Used to be when I said that I was joking. Nowadays I’m mostly not. Mostly.
We are rapidly reaching the point where there’s nothing a woman can do for a man in the bedroom that justifies the risk of what she can do to him in the courtroom later.
Consider the following exchange (the left hand side–ignore the wisecracks on the right side. Or not. There’s a bit of dark humor to be found there).
So, a man can meet a woman, have every reason to believe he has her consent, have sex, and then later she can retroactively remove that consent making the act retroactively raped. Called out explicitly:
Fortunately, for the moment, this position is not a legal one, but law generally follows culture. Let this attitude become general to the point where people start electing lawmakers with that view, and the laws will follow.
And a certain segment of the population is trying to make it that way, and suggesting fabricating evidence to make things “work” that way even though the law does not:
And it only works one way. Only the man is adjudged guilty, never the woman as in the following:
“Women cannot rape”. Which explains:
Both of them were drunk. Only one of them was able to be the rapist and only one of them was able to be the victim.
Some people have suggested that limiting ones sexual encounters to within marriage. Well, that might improve ones odds somewhat but in the end it’s still a gamble. First off, “marital rape” is a thing:
And all of the above items including retroactive withdrawal of consent can be applied.
You might say that your wife (and it’s you husbands this is directed to because…have you read this far?) would never do anything like that. And you may be right. But the divorce courts are full of men who never thought their wives would “do something like that”. (And, yes, they’re also full of women who never thought their husbands would do something like that either, but the women generally don’t have to worry that their husbands will add rape charges to the issue. And women initiate divorces more than men.)
Purists insist that Chili should not have beans. I don’t want to get into that argument but for someone on a low-carb diet beans are anathema.
This is the latest iteration of a slow-cooker Chili recipe I’ve been tinkering with. It varies as the mood strikes or based on what I have on hand.
3 lb Ground beef
1 16 oz Jar salsa (pick one you like of the heat level you like–some of the other ingredients will tend to moderate the heat, others add to it)
1 14 oz can Fire Roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion.
2 Tbsp dried cilantro
1 tbsp Chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
In a large mixing bowl combine the ingredients. Mix well. Easiest way, without a good stand mixer, is to just get in with your hands and squish the ingredients together. Plastic gloves can keep things sanitary.
Line the crock of a 4-5 quart slow cooker with a liner bag. Pour the chili into the bag.
Cook on low 8-9 hours.
Stir well at the end. Serve topped with cheese.
Enjoy. It keeps well in the refrigerator for later heat and eat.
The Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, IL is just about 3 hours from here. So we decided to go give it a visit today.
Most of this is going to be pictures. But first a commentary. Conventional wisdom is that the result of the US Civil War was an unalloyed good. It preserved the Union, led to the end of chattel slavery in the US and began the road that led to full civil rights for various minority groups. And I would agree that those are good things. One can imagine the disaster had the US and Confederacy remained separate and each of those two nations taken different sides in the World Wars.
However, there is another side. When the US was founded, we were 13 sovereign states, with a central government both to be our “public face” to the rest of the world and to smooth interaction between the several States. But, within their own borders, each State being sovereign. “13 laboratories of Freedom” (34 by the time South Carolina became the first of the Southern States to secede).
The Civil War changed that. While the process was not instant, the Civil War reduced the States from states–“a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government”–to little more than provinces–“a principal administrative division of certain countries or empires”–in all but name. Instead of “These United States” it was “The United States.” With this began an inexorable increase in the size and scope of the Federal government, in its interference in the daily lives of the common citizen, and the increasing restrictions on individual liberty.
One could argue that there was no other way to preserve the union, particularly in hindsight. As I mention above, a United States and a Confederate States each taking a different side in one of the World Wars could well have been a disaster. However, I don’t think it was quite so cut and dried. For one thing, it took a very specific set of circumstances, circumstances that could not last, to make the “slave economy” viable. It could not last. And while the Confederate Constitution enshrined slavery, once establishing secession as a viable option for States there would be nothing stopping a Confederate State, once the changing economy renders it impossible to even pretend that slavery is economically viable, from seceding in turn from the Confederacy and rejoining the Union. I doubt the Confederacy would have lasted long as a separate nation.
But it didn’t happen that way so we’ll never know.
There’s a whole lot more that could be discussed but that’s enough for now. On to the pictures.
A little extra for people who have been reading my Knights of Aerioch series: the story of the Gods and the creation of the world and its early days.
Many men tell the tale of the Gods and the Origin of Days. Some tell more. Some tell less. Some give the Gods different names. But all agree that there were first three, and from each of those three came three more.
This is the tale as it was told in Aerioch of old.
The beginning of days
In the beginning there was darkness. And the darkness was without form. The darkness could not be everywhere, for there was no everywhere. There was no place. There was no time. There was simply the darkness. The darkness was all, and all was the darkness.
From the darkness, three lights arose. And the lights knew themselves as different from the darkness. And the three lights knew themselves as different from each other. And the first light beheld the other two and said, “I am a light in the darkness. There are other lights, in other places, and they are different from me.” And so the first light knew that there was place. And the other two lights saw the first light and they, too, knew that there was place.
And the first light said, again, “I will go from this place to the places of the other lights. And I will see if they know themselves as I know myself. And I will see if they know the darkness as I know the darkness.”
And so, the first light came to the other two lights, and the three lights came together. And when the three lights came near to one another, the first light said, “I name myself Eranah. In me is the power of all that will be but is not now.” And as Eranah spoke, proclaiming that there are things that are not, and things that will be, so did she speak of time. And thus time came into being. And as time became a thing that was, her power grew less. And so it would be forever after. For as more things came to be, less there would be of things that will be and were not.
The second light then spoke, for he had gained in power as Eranah had spoken. “I am Jandak,” said he, “In me is the power of all that is.” And yet, Jandak’s power was slight, for as yet the darkness and the three lights and place and time were all that was.
“I have no name,” said the third light, in a whisper scarce having the strength for mighty Eranah to hear. “My strength is in what was, but is no more, but all that ever was yet remains. And so my strength is naught.”
And so the three lights remained and were not alone. And the three lights were the first Gods. And where the three Gods abode, the darkness was no more. And The Nameless One grew in strength for the darkness that was not.
The three Gods counseled together. Though they were three, yet they knew loneliness. And loneliness was. And Eranah’s power grew less and Jandak’s more.
And it came to pass that Eranah spoke to the others. “We three are alone in this place. Near to us, the darkness is no more, but beyond we know of naught but darkness. But, behold, we three did arise from the darkness. Let us then, seek through the darkness for other lights, that we may no longer know loneliness.”
Jandak’s voice rose in agreement. “If my sister Eranah so wills, this will I do. For as more comes to be, so will Eranah’s strength fade and mine increase.”
“Of what good is power when there is loneliness,” Eranah said. “Since time came forth at my words it has weighed heavily with only we three to share it. Let us, then, bring an end to this loneliness even if it shall be that my power shall be reduced.”
“If the loneliness that is becomes no more, then shall my power increase,” was all that The Nameless One said.
Eranah kept the words of The Nameless One in her heart and was troubled.
Lieutenant Steve Pomerantz, US Navy, raced above the waves in his Seahawk helicopter. No dipping sonar this time. Instead, the helicopter carried a full load of Hellfire missiles.
“All secure back there?” Pomerantz called into the intercom. The helicopter bounced lightly in the turbulence.
“We’re good, LT,” Geoffrey Torgersen, the sensor operator, said. “Although the doc’s looking a bit green.” Silence for a moment then. “No. Here.”
Pomerantz winced at a burst of static.
“I’m here,” Dr. Thomas Sanderson said. “Most of me. I think you left my stomach back on the Truman.”
“Good,” Pomerantz said. “Not much use for it out here. You can pick it up again when we get back to the carrier.”
He switched to the radio and glanced down at the commo “cheat sheet” strapped to his left thigh. “Hound Dog Three. This is Gonzo One, over.”
“Gonzo. Hound Dog.” The pilot of the helicopter currently tracking Big Blue responded.
“Hound dog, we’ve got a VIP here wanting another look at Big Blue. A real close look. Status on Big Blue?”
“Gonzo, Hound dog. Big Blue is still deep. Two hours since last breach. Should be coming up soon. Oh, and Gonzo, Truman briefed me on the mission. Better you than me, buddy.”
Pomerantz laughed. “Hound Dog, look at the bright side. I’ll never have to buy another drink so long as I live.”
The other pilot laughed. “Roger that, Gonzo One. Roger that. Hold one.”
Pomerantz glanced circled to port, keeping his speed high.
“Steve, fuel,” Rodriguez said over the intercom.
Pomerantz glanced at the instrument panel. “Roger, Charlie. We’re good for now.”
“Gonzo One, Hound Dog Three. Big Blue is coming up. I say again, Big Blue is heading for the surface.”
“Coordinates, Hound Dog?”
The pilot of Hound Dog Three read off a set of map grid coordinates.
“Charlie?” Pomerantz said over the link to the copilot.
Ensign Charlie Rodriguez tapped on the controls of the nav system, entering the coordinates.
“Hold tight,” Pomerantz said into the general intercom, warning not just Rodriguez, but Torgersen and Sanderson. He pulled into a tight turn, circling about five hundred meters from the spot that indicated Hound Dog Three’s best guess at where Big Blue would surface.
The plates broke the surface. Pomerantz shoved the cyclic stick all the way forward, adjusting the collective to maintain altitude. He veered outside his previous circle in preparation for veering back toward Big Blue.
The head came up. Pomerantz brought the helicopter around, barreling headlong at the giant creature. “Hit him, Charlie, right in the snout.”
At Pomerantz’ left, Rodriguez fired one of the Hellfire missiles. The missile flashed across the distance to explode just below Big Blue’s left eye socket.
Big Blue opened his mouth and roared, a strangely high-pitched sound from so large a creature. Pomerantz pulled to the right, keeping his speed high. As he turned, Big Blue dropped behind where he could see from the pilot’s seat.
“It’s staying on the surface,” Torgersen said. “If I had to guess, I’d say it’s treading water.”
“Shooting that goo yet?” Pomerantz asked.
“Nothing yet. I think it’s looking for what bit it.”
“Something that size,” Sanderson broke in. “It would take time for nerve impulses to travel, for its brain to process them. It may very well be confused.”
“Then let’s confuse it some more,” Pomerantz said. “Charlie. Can you put one down its throat?”
“I can sure try,” Rodriquez responded.
“Then here we go.” Pomerantz pulled the helicopter around again, coming in low, nearly skimming the tops of the swells. Big Blue roared again and two Hellfire missiles lanced out from the Seahawk. One missed entirely but the other flew straight into Big Blue’s mouth.
Yet again, Big Blue roared, but this time a luminous stream shot out of his mouth. The stream swept toward them. Pomerantz hauled up on the collective and back on the cyclic. The helicopter raced for the sky and the stream passed under them. At the apex of their climb, Pomerantz kicked the right pedal. The helicopter pivoted, turning nose down and back the way they had come. Pomerantz leveled out and again trimmed for high speed run.
“Coming back this way!” Torgersen called. “High.”
Pomerantz shoved the collective down. The helicopter dropped, avoiding the return sweep of the luminous stream.
“Fuck! It’s following us.”
At Torgersen’s warning, Pomerantz once again pointed the nose skyward, this time he kept going. For an instant he could see the sea through the spinning rotor. His hands moved of their own accord. The world spun about them and, an instant later, the helicopter flew upright once more.
“He’s going under!” Torgersen called. “We did it.”
“Did he tag us?” Pomerantz asked.
“Instruments still good,” Rodriguez responded. “Engine and transmission smooth as glass. We made it.”
Pomerantz cut their speed and glanced at the fuel gauge. Still good but… He dropped the helicopter into ground effect to conserve fuel. He turned in a slow circle until he spotted Big Blue’s dorsal plates from the right side window.
He scowled. Something did not seem right. The plates were cutting through the water, not… “Oh, shit!” Before he could more than begin to climb away, Big Blue’s head burst out of the water. A luminous stream shot in their direction.
Pomerantz frantic climb evaded direct contact with the stream but the helicopter went silent except for the chirrop of the still turning rotors. “Fuck!” Pomerantz shouted. “Geoff! Raft! We’re going down.” With practiced hands he put the helicopter into auto rotation. In the distance he saw Big Blue sink beneath the waves.
Pomerantz swore as the helicopter descended toward the water. “That’s two helicopters you owe me, motherfucker.”
When an accidentally detonated nuke from a stolen submarine releases something never before seen, Sea Hawk pilot Lieutenant Steve Pomerantz is sent to investigate. He finds a blue-green monster ten times the size of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex and seemingly impervious to every weapon in mankind’s arsenal.
Earthquakes in the South Pacific, at a location dubbed as the most remote spot on Earth, raise tsunamis all along the West Coast. Air Force Captain Jamal White, pilot of a C-130 Hercules is pulled off of search and rescue duties to ferry two scientists to investigate. What they find is a new continent arisen from the deep. And on that continent something stirs, bringing terror and madness in its wake.
Two monsters, one from the frozen North Atlantic, one from the remote South Pacific, on a collision course with the survival of mankind hanging in the balance.
In other places I’ve made it pretty clear that I lean sharply libertarian and that the role of government should be sharply limited. “To preserve these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That’s it. Going beyond what’s necessary to “secure these rights” is to go beyond “just powers.”
As I point out in earlier blog posts, a certain level of government actually helps to secure the basic rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Obviously, we are far, far beyond that point. To get there we need to cut government back, way back.
Here’s where I part company with many Libertarians. They want to do it in one fell swoop. Every part of government that is not part of the minimum necessary “to secure these rights” (which some consider to be “all of it”) must go. Now.
That, however, may not be a good idea. Oh, the end goal of getting rid of most of what government does may be a laudable one but the question is how.
Consider this analogy. A man has been shot with a number of arrows and is lying there like a meat pincushion. The wounds, if properly treated, are such that he can survive and heal. If left as his he’ll bleed to death.
Some folk have the instinct to jerk out all the arrows since they’re what caused his wounding.
Very foolish that. Those arrows are also plugging the holes so he doesn’t quickly bleed out.
This is where we are with government. It’s bleeding free society to death, slow or fast depending on your perspective but it’s also “plugging the holes”.
Consider what President Dwight Eisenhower said about Social Security and other programs: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
Eisenhower was not endorsing Social Security and those other programs. No, he was pointing out the reality that so many people had grown dependent on them that people would rise in such outrage that the “offending” party would be voted out of every office they hold, from President all the way down to dog catcher, and never be heard from again.
And the plain fact is that many more people are dependent on many more government programs than ever before. Cut the program and people will suffer, in the short term at least. Maybe, probably, they would if given time adjust to the new situation and the economic growth that comes from the increased freedom and less tying up of the economy caused by the government passing money back and forth from hand to hand with no new products and services to show for it would improve their lot. But there’s the problem “given time”. Most people will only see their immediate hardship. As the line says from the movie Annie (the 1982 version; I haven’t seen the 2014 version and don’t intend to) “People don’t eat in the long run.”
Thus, while reducing the size of government is a good thing–indeed, it’s something that must happen if we’re to remain anything resembling a free and prosperous country–great care must be taken in how its done. We must be prepared to deal with the “bleeding” that will come from removing each “arrow” lest instead of a healthy, prosperous nation we end up with a exanguinated corpse.
Recognizing this, of course, makes me a horrible “statist” who doesn’t care about freedom. Or so I’ve been told.
Another ramble because this is a somewhat emotional outburst.
The date, December 8, 1941.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great sadness that I announce the entirely understandable attack yesterday on the Pearl Harbor Imperial Aggression Base, by rightfully outraged Japanese freedom fighters. As we look at the results of this courageous effort by the Japanese we have to ask ourselves what provoked it? Was it Japanophobia? What it the American Presence in the Philippines and other areas Japan claimed as part of the Greater East Asia Co Prosperity Sphere? Or was it our refusal to sell to Japan the oil needed for their efforts to liberate Manchuria and China from their Manchurian and Chinese overlords?
We will probably never know the true cause for this random act of workplace violence. All we know is that hate can never end hate. We must answer this Japanese action with love and kindness. We must have empathy for them. Clearly the problem is a lack of jobs and a poor economy driving them to violence. Only if we share our own wealth and industrial might–but do so in a way that makes no changes to their culture which changes would be Cultural Imperialism and give the more reason to attack us–can we have peace.
Therefore, I am asking Congress to draft an unconditional surrender as of this date.
Sound ridiculous? To most of you, I’m sure it does. Of course, there are a few people who actually agree with all of the excoriation of America in the above paragraphs.
However as ridiculous as the above sounds, by just changing a few details it could be a good summary of what many in the media and the “intelligentsia” say whenever there is an Islamist attack on the West. What did we do to deserve it? How did we provoke it? Empathize with the attackers. Love them. “Share” our wealth with them (but not in any way that might influence their culture). And, above all, be very, very careful to avoid “Islamophobia”.
First off, before I go any farther, let me just say that my heart goes out to the victims of the Manchester bombing. May Frigga guard and keep them.
But please, don’t just offer prayers. There are charities set up to help: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TogetherWithManchester
The Manchester bombing is not the first time terrorists have targeted children. But to be blunt, most of the cases happen in war torn areas where violence is so common that even horrible atrocities get “lost in the noise”. Humans are tribal. It’s no coincidence that so many cultures’ names for themselves was some variation of “the people” making all others “not people”. Even the word “barbarian” was originally an onomatopoeia from “bar bar” the sound a sheep makes: people not speaking Greek (at that time and place) not being fully human.
Thus, the simple truth is that the vast majority of people will feel less affected by people far away with whom they have little connection. The poison and acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan? A statistic to most people. (It takes a particular individual given an individual story to draw people’s attention–thus Malala Yousafzai’s becoming a cause celebre). Boko Haram’s many attacks and kidnappings. A hashtag campaign? Really? Taliban slaughter in a school in Pakistan? War is horrid but it’s far away. Beslan? The same.
This tribal nature is not an admirable trait, perhaps, but it is there. The great wonder of Western civilization is not how tribal we remain, but how much we’ve ovecome that tendency. Imperfectly to be sure, yet still the gold standard for the rest of the world.
But it is still there. So when it’s some of “ours” that are the victims of attack, particularly those we feel a deep and instinctive need to protect–our children–the reaction is deep and visceral. You might say we should feel as deeply for the others and I might agree, But what were we supposed to do about it? I may have decried the hashtag campaign above, but what were we supposed to do? Mount a military operation and invade Nigeria in an effort to recover the kidnapped girls? Without local resources, good local intelligence, or any of the things that might actually make such an operation a success?
Some folk say we should never interfere with other countries’ internal matters so long as they don’t directly threaten us. And a strong case can be made for that. Others say that we can’t just sit by and let atrocities go without limit and not do something. And a case can be made for that, too. As the old expression goes, “Reasonable men may disagree.” But even in the latter case, we can’t interfere in everything. We have to pick and choose. And often pragmatic considerations have to control. However, I submit that an operation that cannot succeed is not only a failure from practical grounds but from moral ones. Throwing away lives and resources for nothing is evil in itself.
So, in most of these cases, there’s really nothing we can do about them, so to protect themselves and get on with their lives most people “tune it out” to a certain extent. If a person felt the full weight of every death anywhere the same as if it were that of a close friend or loved one, they’d be crushed by it, completely unable to function. So they don’t. They can’t.
So when something happens closer, we feel it more. Here in the US we share a lot of common history and culture with Great Britain. Our differences may sometimes loom large, but we remain brothers, or perhaps as one person put it, “The US and Great Britain are a couple that broke up but still love each other.”
So this Manchester attack hits harder than others because these were, in a sense “our people”. Admirable? Perhaps not. But all too human.
And yet after the attack we get calls that we need to avoid Islamophobia. Don’t blame Islam. It’s just a minority of Muslims. This isn’t real Islam.
On the other hand it wasn’t all Japanese either. The imperialists in Japan were a very small minority. Most people just wanted to get along with their daily lives. It wasn’t all Germans either. Most people weren’t Nazis, at least not ideological Nazis (as opposed to folk who joined the party for pragmatic believers without being true believers).
Well, you know what? If these guys really are a tiny minority then the Islamic world should act like it. These radicals should be on the run and in hiding, or reduced to holding pathetic marches where counter-protesters outnumber them usually by an order of magnitude. The radicals should be terrified of being found out by other Muslims because they’d be turned in, convicted, and face the full penalty of the law.
In short, Muslims need to treat their radicals the same way Christians in the Western World (and I’m not a Christian–understand that right here) treat theirs.
In which I combine a couple of my old posts and also add some new thoughts interspersed along the way.
I have been reading Terry Brooks, particularly the Shannara series recently. Say what you will, the man is able to write best seller after best seller after best seller. I’d really like to know how he does it.
There is a tendency among certain segments to dismiss popular fiction, a tendency expressed in the view that if it’s popular it can’t be good.
How do you figure?
Some make the claim that the “secret” to writing for a popular audience is to “dumb down” the story, to write to the “least common denominator”. As one wag put it rather crudely “shit floats.” However, if it were that simple a lot more people would be doing it.
That, of course, can be trivially dismissed. If it were that simple, then anyone could to it and sleep on big piles of money from the sale of same. Excuses abound for why proponents of that theory don’t do it but as we go on and on and so very few do demonstrate that “anyone could do it”, it become eminently clear that the reason they don’t is simply that they can’t. The “theory” doesn’t hold water.
Another claim is that it’s all from the “push” the publishers give certain works. And there is some truth to that. A publisher, and the book distributors, strongly backing a title, selling it aggressively to bookstores (particularly those bookstores that are counted for best-seller lists), getting end-cap displays (those displays at the ends of rows of bookshelves which feature certain works most prominently) and so forth can drive a lot of sales for a particular title . . . for a while. But sooner or later, and usually sooner, people start noticing that a book is annoying or offensive or, worst of all, boring, and stop buying it. Of course, by this time the publishers have found their Next Great Thing and are pushing that.
But popular fiction tends to stay in print. People keep buying it even after the “push” (if it ever had any) is over.
Some people dismiss popular fiction as lacking meaning. I happen to think otherwise. You can’t write popular fiction that sells to large numbers of people, that continues to sell long after any “push” it may have gotten has faded, that continues to sell long after any “derivativeness” that let it ride on “coattails” of something else (Brook’s entree, The Sword of Shannara was actually marketed “for people who’ve read The Lord of the Rings and are looking for something else to read”) has been expended, without touching something in the psyche of the vast body of the human race. Some psychologists might call that something “the collective unconscious.” Whatever you call it, it’s something that you have to touch in order to be popular as I have described here, not just short term sales driven by lots of hype but to convince people, lots of people, to shell out money that could buy a meal, a six pack of beer, a couple of steaks to grill, or whatever else they might spend that money on and to keep convincing people to do that, to recommend their friends do that, to show it to their kids and have their kids do that in their turn.
I’ve used Terry Brooks and The Sword of Shannara here. Another example is Heinlein’s juveniles. I’ve had some people tell me that they “don’t work” anymore as juveniles because society has changed too much. Well, that hasn’t been my experience. Perhaps they weren’t so dated when I first read them back in the mid seventies (or perhaps they were–it was known that Heinlein’s Mars and Venus were no longer possible and Have Space Suit, Will Travel was already Alternate History rather than future fiction). On the other hand, I read them to my daughter in installments as bedtime reading (got a little distracted before getting to Citizen of the Galaxy, which isn’t one of my favorites anyway, and I’m not happy with the new/original ending to Podkany of Mars so I’m reluctant to include it) and she loves them. She even, without prompting, echoed my sentiment that Have Space Suit, Will Travelbegs for a sequel. Such a pity that there’s probably no writer alive who could do it justice.
Those books worked because they touch something deep inside people. And even though “society has changed” (It Says Here) and the stories are “dated” yet they still can touch a nine year old girl so that she wants more.
To be popular, and especially to remain popular, fiction must strike something within people’s hearts and minds. It must resonate with many people. It must tap into the heart of what makes us human. Jung might call that the “collective unconsciousness.” (Please, that’s just a label. Don’t take it as an endorsement of any of Jung’s “theories.”) Whatever you call it, it’s something that, without which, fiction cannot be popular.
That something can be base in nature–appeal to sex drive and titillation, for instance–and some areas are certainly easier to get that emotional connection than others. But that very ease only speaks to how very powerful the emotional drive in humanity is. Porn, to use the classic example, is an economic powerhouse precisely because the drive is so powerful. The danger with that one is that it is so powerful that in stories that evoke it everything else gets lost behind the power of the sex impulse. And the stories become only about sex, with the rest being mere window dressing.
