopted someone else's opinion.

In other words, the novel has no theme. It is a statement of opinion about caste and maybe somewhat about political power.  

Possibly future novels in the series could reveal that the author has thought all this out. Possibly these deficiencies could simply be lack of writing craftsmanship.  But this is the second published book in The Broken Trust series, and I expected more.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg