Why Science Fiction? A Blast from the Pas

A slightly modified version of one of my very first posts over on my old blogger site.

I write mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy, although these days more fantasy than science fiction.  So why these genres in particular?

I started as an inveterate reader of SF.  That all got its start back when I was first reading.  In first Grade the reading material was boring.  Boring.  Boring.  Boring.  One half of the class was reading about this stupid “Dick” and his stupid sister “Jane” (my mother had taught me to read at home and I was reading the Childcraft encyclopedias for entertainment).  The other half of the room was reading an equally insipid book about “Tom”.

Sometime about this time I was introduced to a picture book about a trip to the moon that appeared to be based on von Braun’s old Colliers series. [I have since found that the book was “You Will Go to the Moon” by Mae and Ira Freeman, Ed.] That got me started.  About the same time I remember watching coverage of several Apollo missions on TV.

A couple years later we moved and I changed schools and in the classroom library had a bunch of the “Tom Swift, Jr.” books.  This was the first Science Fiction I read that I knew as Science Fiction.  And from that point in the school and public library I started looking for Science Fiction.

The next year I got introduced to others, including Heinlein.  The first ever Heinlein book I read was Rocket Ship Galileo.  I began looking for anything with his name attached to it from that point which led to my finding my all time favorite book–still is to this day–“Have Space Suit Will Travel“.

All of this stuff ignited in me a burning desire to go into space.  I wanted to go into orbit, walk on the moon, see the moons of Mars pass overhead from the Martian deserts.  And the way to get there was to become an astronaut.  But in Fifth grade I started noticing a difficulty seeing the chalkboards at school.  This got worse and worse until in 7th grade I finally got glasses.  Given the standards of the time, where only military (or ex military) test pilots could become astronauts and that to be a military pilot (let alone a test pilot) one had to have perfect vision, that put paid to that idea.

And so Science Fiction filled the hole of the dream that could never come true.  I could never go, but I could at least read about it.  From that point on SF totally dominated my reading.  Some years later I started branching out a bit and developing more “rounded” tastes but it remains SF that I come back to when I read for fun.

So when I started writing, I started writing SF since that’s just the way my mind worked by that point.

My introduction to fantasy was a bit different.  A friend of mine handed me a book and said “Here, read this.” He was so serious about it that I didn’t dare refuse.  The book was “The Hobbit”.  Soon, I had read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And, a few years later, I came across a book marketed as “for people who have finished The Lord of the Rings and are looking for something else to read.” Yes, “The Sword of Shanarra” was really marketed that way.  And while Mr. Brooks seems to get a lot of hate in certain segments of fantasy fandom, he’s probably laughing about that all the way to the bank as he turns out best seller after best seller after best seller.  In any case, Mr. Brooks’ books showed me that there was more Fantasy out there and so I added that to my reading.

One of the things I liked about both SF and the Fantasy I was reading is that the characters generally mattered.  What they did had an influence on the world far beyond what a high school student from a poor family like me could ever realistically hope to achieve.  This was much what drew me to superhero comics and some of the other things I was reading.  This was so different from the “literature” I was being assigned as reading in school that it was a whole other world. (I have, of course, since learned that it’s quite possible to write about people who matter, who make a difference, without going into fantasy and SF, but by that time my tastes had largely settled).

By this point, even when I have a story idea that could be told without science fiction or fantasy themes I tend to write it that way simply because that’s the way the stories come out.  I enjoy Shakespeare (The Tempest is my favorite).  I’ve read London and appreciated it.  I’ve found the mysteries of Lawrence Block entertaining.  But I keep coming back to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

In romance, first loves are often ephemeral, but in this case the first love has been the deepest and the most lasting.

So it’s not really a case of “why write science fiction and fantasy?” for me, but rather “why write anything else?”


Participation Awards

This is a blast from the past from my old, old, old blog over on Livejournal (that’s two blogging engines ago).

I’ve run into people who use “participation awards” as a criticism of modern society.  And to a certain extent, they have a point.  If one does not reward excellence and accomplishment and reward instead simply showing up.  Well, you get a lot of showing up and not a lot of excellence and accomplishment.

That said, I do not oppose “participation” awards, per se, provided excellence is additionally rewarded.  In many cases, simply showing up is an accomplishment.

Frankly, there is a value in recognizing, “you came, you participated, you did the task.” Let me give you an example (okay, the example is an excuse to brag on my daughter, but still…). My daughter was out to every softball game (except one where I thought it was rained out but it apparently cleared up enough later that they could play–but that one’s on me, not her). She played through minor injuries (getting hit in tender places with pitched balls). She earned her award. (How many kids never even tried?)

Would have been nice if her team could have gone on to win the league championship, but they washed out in the first round (luck of the draw–got put up against a very strong team with a pitcher who puts the “fast” in fast pitch). Even so, I would have given her another award if I could: her first at bat she got hit in the foot with a pitched ball. That may not sound like much but she had to be helped off the field. Still, when her turn in the rotation came up, she hobbled up ready to go. (Coach and I both said “no!” and sent her back to the bench.)

Incidentally, she was still hurting the next morning and I took her to see the doctor. Good thing, too. Turns out that hit was almost a “perfect storm” type thing. “Just to be safe” the doctor had her foot x-rayed. Well, the ball hit a tendon causing the end to partially detaching it from the bone. She’s in a “walking boot” to give it a chance to heal. [Healed fine.  Since then she went to swimming, then more recently to ballet. ed.]

The ball did that to her and she had been game to go back out there and try. They didn’t give her any awards for that. She’ll have to settle for daddy’s praise . . . and a “participation award.” And somebody else went on to get the championship award.  More power to them.  They played good softball.

But all the people who stayed home never even got that.

So, yes, reward participation.  But don’t stop there.  Those who go beyond simply participating to achieve excellence and accomplishment deserve their own recognition.

Do they want a civil war?

The latest round started with a restaurant throwing out the President’s Press Secretary because of who she worked for.  Okay, there prerogative.  I believe in freedom of association, including the right not to associate with people you don’t want to.  And since I actually mean it, that means I agree that it also applies to people I disagree with.  Bad business move maybe, but their prerogative.

However, then comes that idiot Maxine Waters (but who’s the more stupid?  The idiot in office, or the idiots who keep putting her there?) using this case as some rallying cry, to wit:

“If you think we’re rallying now you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, told supporters at a rally in Los Angeles over the weekend. “If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” A video of her remarks was posted on Twitter on Sunday.

Then, of course, there’s protests against actually enforcing our immigration laws.  We have Peter Fonda:



A third tweet from the actor, posted several minutes later, called for activists to target President Trump‘s youngest son, Barron Trump, who attends a school in nearby Montgomery County, Md., claiming (apparently for effect) that activists should “rip” him from the first lady’s arms and put in “in a cage with pedophiles.”


He deleted the second and third of those tweets but the Internet is Forever.  Like they used to say about Vegas:  What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

We have protesters not just targeting government offices or even places of business, but gathering outside people’s homes.

Protesters gathered outside of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s home in Alexandria early Friday morning.

Demonstrators gathered to express their anger with Nielsen and the role they claim she plays in family separations.

Several people stood along the sidewalk near her home with some holding signs. One demonstrator held a sign with Nielsen’s face on it featuring the words “child snatcher.”

Fox 11 News, Green Bay, WI

If the home was of a black family and the protestors were wearing sheets, would that change your opinion of it?

The problem is, these people have convinced themselves they are “on the side of history”.  They are in good company with that.  Lenin thought he was on the side of history.  Stalin did too.  So did Mussolini and Hitler.  And let us not forget Mao.  All, or at least their ardent followers, thought they were “on the side of history.”

The problem with not only thinking history has a side but that you are on it is that it justifies anything.   When your cause is inevitable and you are supremely secure in your rightness, anything you do in that cause is right.

Some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by people believing they were “on the side of history.”  Look at that list of names again.

In a post a few days ago, I described how I thought a future civil war would start.  There would be no equivalent to “Lexington” or “Fort Sumter” but it would rather simply start as an increase of politically motivated violence without any distinct starting event.  It would only be in retrospect that we’d look back and see that we are in a civil war and had been for some time.

It’s looking very much like we’re in the early stages of that right now.  Mostly, it’s just talk, but it’s the kind of talk people use to work themselves up to acting on it.  And so the appropriate response to this speech is more speech, speech in opposition.

Because if this keeps on it’s going to get ugly and there will be no winner except death.

Why Write? A Blast from the Past.

One of the first questions about writing is “why write?”  There are many reasons to write, of course.  You have to write that thesis if you want that degree.  That piece of equipment needs a manual so people will know how to use it so someone is given the task of creating one if they want to be paid.  And those texts, emails, and, yes, blog posts won’t write themselves.

Here, however, I’m going to focus on fiction writing.  Why take the time and effort to sit down (or pace up and down the hall, or however one does it) and craft a story?

So what are the reasons for writing?  Fame? (Twenty years writing fiction with a handful of professional sales so far and I’m still pretty much unknown.  There are easier ways to fame.) Fortune? (The most I, personally, have made in a year from writing is about $1000.) Attracting members of the appropriate sex? (Have I got some disappointing news for you….)  You get a few, a very few, who are successful by those metrics, sure, but mostly you get folk who labor away for a little bit of extra pocket money (or a modest living if they’re lucky) or the occasional fan letter. (Science fiction and Fantasy have an advantage over many writing genres in that there are frequent conventions where fans of their style of writing get together and authors and fans can meet each other.)

So why do it?  It’s a lot of work for very little of the typical rewards.

One thing to remember is that the storyteller is as old as humanity itself.  Telling–and with the invention of writing, writing them–is just something people do.  Even traits that are ubiquitous across the human species are expressed more strongly in some than in others.  Some have a stronger drive to tell stories in much the same way that some people have a stronger competitive drive.

In the end, I think that you aren’t a writer because you write.  You write because you are a writer.  Making money, winning fame, making friends and influencing people are often rationalization more than reasons, a justification for the mental and emotional effort that goes into writing.

That said, writing, storytelling, isn’t the only drive and, as drives go, it’s fairly far down on the totem pole.  Yes, I have a drive to write, to put stories down for other people to read, but I also have a drive to eat, to live in reasonably comfortable surroundings, to procreate (and the things that go with that), and so forth and if writing gets in the way of that, so much the worse for writing.  Other people might have the drive more strongly and are willing to live a hermit’s life in a drafty attic somewhere while scribbling away the story they have to get out of their system only, once finished, to have it replaced with another story that they simply have to get out of their system.

And so, while I think to a great extent writing and storytelling is what you are more than what you do that it’s not also a craft and a skill to be learned.  There’s a big difference between a group of friends telling “no fooling, there I was…” stories at the local watering hole and someone writing a novel that sells hundreds of thousands of copies. Some of that difference is just plain luck.  Some of it is inborn talent.  And some of it–I’d like to say most of it although that luck aspect can loom pretty large, the one where you hit with the right story at the right time in front of the right people–is learned craft.

Are you a writer?  How can you tell?  The answer is simple:

If you’re a writer, then you write.

Keeping the Ability to Stop

In preparation for LibertyCon, I had to do some work on the Explorer.  It’s a seven hour drive to Chattanooga from Indianapolis and in the middle of it would be a bad time for something to break down.  Earlier this month I did the oil change and checked coolant and other fluid levels.  Today I did some desperately needed work on the brakes.

Just before the Eclipse this past August I replaced the front rotors and pads.  I didn’t even bother seeing about having the rotors turned–the amount of wear and rust on the rotors suggested they weren’t a good candidate for that.  But more than that, with some shopping around I found that it’s frankly, cheaper to get new rotors than it is to have a machine shop turn them.

Since the front brakes do the lion’s share of the work in stopping the car, I was able to put off doing the rear brakes for a while.    I decided, however, that we had reached the point where it was no longer viable to wait.  I did some shopping again and bought a kit with both rear brake pads and new rotors.  They arrived a few days ago and today I got the rear end of the Explorer up on jackstands (if you’re ever going to work under a car use jackstands–the ribcage or skull that doesn’t get crushed if the jack fails will thank you).  I get the wheels off easy peasy (Helps if you loosen the lugnuts before you jack up the car).

First problem.  You know that cliche about never being able to find the 10 mm socket?  Well guess what?  The bolts that hold the calipers are 10 mm.  And what can’t I find?  Neither a 10 mm socket nor a 10 mm combination wrench.  I have to use an adjustable crescent wrench.  I hate using the adjustable crescent wrench.  Too easy to have it not quite snug enough and round off the bolt head.  However, loosening about half a turn each with the wrench gets it loose enough to spin the bolts out by hand.  From that point a little bit of prying gets the caliper free.

Next comes the rotor.  A few taps with the mallet “breaks” it loose and so I start to pull it off.  It moves a few millimeters and won’t come off any more.

So, problem number two.  Rust on the inner drum of the rotor has created a “lip” which catches on the shoes for the emergency brake.  To get it off requires a combination of a lot of pounding, prying, and application of muscle.

Eventually the rotor comes off.  I spray down the new rotor with brake cleaner then slip it on over the studs figuring given the years of wear and how tight the e-brake shoes were the probably won’t quite fit over the  shoes and I’ll have to look up how to loosen them but to my surprise it slides right on.

I start to put the new pads into the caliper and… problem number three.  I forgot to compress the piston back into the cylinder before removing the old pads.  So I put the old pads back on place as a spacer and cranked it down with a c-clamp.  After that, installation went smoothly.  The hardest part is getting the caliper aligned with the mounting holes so the bolts go in smoothly.  Then back to that damn adjustable crescent wrench to tighten the bolts down and on to the other side.

The other (driver’s) side proved to be a bit easier.  The odd part was that the rotor was significantly thinner than the one on the passenger side.  In any case, it came off easier.  This time I remembered to compress the piston back into place before removing the old pads.

After that it’s a matter of putting the wheels back on, getting the car off the jackstands and onto its wheels, and a short test drive to make sure everything was working smoothly.

Oh, and a nice long shower because all that working on the car and crawling on the ground had me quite filthy.

All was well and it cost me a small fraction of what a shop would have charged.

I just need to replace my missing 10 mm socket and combination wrenches.

When the State Corrupts Rule of Law: A Blast from the Past

Recent revelations show widespread corruption in the FBI.  This underscores the problems that I wrote about in a blog post a couple of years ago:

The Washington Post recently had an article about a State drug chemist (responsible for various drug tests) was not only a user of the drugs but had been falsifying drug test results which were instrumental in many peoples convictions and incarceration.

The article asks the question about whether the cases for which she provided evidence should be thrown out.

This shouldn’t even be a question.

(Bear with me for a minute, I’m going somewhere with this.) Some years back there was a column in one of the magazines for fans of comics “The Law is a Ass” by Bob Ingersoll, an attorney and public defender. In that column he dissected use of law in comics and along the way gave introductions to the history and reasons behind many of the things we take for granted in law now.
One of those things was exclusionary rules for evidence. This is actually of far more recent vintage than many people realize. As Bob Ingersoll wrote:

For well over one hundred years, the Fourth Amendment existed without the Exclusionary Rule, the rule which makes evidence taken during an unreasonable search and seizure inadmissible at trial. Basically, the amendment depended on the good faith of the government not to violate it for its enforcement. In much the same way–and with much of the same success–that Blanche DuBois depended on the kindness of strangers. Then, in 1914, the Supreme Court of the United States realized that not everyone scrupulously adhered to the Fourth Amendment. Abuses actually occurred. So did sunsets, but not as often.

The Supreme Court ruled that a right without a means to enforce it is no right at all. To remedy this, it enacted by judicial fiat the Exclusionary Rule, as a means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment.

The Exclusionary Rule says the government cannot be allowed to profit, when it breaks the rules with an unreasonable search, so any evidence seized can not be admitted. To use a somewhat simplistic analogy (I like simplistic analogies. If more law school professors used simplistic analogies, I might have passed a few more courses.), the Exclusionary Rule is like calling back a touchdown pass for a holding penalty. The scoring team would not have achieved its goal, but for the fact that it broke the rules. So, rather than allow it to prosper from cheating, the team is penalized by having the play nullified. The Exclusionary Rule was established to enforce compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

In 1961 the Supreme Court ruled that the Exclusionary Rule was applicable on the states through the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Now, when state or local police conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, the evidence is not admissible at trial.

And that’s where we are here. These cases need to be thrown out to send a loud and clear message of “don’t do that” to prosecutors. And, yes, prohibition against double jeopardy should fully apply.  they cannot be allowed to succeed, to “benefit” from using such poisonous tactics.
The thing many people forget is that the most important aspect of “rule of law” is not punishing the guilty, but protecting the innocent. When people stop believing that their innocence will protect them from the law, that’s when rule of law collapses. That’s why “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. That’s why prohibition against double jeopardy. That’s why we have trial by jury in the first place, why we have rules on discovery (where the defense gets to see the prosecution’s evidence), why we have all the procedures in place to protect the accused against the vastly greater might of the State.
And that’s why things like this are so very troubling. What it does to society dwarfs even the horrible injustice to the individual falsely convicted on falsified evidence.  It undermines the very concept of rule of law.