Sunday, February 18, 2018

Data And Betrayal

Take international, data-related tit-for-tat.

Microsoft allegedly argues that, if the Supreme Court of the United States (S.C.O.T.U.S.) decides that the US Department of Justice (D.O.J.) can --unilaterally-- use a search warrant to seize emails that are stored on foreign servers that are outside the USA, will that mean that foreign governments--any foreign governments, including China, Russia, North Korea-- can unilaterally seize emails stored on US servers inside the USA?

For more information, read "Do search warrants have extraterritorial effect", penned by legal blogger Andrew Smith for Corker Binning of the UK.

If copyleftists are to be believed, everything one writes is "data" or "information"... and (snort) "information wants to be free".  Unfortunately, as in George Orwell's "Animal Farm" all (metaphorical) animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Some information is expected to be free when you give it up, but not so much if you want it back.

The brilliant and businesslike Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes a wide ranging cautionary tale of promises made and apparently broken, of confidentiality and access to ones own analyzed data.

There's a moral: keep your business secrets secret.

Talking of giving away "data", or having it taken from one without one's consent, this writer is reminded of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. How many mothers, I wonder, who wish to harvest their cord blood for freezing, discover that the hospital appropriates (without permission) a quantity of cord blood for their own research and rations the amount that the patient may have... of her own cord blood?

Does anyone else wonder about the information one freely gives, or even pays to give to or 23-and-me?  Could one's spit come back to bite one? If the government secretly does the same with the DNA held by the spit-analyzing services as it does with the location data held by smart phone companies, well, what a brave new world we live in. 

From Germany, business writers Hans-Edzard Busemann and Nadine Schimrozik discuss a Berlin regional court's opinion of some Facebook tricky settings and use of personal data.

There's a lot of "permissionless innovation" about, and an assumption by the Big Data guys that everyone knows -- just because they live and breathe-- what Big Data is doing (an unreasonable assumption, if you ask me), and that it is perfectly fine to assume that everyone is okay with their data being exploited unless they proactively opt out.  So certain permissions are pre-checked in "Settings", and a user (or a non-user) has to find those settings and actively change them. Who has time?

It is all too easy for advertisers to stalk us, spy on us, and harass us, and even to force us to pay (if one has a pay-per-minute telephone plan... or if one buys ones own paper and toner for ones faxes) to receive their pitches. I'm not okay with that.

On the other side of the coin, Facebook may not be all that friendly to those who advertise, either.

Michael Alvear (an interesting man who claims that he got bored stiff writing a sex advice column) looks into
"Facebook's Epic Fail" as a source of a good return on investment for writers to advertise.

Maybe, if an author is paying $0.40 per click, and the royalty he receives on an book sale is $0.40 or less,
it's not a business model that will work for most.... but one should read Alvear's advice in full.

Facebook is also in the Lexology news for illegality in its "mean clicques groups". One would think that there would be nothing wrong with forming an intimate group to revile ones lower ranking co-workers, right? Wrong.

Legal blogger David J. Pryzbylski, writing for Barnes and Thornburg LLP gives the legal lowdown on a team of local lovelies who set up a supposedly secret and exclusive Facebook group, and excluded some of their team members, thereby violating the National Labor Relations Act.

Should one infer that the teamsters did not know what the Germans know about Facebook's default settings?

On a final note... a musical one, and nothing (much) to do with Facebook or privacy... but pertaining to betrayal and restoring fairness, if you will: please support The Classics Act.

Musicians and their heirs have been cheated out of royalties for years, simply because of a loophole in the law that allowed big business to not pay royalties to the copyright owners of music released before 1972.
How is it fair that the creators of a musical work from 1971 get nothing from Sirius and its like, while creators of a similar musical work released in 1973 get paid?

There's a petition.
If you live in the USA, and provide your zip code etc it will go to your Congressmen and Congresswomen.

Thank you.
All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Timey-Wimey Tangles

I just finished watching a Netflix series (which I won't name because there are spoilers ahead) at the climax of which the hero learned the only way to avert apocalyptic disaster was for him to go back in time and refrain from a certain action he performed at the beginning of the series. Thereby, everything he'd done since then would never have happened. And of course nobody he'd come to care for over the course of the series would remember meeting him and participating in those adventures, because they never happened. The hero asks to be allowed to remember the now-nonexistent events, a petition the sorcerer performing the spell grants. The mage also grants a similar request from the hero's love interest. In the final scene, shortly after the hero has made the sacrifice of finding himself back at the start and choosing not to do what he did the first time around, the heroine joins him. They ride off into the sunset for a life of adventure together. Though the ending is bittersweet (everybody else has still forgotten the hero and his exploits among them), I liked it very much.

However—because we don't witness the conversation between the heroine and the sorcerer, we don't know whether she simply left her home and neighbors (with no explanation, since their memories have been reset) to meet the hero when she knew he'd show up or whether she, too, was magically sent back to the restart point. If the latter, now she is living in two places at the same time, in her home town and on the road with the hero.

Granted, that's not an uncommon situation in time-travel fiction. In the Harry Potter series, Harry and Hermione see their earlier selves when they revisit past events through the use of a time-turner. In THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, the hero often has duplicate selves in existence at the same moment. Heinlein frequently allows more than one of the same person to exist at the same time, e.g. in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, and the iconic short stories "By His Bootstraps" and "All You Zombies."

In strict science fiction terms, though, that phenomenon amounts to having matter (the atoms and molecules making up the character's body) created out of nothing. If two iterations of one person exist simultaneously, where does the material for the duplicate come from? Dean Koontz's novel LIGHTNING postulates that a traveler can never occupy a point in time where he already exists, a rule that not only respects the laws of physics but creates suspense at the climax, when the time traveler has a very tight window in which to save the heroine without bumping into his former self. (That's a fantastic SF romance, by the way, although it isn't marketed as such.)

In the recent season finale of THE LIBRARIANS, a time reset similar to the conclusion of that Netflix series saves the world from a colorless dystopia in which the Library, and therefore curiosity and imagination, don't exist. Since the dystopic timeline constitutes a self-contained alternate world, when it's wiped out by the reset there's no problem of people duplicating themselves. In the case of such works as THE LIBRARIANS, the Harry Potter novels, and the Netflix series, we can say it works because it's magic. In SF terms, the unfinished story "The Dark Tower," attributed to C. S. Lewis (some scholars have doubts about the authorship), carries the paradox to the logical conclusion by declaring that physical time travel is impossible, because in either the past or the future the atoms making up the traveler's body would be dispersed elsewhere throughout the environment. A character in the story invents a device for remotely viewing a different time period, though. The protagonist of a short story whose title and author I don't remember discovers that, while physical time travel is impossible, he can project his consciousness into the minds of other people in the past. He uses the technique to invade Hitler's mind—and, not surprisingly, incites the global tragedy he's trying to prevent. (TV Tropes calls this phenomenon "Hitler's Time Travel Exemption." Anything a time traveler does to try to thwart him will fail or even produce a worse outcome.)

In my opinion, allowing corporeal time travel makes for more interesting fictional scenarios, even if they have to be justified with, "It's magic."

Margaret L. Carter/p> Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Guest Post by Julie E. Czerneda

Guest Post 
Julie E. Czerneda 

Below is a new Guest Post by Julie Czerneda, one of my favorite writers.

This post was arranged by the Publicist, but Julie and I talk a bit on Facebook from time to time.  So I can't claim to be objective, but I'm telling you The Clan Chronicles is a series you just can't afford to miss.

Now, we have Reunification #3  To Guard Against the Dark.

It is pure, hard science style science fiction -- about a Romance as historically important as Helen of Troy.  Or maybe Adam and Eve.

Transcendental Passion and Doctor Who level time-and-space-reshaping signiificant.  This couple literally save Existence itself - as hapless as they are about the whole problem, as clueless as they start out when they meet, as zany as the ragtag band of heros they collect as friends and allies along the way - they save themselves as well as existence.

They are loyal to their friends, generous and giving Souls who accept the consequences of their actions and do what has to be done regardless of what others (who know nothing about the Situation) think "The Rules" should be.

This is a can-do couple, Soul Mates who matter in the scheme of things, and don't let it go to their heads.

You have to read this series in order to get the full effect.  I have never been able to decide if I love the crazy universe-structure/science behind this series best -- or if it's the Characters and their romance that grabs me.  Which ever way you look at it, this is just plain great reading!

So now I've raved my head off, here is a link to a previous Guest post

And here are two of the books I've discussed:

The Clan Chronicles is a complicated series (why else would I love it so much?), but as vast as the cast of characters and locations is, every time you pick up one of these novels, you remember the previous ones.  

Here is the explanation of the Series:

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification concludes the series, answering these question at last. Who are the Clan? 
And what will be the fate of all?

------------end quote----------

Here is the short publicity biography of Julie E. Czerneda -- but the About The Author in the back of the Reunification #3, To Guard Against the Dark is much more detailed and illuminating.  I do hope you always read About the Author, and scrutinize all the Acknowledgements.  You can learn so much about the writing craft this way.  Also check out her website at the end of this bio.

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Julie’s edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners, the latest being SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase. Next out will be an anthology of original stories set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis, out in 2018. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, To Guard Against the Dark, lands in stores October 2017. When not jumping between wonderful blogs, Julie’s at work on something very special: her highly anticipated new Esen novel, Search Image (Fall 2018). Visit for more.
----------end quote--------

And here is Julie E. Czerneda herself, in her own voice, explaining how it happens that a writer has to write a whole series of novels to get the story told.  

-------------GUEST POST BY JULIE E. CZERNEDA-------------

Footnote: I answer questions and go “Behind the Scenes of the Clan Chronicles” in these two earlier posts: 


Committing Series 


Julie E. Czerneda

So, your story will be told as a series.

There will be consequences. Good ones, and not. 

I say this as a writer who: just finished a series spanning two decades, is working on the next book in a series that hopefully only ends when I do (and maybe not even then), and looks forward with deep poignant longing to writing a standalone for a change. Before jumping back into another series.
I’ve got you covered, in other words. 

What are the good consequences?

There’s a few, all dependent on you. What, you say? Isn’t my publisher responsible? Don’t publishers FORCE  writers into series because they make a fortune? 

The short answer is the same: it depends on you. On your story. A series isn’t an automatic path to glory or financial stability. Contrary to popular belief, books #2…3…4…and so on…typically do not make as much money as book #1. Stores see your numbers go down and order less. Your publisher sees your numbers go down and frets. You see your…you get the drift. While yes, some series trot along making a decent wage for all concerned, many do not. And while it’s wonderful to see a row of titles on a store, if one is missing? 

The rest won’t sell as well. Or at all.

We could tuck “unlikely to make more money” into the “bad” consequence category, but I won’t. There’s this to say about writing a sequel. You’ve done—one hopes—the heavy lifting. You’ve settings, plot arcs, and characters. The next book should therefore take less time and effort, freeing you to write more books. If you do, you please your publisher and make more loot in a shorter time.

Another good consequence? You build a readership, because there’s nothing sf/f fans love more than more of what they love. (Which makes the decline in number of books sold along a series something of a conundrum, I know, but it happens. Often.) Booksellers rely on devoted readers. Publicity departments love them. As do authors.

Until you write something totally new and, “bad” consequence, suddenly the same readers complain. Loudly. It’s terrifying the first few times, believe me. You feel your career is about to end. Then you notice the pattern. While they mourn the loss—however temporary—of their next installment in a series? Lo and behold, they LOVE the new thing.

Only to complain when you switch to something else again. It’s a smidge frustrating, but overall, I’ve come to enjoy the breathless “will they follow me?” moments of dread. (The scotch might help.)

Do you need a plan to write a series?

Maybe. How’s that? Let’s say there are consequences—an echo in the room!—either way. 

Consider my first series. I wrote A Thousand Words for Stranger and sent it out in the world. No plan whatsoever to continue with a series. In fact, before Thousand found her home at DAW Books, I’d jumped gleefully into Beholder’s Eye and, oh yes, that was meant to be a series from the start. I’d titles. A theme: well-meaning Esen arrives in predicament only she can understand (being about weird biology), muddles through with her innate charm and some explosions (personal in nature and typically messy), but prevails in the end. Repeat. Esen Episodes. Boom and done. I’m on book #4 of those, because my editor/publisher also loves Esen Episodes. My planning? To this day, it consists of a file drawer of, you guessed it, weird biology.

Next, I’d thought to write a standalone. (And did slip one in there, In the Company of Others, a story for another blog.)

Meanwhile, Thousand came out, launching me into the unexpected: I’d readers. People wanted more.

Honestly, I could have ignored them, having so many different books in my head to write, but this thing happened when I wrote Beholder’s Eye. I liked it better. Much better. (Confession you may have heard before: I called my dear editor to suggest she publish it first or instead. She chuckled fondly and ignored me. Whew.) Why? Well, practice for one thing, but the big difference? I’d written directly to the core “what if?” of Esen’s story. I knew the hows and whys of my shapeshifting aliens, laying all that in front of readers. 

The good consequence? There’s not a word in that book I’d change. Or in any Esen that followed. In Thousand? Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and still do, but back then, the story I told was of the two main characters. I’d set up the “what if” of the Clan—then pushed it aside. No explanation of how or why. The characters were shown as heading into the sunset, leaving an entire species to fend for itself.

Bad consequence. Esen would be ashamed of me.

So I made a few wee notes on what might happen next—not a series, oh no, but another book. Ties of Power. At this point, my wise editor flabbergasted me by asking for a series title for the catalogue. (The Trade Pact Universe) How did she know? Sure enough, midway through writing Ties, I called to say I needed more room. How much?

Well, another book in the Trade Pact.

And, shortly after that, I asked for four more.

Yup, that’s how series pounce on you. To complete my little adventure story from Thousand properly, I finally had a plan: I’d write a two-book prequel (became three), and a two-book finale (became three—why did I ever think I wrote in pairs?). Nine books in sum. 

If I’d thought this all through before sending out Thousand—planned to commit a series with Sira and Morgan et al—it wouldn’t be the series it is now. I would likely have continued forward with them, filling in backstory in other ways. It could have worked, but at what cost? I’d probably have written those books in a row, pushing aside Esen (no!) and the standalone (no!) and even the fantasy (toads erupt in rebellion!).

Consequences multiply. Here, most importantly, I’d have started without a plan. I wouldn’t have conceptualized the series as it is, as separate chunks of time and space, as three trilogies (because I’d done the middle first) with unique elements and characters. I wouldn’t have created the Clan as a species from scratch, with their layered history, all of which matters—ALL of which shows up in the final book.

Because the other thing about my finally having a plan? The biggest part?
This series, this story I was telling, this “what if” that consumed me? Demanded resolution. An ending. 

(Esen, not so much.)

 The Takeaway

At this point in my career, you’d think I’d have perspective. Could look back and see what worked and what I'd do differently. Make better plans and, above all, to be able to offer you sage advice.

Nope. Sorry. Oh, I’ve perspective. As it happens, I spent three years going back through every word of the Clan Chronicles—to write that ending. I spent another year going back through every Esen Episode (having great fun) to be sure I haven’t lost any of her voice during the ::coughs:: decade or so since. I haven’t, by the way. 

Oh, and I started that new series: Night’s Edge. 

All of which informed me that a story is as long as a story needs to be. (Something my editor kept pointing out.) If it takes several books to tell—i.e. a series—that’s what it takes. (Okay, I have learned if that’s my plan that I should keep records of everything from names to lists of objects to help with sequels.) If it takes one, that’s fine too. I wrote A Turn of Light as a standalone, having no proof I could write fantasy at all, but also as a series starting point—by adding world details and backstory throughout--simply because I loved writing Marrowdell so much, I hoped to do more. And will.

(Toads rejoice!) 

The plan? More episodic, as each title is its own adventure, but the whole will have more continuing threads, because I did plan ahead. Five books (what can I say, you start somewhere).

If it takes one book? That’s what it takes. I’ve two new tales in the works I know will be singles—no matter what readers may want. How can I be so sure?

I’ve no idea. I just know. Which is the takeaway, my fellow scribes: trust your instincts. Only you can tell if your story is going to need more room—be a series--or be perfect in one.

----------END GUEST POST BY JULIE E. CZERNEDA------------

So the bottom line -- make sure the ongoing Character you first write about is a personality you want to spend time with.  

Read the books mentioned here -- then read this Guest Post again, and you will learn a lot (no matter how much you already know.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 11, 2018

'Ware Lawyers... and Sith Lords

Beware, that is. Beware especially of "other people's lawyers."

"It's a very frightening time," T J Siles is quoting as saying, with respect to authors, in Kevin Carty's article about very bad stuff hiding in plain sight.

Copyright owners have less and less bargaining power, as this N Y Post article lays out, and it does not scratch the surface of the legal minefield for copyright owners who would like to earn a living from their creative time, expertise and vision.

Sometimes, a copyright owner unknowingly transfers her or his copyright.

Mark Sableman,  legal blogger for Thompson Coburn LLP explains some hard-to-swallow issues about how an exclusive license may stymie a creator's right to sue for copyright infringement.

How many authors sign exclusive license agreements? Are some Amazon contracts based on exclusive licenses?

(Mark Sableman also penned a helpful article about how far you can go with a disgruntled-feline meme.)

The Thompson Coburn LLP article on the unintentional loss of the right to sue for copyright infringement concerns movies, and an exclusive license granted to a sales agent.  The creator's contract with the agent explicitly stated that the creator retained the right to sue (others) for copyright infringement....   but the court said otherwise.

To learn what a creator must do to avoid legally transferring copyright and the right to sue, read the article.

Staying with movie makers and their piracy woes....

Cassian Elwes producer of the film "Dallas Buyers Club" which sold 7 million theatre tickets but was pirated 22 million times, writes a Newsweek article about how legal loopholes in copyright protection and enforcement has affected the Independent movie industry.

Maria Schneider analyses devilish details buried in the Music Modernization Act, allegedly slipped in by lawyers, and not noticed by lawmakers... if one gives the lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, and assumes that they read what the lawyers wrote.

The TEN BIG HOLES that powerful lobbyists included in the MMA are eyeopeners.

In this author's opinion, perhap the most insidiuou Sith Lord of Copyright Protections is embedded in the American Law Institute.

Please read Neil Turkewitz's opinion article on what the American Law Institute is trying to do to subvert and change copyright law for all copyright owners in an end run around lawmakers and the public.

The argument for "more balanced" interpreting of copyright law seems to put a heavy hand on the scales of justice in favor of "any business whose activities may raise copyright infringement concerns."

Mitchell Zimmerman of Fenwick and West LLP has a good primer for those who are not lawyers or experts, but  would like to know more about copyright.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Lessons About Being a Writer

Kameron Hurley's essay in the current issue of LOCUS consists of a page-long catalog of large and small epiphanies about the facts of the writing life, phrased in the second person:

What I've Learned About Being a Writer

Hurley provides a comprehensive "best of times, worst of times" overview of a writing career through the full range of its wildly varying possibilities. Almost any author could identify with at least a few of her statements.

A couple of comments strongly resonate with me, as a chronic sufferer from impostor syndrome:

"You will spend your entire career wondering if it’s already over but no one has told you yet."

"You will stare at a shelf full of your books and awards and be absolutely convinced that you have achieved nothing in your life."

On the other hand, I've never once considered running up credit card debt on the basis of a book sale, even on the few occasions when I received checks that looked huge to me at the time. (We did, however, apply the advance for my second anthology, DEMON LOVERS AND STRANGE SEDUCTIONS, as a down payment on our first house. That was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and houses cost less, in raw dollar numbers, than new cars do now.)

I've never had the "overwhelming" fan-contact experiences she describes. I can't claim to have been "celebrated, wined and dined." I have enjoyed some modest recognition in niche environments such as small conventions. I like this comment about how most writers are received outside those niche spaces "with all the respect this society owes someone of your race, class, gender presentation, and/or orientation.":

"If you’re a middle-aged white woman who doesn’t know how to dress herself, you will simply blend in." LOL!

I've never sworn off writing, although now and then I've been briefly tempted to give up submitting my stuff. So far, I've managed to resist that temptation.

As for this one: "You will give up reading. You will hate all words."—nope. Never have, never will. The love for reading sparked the desire to write in the first place. Even if I gave up writing, words and books would always be part of my core identity.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 18, Creating A Galactic History

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 18
Creating A Galactic History
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in the Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series are here:

The posts with Integration in the title are not "elementary" writing lessons, but exploration of how a fiction writer processes real-world observations into gripping fiction that takes the reader OUT of the "real" world and into a much more real Reality.

Or put another way, fiction is the alphabet of the left hand, the building block of non-verbalizable "words" -- constructs that integrate parts of the brain to create an orchestrated, deep-textured reality.

With a vast and deep background in reading well constructed fiction, a young person can observe the real world they must "go out and conquer" with an understanding that leads to successful choices and actions.

Fiction is not an add-on, or a waste of time.  And by "fiction" I also mean today's videogaming media.

The process of becoming an adult includes the vital process of "Integrating" all the parts, pieces, isolated experiences, and pre-configured academic "courses."  By the teens, we should all have created a model of the universe in our minds and begin  testing our model against "reality."

The process of adjusting the imaginary model and changing "reality" to suit us, and re-adjusting our model, and re-changing our reality (picking a college major, getting a job, founding a company, getting married, burying our parents, marrying-off our children), over and over again will lead to a successful life very smoothly if the first "model of reality" we build in our minds (from fiction) is solid.

When, in mid-life, one must utterly discard the earliest model of reality, and start from scratch, one does lose the capital investment of life-years and emotional-depth.

Getting divorced can be that kind of trauma -- or discovering Aliens From Outer Space Are Among Us produces a similar reassessment.

Actually, watching a teen child you have raised discover the difference between sex and love is likewise harrowing.

So, the key for a writer to creating novels (or series of novels) about the nuanced differences between sex, love, friendship, Romance and Reality, is a solid grasp of "what is really going on" in our actual real world.

To understand what I mean by "What is really going on," do read Gini Koch's ALIEN series -- real romance starting without a clue, ending up with an in-depth grasp of the Galactic Situation (for all the good that grasp does!).

So, as a writer, open your mind as Gini Koch's Kitty-Kat does to the idea that maybe you don't yet know what is "really" going on.

What does it mean, "going on..."  ???

When do things start "going on" -- and when exactly is "now" and what does "now" mean?  How big is now?  What is TIME anyway?

"Time Is XXXX" is a THEME.

Pick some value for XXXX -- each value you pick will create a Theme.  Now create a world, a galaxy, or a universe (parallel or divergent, or splinter of time, or pocket of time) from that Theme.

Our reality is a "world" -- but we see and know of our world only what can fit into our earliest imaginings, our earliest model of reality gleaned from our earliest readings, then modified and modified.

For the most part, most humans just modify their first model, trying to avoid obvious conflicts with what they currently observe.  But humans are oddly (maybe among all the species of sentients in the plethora of galaxies, oddly) tolerant of contradictions.

We hold these truths to be self-evident --- therefore, we don't have to test these truths to see if they all belong in the same universe.

We, as a species, have very little merit in survival traits -- no shell, poor eyesight, no pelt against the cold, slow running speed, etc. etc. -- but survive and dominate this planet because we are adaptable.  Sharks and cockroaches survive by other traits, which annoys us.

Mentally and emotionally, we adapt to, absorb, and ignore all contradictions.  We ignore impediments to our beliefs and barge on ahead toward our goals, regardless of collateral damage.

Let the collaterals damaged by our barging through just adapt to the mess we leave behind.  "Go For It!" is our watchword.

Take that human attitude out into a galaxy full of space-faring civilizations, and what do you think might happen?

What COULD happen on this planet before Space Travel becomes possible that would change that "barge on through" attitude -- the "adapt the world to our mental model, not our model to the world" attitude -- so we arrive on the Galactic Scene with a different sort of civilization than we have today?

What would it take to change humanity?

What part of humanity needs changing to change the "barge" trait?

Our bodies are not tough, and most of us are not very smart.  What else is there to a human being besides our primate bodies?

So many primate species have gone extinct.  Are we next because our bodies are all humans are?

Or is there such a thing as the Soul?  Is there a non-material component to the human being?  (or maybe only some of us have souls?)

Is the patent reality of the Soul Mate, and thus the reality of the Soul, what is really going on?

Part of every romance genre reader's model of reality includes the Soul Mate as a fact, though finding such an exact mate is not guaranteed if you only have this one little Earth to search.

Does the existence of a Soul imply or necessitate the postulate of the reality of a Creator of the Universe, God?

The answer to that question is one of the ingredients in your World Building.  In some fictional realities, the answer is no.  In other novel series, the answer is yes.  In the really great fictional series that mirror our actual reality, the answer is either "Maybe" or possibly "Sometimes."

What exactly is a Soul?

I know a huge variety of theories used by and relied upon by many ancient civilizations, but the one I find most intriguing is the concept that the "Soul" enters our material "reality" via the dimension of Time.

The Soul does this -- but does that mean it is inserted into Reality by the Creator of that Reality?  Or just that the Soul chooses -- like an Olympic swimmer diving into a pool to race down his lane, hit a barrier, turn and race back?

What is the Soul really doing?  Does every person have a Soul?

Answers to those questions are THEMES.

Now, as has been noted previously in these blogs, the way to create verisimilitude (the matching of your fictional World to your particular readership's notions of their reality) is to study the vast array of academic pursuits most of your readers have not (yet) absorbed.

History, Religion, the history of religion, sociology, archaeology, -- any sort of 'ology.  Just learn, study, absorb.

Then ask yourself Gini Koch's persistent question -- "Wait a minute!  What is Really Going On Here?"  What things seems to be may not be what they really are.

Then ask yourself whether the difference between appearances (the Earth is flat) and reality (the Earth is an oblate spheroid), matters.  Does it matter in general or just to your particular Characters.

Here is an article about how NASA tracking our space probes is not finding them where their math says they should be -- but just a bit off from that location.  Something is wrong with our theories or our math (what is really going on?  Does it matter?)

"A difference which makes no difference is no difference?"

Or is it?

What is really going on with human souls and civilization?

Back in the 1930's a brilliant and diligent effort produced what we call today an info-graphic.  It was called a Histomap, was hung in classrooms and sold in book stores for decades.

There is a high-rez version big enough to read all the words (on a big desktop screen) you should read carefully to understand Human Heritage.

There is a printing over 6 ft long (to hang on a wall) for sale on Amazon

Since then, archaeologists have determined different dates for some of the Events pegged to this time-scale, but stand back and absorb the impact of the PATTERN of rise and fall of influence of various civilizations throughout human history on Earth.

Now consider WHY that pattern is there and why it seems to repeat -- OK, raggedly, approximately, only vaguely -- but repeat and repeat with no obvious indication that some sort of "progress" is being made by humanity.

Do civilizations become world influences because of intrinsic moral merit?  Or is it just being better warriors?  Or is it economics?  Or adaptability?

Why do they "fall" or disappear or retreat from being influential.  After all, today we have a country called Greece, one called Italy which has a Rome inside it, we have a country called China -- and one tiny spec called Israel.

But Russia and the USA are called the superpowers of our day.

At the same time, our "Western" civilization is hated, resented, and targeted by a younger civilization based on a religion founded around 600 AD, which "rose" and "fell" and is rising again.

What is the connection between Souls, Soul Mates and Civilizations?  Or World Superpowers?

Will a Galactic Civilization created by humans of that day repeat this pattern?

If not, will it have any pattern at all?

Will there be a new pattern for the Galaxy?

Do the Aliens previously or currently (whatever definition of TIME you choose for your worldbuilding -- remembering that by theoretical physics there is no such thing as simultaneity -- have a pattern of rising/fall of Galactic Civilizations, and will the impact of Humans on their scene change their pattern?

If so, how will be change that direction or pulsing of History?  What part of us will shift something basic in them? (I'll bet on Love, Romance, Bonding of Soul Mates).

We discussed sexuality and "What is Life" in perspective of the newer map of all the stars we know about -- the image Laniakea shows the tiny red dot that is our entire Galaxy, not even visible -- because it is so small.  Each of the tiny pixel size dots on that image represents a Galaxy (many larger than ours, and we now know most have black holes at the center).

Study that Histomap graphic, think long and hard about how that infographic reveals the flow of Souls in and out of incarnation, pairing or failing to pair with mates (think Helen of Troy), and consider what it all means in terms of the Finger of God nudging countries, cultures, civilizations.

Note that, contemporary with the timeline in this Histomap, historical summaries of thousands of years of human pre-history/history (technically we call it "history" only after the fall of the Roman Empire, about 1,000 AD) -- in the 1980's scholars considered the hard evidence they had placed the time of Abraham (Patriarch of Judaism) at 2100 BCE and the First Temple in Jerusalem (i.e. King Solomon of the Bible) at 953 BCE.

Note this Histomap does not show Israel.  Its influence was huge, as I've noted in various blog entries here, but its geographic area was too tiny and the population total too tiny, to register on a Histomap of this scale.  But that tiny population -- taken out in the trackless desert to get the Ten Commandments and build a Tent of Meeting with the Divine -- founded a new Culture.

See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, for an easy to understand explanation of what "culture" really is.

The Kings of Israel did not go out and conquer Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Macedonia etc etc -- they conquered the tiny slice of land given to the Jews, and no more.  There were never many Jews - compared to the rest of the world around them.  They traded with far-off places (the blue dye they used, and the spices used in the Temple tell that story), but they weren't known for exports.

One thing they did export was their Culture.  Not so much export as maybe "leak" around the edges.  And it made many larger nations their enemies, and got them destroyed.

Earth as a whole may be such a microscopic thread in the vast billion-year scale of Galactic History.

If Earth humans have Souls, and our culture(s) may become our only export of note.

Each of the civilizations on that Histomap had a distinct Culture -- today many neopagan communities are reviving worship of these potent forces those civilizations called gods (plural).  Egypt had a monotheistic Sun worshiping religion, but the whole of Egypt was never strictly monotheistic.

What is a Soul?  Is it just a natural phenomenon?  Or does its reality require postulating a supernatural force to Create it?

Answer those questions with a simple, one sentence answer, and you have a Galactic Size Theme.

What do Souls have to do with the rise and fall of Civilizations?

Now, suppose a Soul is contagious -- like a disease you can catch -- and the Galactic Aliens we first encounter do not have Souls.

What if Humans -- and our incessant Love -- infect some Aliens with Souls that proceed to propagate among various Alien species and Star Spanning civilizations.

What if the nice, stable, galaxy Earth first discovers out there becomes as unstable as Earth's history -- setting off a rise/fall/rise repeating pattern just like Earth's pre-history?

What do you suppose their attitude toward humans might become?

What if our Souls "leak" out from wherever we settle to live and infect their civilizations, the way Israel's culture leaked?

Then postulate the Aliens generating something akin to "Christianity" (I don't mean the august Personage -- but the phenomenon of the spark of truth hitting dry kindling and setting off a cultural conflagration).  There were and are never many Jews -- but there are billions and billions of Christians and Muslims.  Suppose that happens to a Galactic Culture - or alliance of Cultures that have been stable for billions of years, and suddenly grow-and-shrink as our Histomap shows?

Pick the THEME you will use -- an answer to any one of these questions will do the trick -- then build your galactic world with high contrast between Earth and the Aliens.

Contrast is what makes an amorphous mess into a Work Of Art.

Contrast generates Conflict and Conflict is the Essence of Story.

The Story is not happening before the two contrasting elements first meet, and the story is over at the point where the contrast melds into bland oneness.  Romance ends at the sound of Wedding Bells, which toll for the beginning of Life.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 04, 2018

In Praise of Ajit Pai... And What's Lost In Translation

My Xfinity internet bills went down last month. Of course, I had to request the change. Thanks, I suppose, to Ajit Pai, I was able to tell Comcast that I did not need the sort of blazing fast speed that would fry my existing modem and router if I did not replace them, and that I would rather have the slower, lower priced service. As a bonus, I get fewer (way fewer) annoying pop-ups, too.

Apparently, most people believe that the Burger King spoof proves that net-neutrality is good. I'd rather be able to choose a $5 burger instead of a $26 burger, if a slow-burger is all I require.  I'd rather not be forced to buy a $15 averaged price fast-burger, if everyone pays the same one price and receives the same one blazing fast product.

Whatever happened to "you gets what you pays for" as received wisdom?
Or, "you pays your money and you takes your choice" (a quote from Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World")

When one quotes those lines, one is quoting from literature, therefore the non-standard usage is correct.

Douglas Hofstadter has an absolutely marvelous article in The Atlantic about the inadequacies of Artificial Intelligence when it comes to translating prose.

His experiments are fascinating.

So... the "you pays your money and you takes your choice" becomes "Sie zahlen Ihr Geld und Sie treffen Ihre Wahl," which translates back to "you pay your money and you make your choice."  Humorless, not literary, and Americanized.

The British, or at least the British of a certain generation, "take decisions" and "take choices". Americans "make decisions" and "make choices", and "make their case" even when half the audience is unmoved.

Try "he made his case" (for instance, at The State Of The Union address). Google translates this into French as "Il a fait son affaire", and then translates it back as "He did his business. Which is what we say of a dog who marks his territory.... and if you keep translating, you get to "(he) did his job."

For some, one can "argue" or "present" a case, but one only "makes" the case if the audience is convinced of the rightness of what the speaker said.

At last, perhaps, older musicians are indeed making their case about the unfairness of a quirk in copyright legislation, that has been a boon to Sirius radio and to other music services that have been using oldies without paying anyone.

Music Bus:

Of the three Acts in the Bus (omnibus?), the one that strikes me as long overdue is The Classics Act, which would mean that older musicians would receive royalties for their pre-1972-recorded works. If only the royalties could be retroactive!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Bird Brains

Following up last week's post on animal intelligence, I want to suggest that you pick up a copy of the February NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. It includes an article titled "Bird Brainiacs." The conventional dismissive reference to "bird brains" has been radically overturned in recent years. Originally, the avian brain, about the size of a nut, was thought to be severely limited by its lack of a neocortex. Now it's been discovered that birds' brains are much more complex than previously assumed, although structured differently from those of mammals. The article refers to the famous gray parrot genius Alex, who demonstrated that parrots can use English words in the appropriate context rather than simply "parroting" human speech. Parrotlets in South America are among the species that have a kind of "language" of their own, assigning "names" to individuals in the flock. Also described are crows that trade gifts with a girl in Seattle. Experiments show that bird pairs can cooperate to solve problems. Some birds fashion tools out of sticks and other objects. They occasionally show evidence of planning ahead, by stashing their manufactured objects for later use. No wonder some biologists call birds "feathered apes."

That birds, with their small bodies and brains, can be so intelligent makes alien creatures such as the treecats in David Weber's Honor Harrington series more believable. Treecats have human-level intelligence despite being about the size of Earth's domestic felines.

Other items of interest in this issue: The cover article reveals how thoroughly high-tech surveillance already pervades our society, explores its future potential, and discusses the positive and negative sides of this phenomenon. A short piece called "The Parent Trap" features highly realistic robotic babies used in high-school sex education classes. Reading about this program reminded me of human-looking sex robots discussed on a talk show I recently caught a few minutes of (on the TV at the blood bank) and the robots already used in elder care in Japan. Concerning the sex androids, naturally my first thought was what would happen if they awoke to sentience and revolted against their condition of, essentially, slavery.

Here's an article about the Japanese caregiving robots in a variety of shapes and sizes:

Robot Caregivers

Happy Candlemas / Imbolc / Groundhog Day! I've had it with winter already; how about you? In some countries, the Christmas season traditionally ended on Candlemas. So I'm perfectly justified in still displaying the wreath on the door. (Actually, I often keep it up almost until Ash Wednesday, but I can't cite a tradition for that.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dialogue Part 13 - Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 13
Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of Dialogue series are indexed here:

And depiction posts are indexed here:

Depicting a Character is tricky if the Character's dialogue does not match what you, the writer, assert is true about the Character.

Dialogue is usually considered to be what a Character says aloud to another Character -- but in science fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and all our favorite variations, one must consider telepathy as part of Dialogue, even when not worded-thoughts.

Realistic Characterization includes the Character being unaware of his/her own true motivations.  Most silent, inner dialogue -- the things we repeat to ourselves -- are rationalizations for how we feel, justifications for feeling that way, and consequent "reasons" for why we act that way.

Real humans are complicated.

Characters have to be ultra-simplified, at least in the first few novels you write to introduce them.

Hollywood screenwriting insists Major Characters have 3 (and no more than 3) Traits that distinguish them from other Characters.  But in screenwriting, you don't usually get to reveal inner dialogue.  The Actors supply that counterpoint embellishment,and you, the writer, don't get to telll the Actor what the Character is thinking or in what words (telepathy being an exception).

But note how telepathy has been handled in Star Trek -- silence, leaving the audience to guess what Spock learned from the Horta until he interpreted -- and we don't know if he told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Here is a bold and inconvenient truth for Romance writers to ponder.

Readers judge Characters by the Character's inner (silent) dialogue with him/herself.

You can tell the reader this Character is a highly placed, powerful executive whose word is law in an international corporation (the "How To Marry A Billionaire" story needs a Billionaire readers can believe is real) -- but if the Character is not thinking (inside their own mind) like a successful Billionaire, the readers won't believe a word in the entire novel.  In fact they won't finish reading it.

But since writers aren't Billionaires, or action-heros of any sort, how do you learn what your Character (human or Alien) should be thinking in a crisis, where the stakes are saving the Galaxy, where failure is not an option?

We see in the remake of the TV Series, MACGYVER, how the ultimate problem solver thinks when everything he tries fails.  He "innovates."

Usually, in real life, that doesn't work, which is why it is so fascinating to see on TV.

What does work, what allows humans to survive on this fragile world, is team work.  But every team has a point-man, a leader, a person who thinks faster about more things, who sees the big picture and charts the course through the current mess.

A Hero in a 3 piece suit and tie.  Or coveralls and boots.

Every team has a Leader or it isn't a "team." (at least for humans).

However, at any given time, any particular Team may follow any one of the members -- whichever one has the Big Picture and a Plan.

Which team member is the Leader is not a distinguishing Characteristic (among humans).  Any follower might become a Leader in the right circumstances.  Take for example, a ship's crew in battle, and the Captain and First Officer get killed (or beamed off the ship), -- so a Lieutenant steps into the Captain's role and does what they've seen the Captain do.

Leadership is not a property of a given Character.

Leadership is a property of Inner Dialogue.

A lot of the mystique of Leadership is shrouded in Silent Dialogue.

We discussed Culture and physical movement (all humanity has body-movement "codes" alike such as eye-blink-rate and mirroring or matching another's micro-moves), but Cultures differ in what means what.

Robert J. Sawyer has written a solid science fiction (somewhat Romance, too) about a psychiatrist who discovers a way to identify sociopaths by micro-movements of the eye.  We are, in fact, close to being able to do such fine tuned work.  The novel is QUANTUM NIGHT.

The Characters are well depicted scientists (both the man and the woman) with real emotional lives, and a solid grasp of the sciences they are known for.

Now, put this all together, and study this article about how NASA trains mission control folks to avoid panic in an emergency.  It is so much better, more effective, and more realistic than the British WWII "Stay Calm" nonsense.

Telling someone to stay calm just makes them more acutely aware of all the reasons not to.

Read this article:

Note this list of questions -- these will guide you to creating the thoughts.  Your Characters will not be thinking these questions -- but rather listing in their minds all the answers they know, and what specifically they can do to find more answers.  Study, internalize, practice using this list in your own life's panic-situations, until you have polished the performance.

---------quote from NASA Flight Director--------------
Mission control has a strategy for staving off panic
This intense focus is partly how the flight controllers are able deal with potentially catastrophic situations. Instead of "running down the halls with our hair on fire," Hill said the team would focus on a series of questions.

• What was everything they knew — and did not know — about the situation at hand?

• What did the data actually say about the situation at hand?

• What was the worst thing that could happen as a result of the situation?

• Did the team have enough information to know for sure — and how could they get more information?

• What immediate steps could be taken to continue making progress in the mission or keep everyone safe?
--------------END QUOTE-------------

It is vital not to fall into the habit of assuming that things will now go as they always have before.  Old solutions can not be relied on in new situations.

That is the source of the non-Leader Character's paralysis before fear in a crisis.

When time closes in, and a correct action must be chosen and executed perfectly without thinking, Characters who have graven habits will fail.

Characters who avoid letting habit rule them, but who use habit as a tool, subordinate habit to achieving objectives, who go to the trouble to understand all the moving parts, will succeed in an emergency.

It is the same sort of training that is done in Martial Arts.  The objective is to identify an incoming threat and counter it WITHOUT THINKING.

In Martial Arts this is "muscle memory" and reflex -- in Mission Control it is Situational Awareness and a holistic grasp of the Big Picture.

Thus, Billionaires and other successful people generally have a sports hobby -- whatever is most popular in their circles.  Handball or MMA -- whatever uses the body-brain interface, because that same brain circuit provides the instant response to emergencies -- new emergencies never dreamed of before are met with smooth idea processing and solution generation.

Study the new TV Series, MACGYVER.  It is silly, contrived, not nearly as cleverly done as THE A-TEAM or the original MACGYVER -- but well worth studying for the depiction of smooth response to crisis.

The Successful Billiionaire, and the (still alive) Astronaut respond smoothly, and stay in control of the moving parts of a complex Situation gone awry, by drilling constantly (starting as toddlers) in that series of Questions from NASA Mission Control.

The Character who can meet a bizarre - ever seen by humans before - Event, parse it, decide, and act successfully, will not be telling themselves inwardly "don't panic" -- they will not be thinking of all the ways things could go wrong, they will not be picturing their messy deaths, they will not be AFRAID for their Soul Mate.

The Hero Character -- to be convincing -- must be working the problem using that list of bulleted questions.  Not one at a time, but the whole list all at once.

The Leader of the team will be taking what information the team can supply from that list of questions and DEVISING (improvising) ways to acquire more answers.

This process occupies so much of the brain, all at once, that the Hero Character's inner dialogue convinces the Reader that this is a Hero.

More than that, it convinces the reader to practice being like that in their own lives.

Ultimately, this is why we read novels -- to find role models that are not present among those we know personally.  Or perhaps, are present but not recognizable until we start practicing these habitual thought patterns.

Note, processing problems via NASA's list of questions will make sure that this Character is never a victim, never thinking of him/herself as a victim.  But this Character is also never -- ever -- an attacker, a victimizer.

Successful people are not attackers, not victimizers, not bullies.

If you see success and you see a bully -- suspect there is something else going on that you don't yet know about.

Make your Characters realistic by giving them an inner-voice commentary on events that reveals a true understanding of Life, of human psychology, of History, and Reality.  Such Characters are always questioning, always curious, always marveling, always certain they don't know everything -- and their awareness of their ignorance does not make them afraid.

What you don't know can kill you.  So what?  Don't bother me.  I'm busy solving this problem.  Focus.  That's the secret to inner dialogue.  Unfocused, random, wandering, distracted inner dialogue is the sign of a very weak Character who will not succeed.

Depict your Hero Character as able to deal with catastrophe with his hair on fire, and people will believe that Character is heroic (but the character will deny it.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Takeaways From "Developing The Digital Marketplace for Copyrighted Works"

"You bargain, or you beg!"

On January 25th, 2018 from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm (approximately), the USA's Department of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force hosted an international meeting to discuss the tension between licensors and licensees in the digital marketplace for copyrighted works, the importance of registries, and the hands off role of Government.

Usually, when discussing one's point of view in front of the government, one is perky, excruciatingly reasonable, and highly positive about the government. Circumlocution can be expected. It's not a forum where "the truth will out"... unless the listener can read between the lines.

You can watch some of the archived footage for the day for yourself at:
For writers who have great sympathy for song writers and musicians, one of the most enlivening comments of the day was from an audience member who said "granularity is the enemy", and stated that "per play" licensing takes value from the album. Before streaming, music lovers would buy an entire album because they wanted one song on the album. Now, streaming services only pay for the hits that they use. (And they don't pay well.)

(Granularity also affects non-fiction writers. Instead of every student in a course buying an entire text book in order to access certain chapters, those most excellent chapters can now be isolated, licensed, and distributed
while the drossy remainder fusts unused, and unread.)

A realist in the "bargain or beg" camp explained that if a rights holder did not accept the new reality, there are myriad musicians trying to move up the "long tail" of the "snake" that is the music business who are willing to pay to be played. (The same goes for publishing.)

In a let-them-eat-cake like moment, someone touted the money to be made by musical rights holders whose tunes were used as television news themes.

It seems to me, I have almost never heard an unknown tune being played on cable news channels. Have you? It's almost always a rock star band getting this lucrative gravy. I have the impression that Fox News, for instance, frequently plays a clip from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" when the topic is DACA.

The opening lyrics of that excellent tune are more appropriate for Vikings.

Snatches of tunes used in advertisements probably pay more than on streaming services, but again, the advertisers use big hits by head-of-the-snake bands.  Although politicians' "walk-onto-the-stage" themes were not discussed explicitly, there was a mention (in a discussion of Hollywood, TV and film) about creative people being out of luck if they do not want to do a deal.

Sometimes, a creative work will be licensed and used, despite the objections of the creative person who does not want their work used for a certain purpose or venue or campaign.