But another drive, one nearly as powerful, is that toward what we can call agency. Whether a person has control over their own life, or not. I note that a lot of “literary” fiction is about the lack of agency. They are overwhelmed by events, swept along by circumstances over which they have no control. Popular fiction often takes the other side. People’s fates are to a greater extent their own. While they may face enormous challenges, their actions matter, if only to them. Agency is at the core of both events of the story (plot) and character development.
Let’s take another example, the late Kenneth Bulmer’s “Dray Prescott” series (Bulmer writing as Alan Burt Akers, writing as Dray Prescott–the conceit being that Akers is transcribing tapes recorded by Prescott.) It’s an old style “Sword and Planet” romance, probably the last great sword and planet series. One of the common themes is that the main character, Dray Prescott would be dropped into a situation where he would often be captured and enslaved. But in the course of the story arc he would escape, overthrow the slavemasters, gain power and prestige, and then get dumped into another circumstance where he’d start the whole thing all over again. It’s all about attempts to deny him agency and his fight to not only regain it for himself but to help others win it for themselves. He has three primary motivators: to win back to his love, the incomparable Dellia of Valia, Dellia of the Blue Mountains, Delia of Delphond, to prepare the cluster of continents in which most of the action takes place to defend itself against the reiving Shanks from the other side of the world, and to end the practice of slavery.
Now, some people might claim that that “agency” idea is unrealistic. That people have little control over their own fates that they are swept along by events beyond their control. Perhaps. In some places and some circumstances. But he idea of agency is deeply rooted even in classical literature. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, for instance, the tragic characters build their horror with every choice they make. the events are only tragic because of the choices the characters make. If Hamlet had made choices of the kind Othello would have made, he would have carved Claudius like a suckling pig the very night the ghost told him of his murder. If Othello had made decisions of the kind Hamlet would have made, he would have delayed and waited, and checked and double checked until Desdemona’s innocence was at last revealed. In neither case would the story have been a tragedy, not in the classic sense. They built their prisons, brick by brick.
And so, it would appear, agency is at the heart of much, if not most “popular fiction” (genre or not). It also appears to be at the heart of that “classical literature” that people actually read and enjoy. Shakespeare survives not because professors of literature declare his works as “literature” but for the simple reason that through the centuries people watched and read and were swept away in his work. He was among the popular fiction of his day . . . and to the present time, in fact.
And thus, we see that popular fiction is literature, in the true meaning of the term, in that which touches the heart, the mind, and the soul. Without that touch, nobody would read it. Without that touch, nobody would buy it.
That is what I want to do with my fiction. Now if I can just figure out how Heinlein did it and how Brooks does it today.
I have twin problems. One is that I suck a promotion. Get advice from someone who’s actually a professional marketer and I’m completely clueless how to turn that advice into specific actions to take on my part.
OTOH, I’d rather have weak promotion and a slower career growth than be “that guy”. So I’m even afraid to do too much promotion on my own pages for fear of driving people away.
The most difficult part of this business, for most of us, is promoting ourselves and our books. It’s also the most important, if we want to be read and paidfor our work. This applies to both the traditionally published, and the independent. The book is published, but how are readers to know about it?
There are many paths to a reader. The best is the same in any business, because it is also the strongest. I did it myself, yesterday. I tried to use my First Reader’s 30+ year old Kirby vacuum, and to my great frustration, it left as much…
During their escape from the Schahi, Kreg and Shillond discover that their companion, Kaila, has been bespelled and turned against them. Shillond’s magic was able to render Kaila unconscious and they were able to flee into the darkness, carrying her with them:
“Is everything ready?” Kreg asked Shillond as he pulled brush to block the entrance to the small cave. They had been fortunate in finding the cave. It offered a place to hide from the soldiers searching for them.
The cave mouth sat halfway up a large hill. It opened onto a small shelf of level ground above a steep slope of loose, broken rock.
“Ready enough,” Shillond said. “I’ll have to awaken Kaila in order to make the tests.” He had renewed the sleeping spell on her several times over the past two days. “Stand ready. She is likely to be violent and I am unsure whether her bonds will restrain her.”
“Cripes, if we had any more rope to use…”
“But we don’t.” Such as they had, they had stolen from farmyards in the moonless hours of the night. “Be alert. I will begin.”
Shillond began to chant. In a few seconds Kaila’s eyes flew open. They flashed with pure hatred, a look so grim as to make her usual expression seem positively cheerful. Her muscles bulged. The ropes creaked under the strain, but held. Barely. Kreg shuddered before Kaila’s stare as Shillond finished the spell.
