Hat in the Ring

So….

I have done exactly what the title suggested.

A fellow author brought to my attention this contest, over on the blog by author Mark Lawrence.  I think it is a really neat idea, so what the hell, why not?  I entered Pilgrimage to Skara (still available on Amazon, for those you still looking for a fun, exciting read) and contrary to my normal procrastination mode, I made it in just under the wire.

I was assigned to Booknest.eu , which I was unaware of but looks like a really awesome review site.

Now, it is very possible that pilgrimage will get bounced before it even has a chance.  Someone might read it and go, “Eh, not my cup of tea,” and toss is aside.  But there’s that saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  I see nothing but upside for this, so again, what the hell, why not?

I will let y’all know what happens.

Anthology of Interest

So….

(Muse:  You stole that post title from Futurama.)

You know what they say:  if you are going to steal, steal from the best.

So….  I think I have said before, I am members of a couple of writing groups.  About a year ago, one of those writer groups decided that we would put together an anthology of stories set in the local area (Northeastern Arizona) with the idea that we would be appealing to our local readership, for issues, themes, and locations that would be instantly relateable.

So now, a year later, we’re to the point where the “final” drafts of the stories are due in–were due to our format volunteer yesterday–and we are about ready to proceed with this.  It’s been an interesting journey.

I volunteered to critique each member’s submission and provide feedback.  (I still have one kicking around to be reviewed.)  The stories are varied, in length, genre, and execution–and this in turn, gave me a lot of insight to the members of the writers group and what they are really about.

No, I am not going chapter and verse about how this one is better than this one, or this member is more capable than that member.  First of all, at least two of them read this blog and I have no interest in insulting anyone.  They are all good people.  But more than that, not everyone has the same tastes.  The slice-of-life stories that have little interest for me may appeal to others.  So….yeah, that.

What this did though (meaning, reading all the stories set within twenty miles of my house) did bring home to me is that I am about to put my name to something local, to something that people who know me may associate with me.  In one story, I take a tangential pot-shot at local government.  Will they be upset?  Will they even notice?  Hard to say how people react.  Same for local friends.  Might they read it and be offended?

(Muse:  Were you offensive?  Scratch that, I already know the answer.)

Well, one story features cannibals and the hint of sexual assault.  The other paints the forestry service in a less-than-flattering light and is pro-tax-evasion.  Both have some swearing, which my more religious friend will love.

(Muse:  Yeah, you’re asking for trouble.)

But aren’t I always?

I dithered about including some of those elements.  I wondered about the local reaction.  But frankly, by the end, I said, “Hell with it,” and left the elements in.  Some local readers might be offended.  Hell, some of the other anthology authors might be offended.

But I gotta be me.  Sadly, I was too much me.

(Muse:  You procrastinated?)

Bingo.  The due-date was yesterday and I have yet to get my stuff in, since my copy of Word decided to puke and efforts to reinstall on my laptop have proved fruitless…so I haven’t been able to do my final formatting edits.  I’ll get it worked out.

I still owe my discussion on the Tucson Festival of Books.  Damn, I am six weeks behind.  Yeah, that’ll be pertinent at this late date….

 

The Case for Anti-Intellectualism

So….

It’s been two weeks but I have yet to do my write-ups on the 2017 Tucson Festival of Books, mostly because I have been lazy.  And because spring is here and it’s been time to get outside start on gardening and what not.  But mostly laziness.

The panels were good and I enjoyed them.  I will get a summary up on the discussion.  However, I did have a side incident which left me confused.

On Day 2 (Sunday, 12 Mar), I was standing in line for the first of several panels.  I wasn’t really thinking about anything, just kind of enjoying the cool Tucson morning before the afternoon heat set in.  Then this little guy behind me broke my reverie by asking questions.

I paraphrase below, mostly because I don’t recall every single word, but the gist is correct.  The opening exchange was fine, going something like this:

>>Him:  So do you know anything about this panel?

Me:  Hmm?  Well it’s [description of panel].

>>Him:  Are they going to talk about things other than science-fiction?  I hope the lessons are more generic than that.

Me:  Well, maybe. I mean there are some universal publishing lessons involved.

>>Him:  Do you know anything about [author, and member of the upcoming panel]?  I understand he’s done some screenplays.

Me:  He was on a panel I saw yesterday and he mentioned doing [popular movie from 20 years ago].

>>Him:  Cool.

Okay, so far, so good, right?  Now it takes a turn into the bizarre.

>>Him:  I sat through a screenwriting panel this morning.  There was one good guy on it and two locals.  It wasn’t helpful.

Me:  No good, eh?

>>Him:  Yeah the locals were awful.  (He adopts a condescending grin.)  Tusconians, am I right?

Me:  I’m not following you.

>>Him:  Oh just this town.  Full of uneducated people.  Most of the out-of-staters agree.

At this point, I am slightly annoyed.  My parents and both of my sisters and their respective families live in Tucson.  Now, I have a generally low opinion of people everywhere and it really has nothing to do with geography or education, but more along the lines of people’s natural arrogance and self-righteousness–and I am getting waves of it from this guy.

Me:  Well, people are bad everywhere I guess.

>>Him:  You have to admit the education level and ignorance of people here is pretty amazing.

Me:  Are you from here?

>>Him (shocked that I would say such a thing):  No, I am from [some small city in Illinois].  But I see a lot of things there that are the same here.  I am just here at the university where I can be with smart people.

Me:  Smart people aren’t always the answer.  Our last ten presidents are college-educated and look where that’s gotten us.

>>Him (getting upset):  Well, I meant graduate level education.

Me:  What does that have to do with anything?

And this part is forever etched in my mind, so it is a direct quote:

>>Him: Well, you’re just showing your anti-intellectualism.  Good luck with that.

He turned his back on me and started fiddling with his phone.

Let’s set aside that it takes a particular breed of jerkass to engage someone you don’t know in conversation, find out they think different than you, then insult them and turn your back on them.  He’s lucky I’m not a lunatic.

(Muse: ?)

Okay, a complete lunatic.

I was completely taken aback by his audacity–so much so that I could only stammer out that I had a graduate level degree and I knew what I was talking about.  He chose to ignore me.  About then, the doors opened and they started seating people for the panel.

In retrospect, I had a whole bunch of things I wish I had said to him.  In retro-retrospect, I am glad I didn’t waste my time.

What drives someone to walk around with a diploma-sized chip on their shoulder, judging other people based on the size of their education?  Arrogance, certainly.  Inflated self-esteem would be another.  But I think also insecurity.

This guy was nothing to look at.  Short.  Bald.  A crop of nose hair the size of the Amazon.  Knowing my wife’s tastes, she would have called him ugly.  Was it Napoleon syndrome?  Sneering down his nose at his “lessers” because of some accolade displayed by a group of other people?  Is that a way for him to displace his self-doubt about his own aspects, physical or otherwise?

Dirty secret:  I do have a Master’s Degree, in atmospheric physics.  It was a lot of work but at no time did I ever think that inherently made me “better” than anyone else.  I didn’t elevate myself to another plane simply because a group of people decided that I was cool enough to join their club–which is frankly all advanced degrees are.  You pay your dues and deference to your committee and they decide to let you in.  And if you think I am wrong, I can point to lot of individuals with advanced degrees that are frankly dumb as a bag of bowling balls.  They just kow-towed to the right ideologies.

I will take two examples I know personally.  They both have doctorates from the same discipline.  One is a genuine good person.  That person is a little arrogant but I think that is outgrowth from their abundance of self-confidence (they were the same way, or worse, when they were younger and less educated).  They are also a very funny, easy-going person–moreso than me, for sure–who judges people by how they act, not how many initials are after their names.

At the other end of the extreme is someone who while very book smart, has no common sense, and is currently in some hot water for ethics violations in their field–violations that a first year entrant in the field would know well enough to steer around.  Smart but not very bright, if you catch my drift.

I am not well versed in sociocultural evolution but I do believe that a lot of human behavior can be traced to our primate roots.  As I have said before, we’re not fallen angels but risen apes.  Cutthroat methods of “getting ahead” via education or economics is the modern equivalent of our ancestors smashing each other in the head with an antelope thighbone.  So in some sense, I understand the guy’s arrogance.  He achieved, or is achieving, and naturally feels superior to those that haven’t.

At the same time, we aren’t apes any more.  Western society does embrace the idea of equality and I grew up steeped in that idea.  It is hard to conceive of someone being “less” than me because they are less educated.  In my travels, I have met so many honest, hard-working people that lack a post-high school education.  These people are the ones who prop up our society.  Some people will probably pooh-pooh me, stating that our society does stratify into classes and education plays into that, yadda yadda yadda.  Okay, that’s true.  So why perpetuate it?  Why play into it?  Why not strike your own personal blow and treat people as human, even if they have less than you?  Why not show your disdain to those who do?

So to have some smarmy little weasel stand in front of me, acting as though his education made him something special…yeah, it pushed my buttons.  He wasn’t special.  He could have disappeared off the planet and the universe would have hummed on, unperturbed.

(Muse:  You fantasized about making him disappear, didn’t you?)

You know me too well.  Sometimes we would do well to get in touch with our ape roots.  He’s lucky I have a check on my berserker heritage (mostly) and didn’t have a thighbone handy.

I am not against education (in principle; there is a ton of indoctrination passed off as education.)  But neither do I believe it is a guarantee of having a high-quality person on your hands.  So if I judging individuals based on their own merits, rather than paying homage to their “credentials” makes me an anti-intellectual, then so be it.

I prefer to think of myself as anti-pretentious-asshole.

Bloodlust in Our Hearts

Happy New Year, dear friends.

So….

In the course of my daily perusing (i.e., wasting time), I came across this article discussing a Russian reality show called, “Game2: Winter.”  Essentially, the concept is to dump thirty contestants in Siberia for months and whoever emerges alive at the end of the show being awarded a cash prize.  It is being touted by its producer as a show where anything goes.  From the advert for contestants:

“Each contestant gives consent that they could be maimed, even killed,” reads an advert. “2000 cameras, 900 hectares and 30 lives. Everything is allowed. Fighting, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking, anything.”

I did chuckle that they placed smoking on the same moral plane as rape and murder.

The show offers the disclaimer that it still takes place on the territory of the Russian Federation and all crimes are prosecutable as such under Russian law.  The show simply says all contestants will sign a waiver not to hold the show responsible for any harm that may befall them, up to and including death.

It may turn out to be nothing.  Still, the idea that it is even being advertised is a pretty far down the road to honest-to-God gladitorial games.  Trust the Russians.

(Muse:  Westerners must be crazy to keep fucking around with these people.  They’re nuts.)

You don’t have to convince me.  I think it must have something to do with the cold.  The Vikings and Mongols came from cold climates and they seemed perpetually pissed off too.

Anyway, this got me thinking about sex and violence (and sexy violence and violent sex) as forms of entertainment.  What is it about this that appeals to people?

At the baseline, I think is has something to do with the most visceral elements of our collective sub-conscious.  I think I’ve said before on this blog that humans are less fallen angels and more risen apes.  At our core, we’re animals and try as society might, some of those based animal instincts are very hard to overcome.

(I believe those instincts also are at the root of racist tendencies but that’s beyond the scope of this entry.  Maybe later.)

Sex and violence are very powerful forces in nature–fundamental, in fact.  In the animal kingdom, most issues are solved with one or the other.  I don’t think we just left it behind when we, *ahem*, evolved.

(Muse:  You give yourself a lot of credit, knuckle-dragger.)

Society puts limits on humanities sex and violence, since unrestrained, either could end society as a whole.  Because there are limits, I think we seek surrogates, whether directly or subconsciously.  I know more than one person who, while stating they are angry enough to kill someone, wouldn’t really do it.  Those violent tendencies are part of all our nature and they can’t be completely suppressed.

Enter public violence.

Public displays of violence have been mainstreamed for centuries.  Call it gladiator games, knightly tournaments, human sacrifice on Mesoamerican altars, or the Chinese torture of lingchi (Death of a Thousand Cuts)…the end result is that people historically found ways to participate, in a spectator sense, in violence.  I believe that in some ways, being able to cheer on those acts in some way satisfies our own bloodthirsty hearts.

(There also those who say they are angry enough to kill someone who I believe would actually do it, if they could.  That is a darker aspect of society, that I will have to tackle in another entry.)

We like these bloodsports because they call back to our primitive nature, to the parts we’ve suppressed as part of being part of “civilization.”  In a way. they are societies safety valves, much the way an engine has an exhaust, to bleed off excess thirsts for violence before it becomes a societal problem.

As for sex…well, they don’t call it the world’s oldest profession for nothing.  Most societies have tolerated prostitution to some extent since the dawn time, because the alternative is trying to cap a force that just isn’t cap-able.  And before you think that I am slamming just the men for being driven by their hormones, I will say that if there were a sudden shortage in men, women would be as bad or worse in finding male hookers…they simply generally enjoy being on the right side of the supply-demand situation right now.

(There is a widespread belief that after the adult male population in Paraguay was all but wiped out in the War of the Triple Alliance (1870-ish), that polygamy became the de facto rule for a few years, if not the legal one, because of the shortage of men.  This PDF references it (on page 15) but I was too lazy to track it to the source material.)

(Muse:  Is that your way of saying you’d welcome a war so you could get more wives?)

Hell no.  The ideal number of wives is zero or one.

These bleeds over into writing in spec fiction.  Even though I have heard that the market for grimdark is saturated, I see no shortage in people gobbling it up, along with all the gore and semi-porn contained within.  (Of course, the success of things like A Song of Fire and Ice have encouraged even more of it.)

(Muse:  So what about you?)

Well, I try to subscribe to the Anton Chehkov theory of “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story.”  In other words, if a scene with gratuitous sex or violence doesn’t need to be in there, I don’t include it.  Or try not to.

(Muse:  Chekhov’s gun?)

Not quite, though I like the technique and am a loose adherent.  Just more that if you want to have sex and violence in your story, they should be relative and contextual for the setting and characters.  Tossing them in for gratuitous action is boring.  At the same time, I would be equally critical for someone cutting it out for the sake of squeamishness over story integrity.

Those are my rambling thoughts on the matter.  I don’t think I’ll bother with the Russian reality show.  I suspect the hype will be more than the reality.

But it wouldn’t surprise me to see something akin to Battle Royale / Hunger Games in my lifetime.  Just because we’re apes.  And sometimes, we want to see a little blood spilled.

Until next time, friends.

2017 Reading List

So, I–

Muse:  Where the hell have you been?

Briefly, I’ve been busy.

Muse:  Yeah, well, you should have called.

You know, I did write three short stories since I was last here and knock out several chapters in my novel-in-progress.  It’s not like I have been sitting on my ass, popping grapes in my mouth while native girls fan me with palm fronds.

Muse:  You’d like that waaaaay too much.

No question.

Anyway, I put together my reading list for this next year.  I have some some big names, some stuff released this last year, and some old stuff (and yeah, I cheated, there are a pair of re-reads on here, from books I read a long time ago, but have wanted to read again).  Some of the older ones are things I have wanted to read for a while and keep procrastinating.  This should force my hand.

I also picked out a handful of lesser-known authors, most of whom I personally interact with, have interacted with, or who have given me some good advice.

Anyway, I have everything already purchased, downloaded on my Kindle, and ready to go come Jan 1.  The plan is to knock one out every three weeks at a minimum (which gives me some leeway should life crop up, like it always does).  I’ll also try to leave some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  If I like a book and it is part of a series, I will probably toss the next ones on my next list.  Anyway, in no particular order, here is who I got:

Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

Beasts of Tabat, by Cat Rambo

Lonen’s War:  Sorcerous Moons, by Jeffe Kennefy

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie (re-read #1)

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Thousand Names, by Django Wexler

Dawn, by Octavia Butler

Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan

Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb (re-read #2)

Flashback:  Siren Song, by J.A. Hunter

Forced Labor (Arekan’s War), by B.R. Turnage

Cog and the Steel Tower, by W.E. Larson

Magic of Thieves, by Carol Greenwood

At An Uncertain Hour, by Nyki Blatchley

Aerisia:  Land Beyond the Sunset, Sarah Ashwood

Not sure what I will start with.  Maybe I will pull names from a hat.

2017 Reading List Requests

Hey gang.

So, I put together a loose reading list every year.  If I had to break it down, it is usually 50% fantasy, 25% horror, 15% sci-fi, and 10% non-fiction or other.  Some years are better than others, in terms of following up.  There never is enough time to read everything I want, for sure.  I have tried to concentrate on well-known publications and some of my favorite authors.

This year, I wanna do something a little different.

I want to stock my list with small-publisher or self-published books.  Looking for people who aren’t widely read, big sellers, or just put out their first book.  I’d also like to review as many as possible.

So, here’s how you can help.  Give me some recommendations.  Give me your own books, for all I care, if you want a review here or on Amazon and/or Goodreads.  But give me a reason why I should pick it.  Be creative.  Spec fiction gets priority.

I have a few books already picked out–mostly friends/acquaintances from writing sites and peer review groups–but not enough for the year.  So have at it.