“We are lucky.” Shillond turned to Kreg. “It is a compulsion rather than a possession. Unfortunately, it is a greater compulsion rather than a lesser.”
“I should be able to break it.” Shillond shook his head. “It will be difficult. Perhaps you should wait outside.”
“Not meant for the eyes of us mortal types, huh?” Kreg regretted the jest at the pain in Shillond’s eyes. He held up a hand. “Sorry. I’ll go.”
“Do not reenter the cave,” Shillond said. “That would break the wards and release forces you cannot imagine.”
Kreg thought about the weapons of his own world and thought he could imagine more than Shillond thought. He nodded and backed out of the cave’s small opening.
Outside, Kreg sat and waited. In the distance he could see the light of the army’s watchfires, pinpricks of light in the darkness. Shillond had said that such an army as had been encamped before the castle was not raised in a day, but two days had seen the apparent raising of an even larger army. Kreg did not doubt that the army was on its way to reinforce the forces attacking Aerioch.
Seeing the apparent size of the army, Kreg frowned. Shillond had explained that Schah was a small country, not in area but in population. Although the land area was similar to that of either Aerioch or Shendar the land of Schah was much drier. As a result, population was sparser.
The armies they had been fielding numbered hosts larger than Schah’s entire population and, judging by the army that was massing below, there did not seem to be any end to them. Those people had to come from somewhere, but where? Kreg had suggested Chanakra along with the wizards, but Shillond had said that Chanakra was an even smaller country than Schah.
So lost in thought was Kreg that he nearly missed noting that several of the watchfires were moving. They also flickered a bit much for watchfires seen at a distance.
Kreg jumped to his feet. Those were not watchfires. Those were torches, and they were moving closer.
“Shillond!” Kreg drew his sword. “We’ve got company!”
Kreg’s gaze flitted from shadow, to rock, to twisted bush hoping to find something with which to stave off the attack. He saw nothing. First, sticking his sword point first in the ground he gripped his bow, nocked an arrow, and estimated a target under one of the torches. He loosed and the arrow disappeared in the darkness. A moment later a cry of pain rewarded Kreg and the torch fell to the ground. He loosed another arrow after the first but this one missed.
Kreg sent arrow after arrow speeding into the approaching band. Twenty arrows he loosed. Seven men fell, dead or wounded. At least ten more were still approaching. They had reached the base of the slope and would have to scramble up it to reach Kreg.
Kreg plucked his sword from the ground and drew himself to his full height. “Come on, you bastards! I may die tonight, but I’ll take a few of you with me.”
He stood at the edge of the slope where he would have solid footing while the men approaching him would still be on the scree.
The first of the men arrived. Kreg thrust, catching the man through the throat as he scrambled for footing on the loose rocks. After parrying the next man’s attack, Kreg drove back with a riposte as the third began to clamber to the side in an effort to outflank Kreg. He sliced past the second’s guard and sidestepped to deal with the third. Numbers four and five split up, working Kreg between them.
Kreg managed to drop the third just as the larger of the two moons chose to peak from behind a cloud and bathe the scene in a ruddy glow. He turned to face four, unable to avoid leaving his back to five. While Kreg dealt with four, he heard a shout behind him. Something warm and wet thumped against his back, causing him to lose his balance. As he stumbled, he threw out his arms for balance. By chance rather than design, Kreg’s sword caught four in the ribs. Four dropped.
Kreg turned to deal with the others and saw only bodies. Over them stood Kaila, clad in buff tunic and high leather boots. She returned his gaze with a grim smile.
“Again, I owe you thanks,” she said.
At that moment Kreg thought her the most beautiful woman who ever lived. He smiled. “So who’s keeping score?” He gestured at the bodies at her feet. “As I see it, you just saved my life–again.”
Shillond crawled out of the cave. He stood and dusted himself.
“As you can see,” he said, “the spell worked.” He looked around at the carnage. “It also seems success could not have been better timed.”
“No argument on that one.” Kreg sank to the ground. Near his right leg rolled the object that had struck him in the back–the severed head of number five. With a sigh, he told himself that he was too tired to be bothered. He would take the time to be sick later.
Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.
Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!