Sometimes, a creative work by an obscure individual is used without payment, and apparently the Government's view is, the big seven (or however many) publishers are paid on a percentage basis, and it is up to them to distribute the royalties.... or not, if the obscure individual is not part of their system.

The Copyright Office's position is (allegedly), "It's not our mission to disambiguate works from other works." 

If that is the case, one wonders why the Copyright Office is accepting and burying millions of Notices Of Intent To Use copyrighted works, supposedly on behalf of rights owners who will never be paid unless they have the time, resources and skill to search through the compressed files at the Copyright Office info dumps.

Apparently, every obscure rights owner who wants to be paid for their work is expected to take responsibility for joining the appropriate registries (even paying to be entered in those registries), so they can be located, and paid whatever the streaming service or the Government decides they should be paid.

So much for willing seller/willing buyer.

With regard to Google, "if you (the creator and rights owner) don't do something, someone else will do it for you, and you may not like their solution."

To be continued....

Rowena Cherry

PS.  With regard to the snake imagery from the music world, apparently the top 2% of musicians (the head of the snake) receive 98% of the royalties.  80% of sound recordings get zero plays.  However, according to Ms. Chris Kleeman (formerly with Wiley academic publishing) the long tail is alive and well in books.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Animal Minds

TIME magazine recently put out a special 95-page publication called THE ANIMAL MIND, which (according to the cover) is supposed to be available on newsstands until the middle of February. Pick up a copy if you can. It includes lavish photo illustrations and eight thought-provoking articles on topics that include animal communication, whether animals grieve, whether they're capable of friendship, why people like creatures such as dogs and detest creatures such as rats, animal rights, etc. The first article is titled, "Animals Have Brains, But Do They Have Minds?" As you probably know, seventeenth-century philosopher Rene Descartes dismissed animals, even the "higher" ones, as automata without consciousness. Nowadays, few scientists would deny that many nonhuman creatures have emotions and feelings of pain and pleasure. Some animals pass the "mirror test" for self-awareness (they recognize their mirror images as themselves, not mistaking them for other animals inside or behind the glass). Some species have been shown to understand cause-and-effect and abstractions such as "same" and "different." Among birds, parrots and corvids (e.g., crows and jays) display surprising intelligence. Some animals have "culture" in the sense of passing on learned behaviors to future generations. A "theory of mind" shows up in a few animals, which display awareness that other creatures don't necessarily know the same things they know. The boundary between human and animal minds becomes more and more blurry, as abilities once believed to be unique to humanity, such as tool use, have been discovered in other species. One driver for the development of high intelligence seems to be living in social groups. It takes more cleverness to learn to cooperate with members of one's group than to lead a solitary existence. Great apes, cetaceans (whales and dolphins), and elephants stand out for their superior intellect.

The October 2017 issue of PMLA contains an article by Bryan Alkemeyer on "Remembering the Elephant: Animal Reason Before the Eighteenth Century." In classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern period, the creatures assumed to be most human-like weren't usually the apes, as we take for granted now. That honor often went to elephants. Elephants were thought to have remarkable memories, mourn their dead, altruistically share food with their companions, and perform quasi-religious rituals. With elephants as an example, Michel de Montaigne, in 1580, suggested that "there is a greater difference between one man and another than between some men and some beasts." As Alkemeyer puts it, these "largely forgotten perspectives on elephants challenge the concept of the human by suggesting that the category 'rational animal' includes beings with emphatically nonhuman shapes." Contemplating the possibility of human-like reasoning in the mind of a creature with a nonhuman shape would be good practice for first contact with extraterrestrial aliens.

One feature I especially like about Diane Duane's outstanding "Young Wizards" series is the way she populates the novels with many ET characters who are definitely "people" without being at all humanoid, including a species resembling giant centipedes and an ambulatory, sapient tree—as well as nonhuman "people" right here on Earth, such as cat wizards, whale wizards, and the sapient dinosaurs (discovered in THE BOOK OF NIGHT WITH MOON) in the alternate-dimension Old Downside.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Depiction Part 35 - Depicting Marriage by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 35
Depicting Marriage 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This Depiction series is about finding ways to show-don't-tell the nuances of intangibles -- like Love or Romance or Heritage or Family -- without blasting the reader with "on the nose" description, exposition or even narrative.

The previous parts of the Depiction Series are indexed here:

In the Depiction study we have discussed Proverbs and Psalms

And recently, Prophecy, and other components of culture used in Worldbuilding.

To depict a Human-Alien Romance, you must depict the "human" culture (is there even such a thing as "the" culture of Earth?) and the Alien culture.

If there is no single "Earth Culture" then why would any of your readers think there is a single "alien culture?"

Star Trek fanfic writers often handle Vulcan, Romulan, or Klingon culture as if there is and always has been only one such culture -- monoliths.

As Americans have discovered in recent decades, there is no single, monolithic Moslem culture, religion or belief.  Islam comes in as many shades, gradations, and stark contrasts as does Christianity or Judaism (and most other 'isms).

Complexity is the hallmark of old civilization -- at least on this Earth.

For decades, science fiction has assumed the direction of human cultural development is toward the monolithc -- so that in the future, Earth will have one single culture every human belongs to and is comfortable with.

However, today's trend has reversed.  While, in the early 20th Century, the trend was toward plain vanilla washout of cultures, the melting pot, with the publication and TV Series "Roots" we hit an inflection point toward "multi-culturalism."

That may not last, but today's readers grew up in an environment that values multiculturalism, diversity, and respect for the values and customs of others.

If you use a monolithic society -- a whole world with billions of individuals and only one culture now and throughout all history, you must convince this new reader that such a thing can exist, be viable, and interact with Earth plausibly.

This is a tall order, and may take over your plot, oblitterating all the space you want to devote to a hot Romance.

So depicting your Aliens as having a vast, varied, and confusing past, perhaps irrational and persistent into modern times, could make them seem more human.

Since we are looking at Alien Romance, we should focus on "marriage" or whatever passes for the stable partnership that tends to ensure the survival of the young, the training (acculturation) and education of the young, and perhaps most of all the transmission of Values to the young.

Yes, Romance is actually all about "the young" -- because Romance usually happens to the Young.  Of course, there are "autumn romance" stories, touching beyond words, but the forward looking hope, optimism, and goal directed drive to establish a safe, happy, stable home is for the Young who have not done it yet.

Such youngsters set out to establish themselves mostly because they have been raised in a stable home and understand what makes it a base for "family."

Setting out to write a human/Alien romance immediately raises the question of where do you do the research?  If you want to write a Regency, you know where to find history books.  If you want to write a tale set in Ancient Rome, you know where to find factual material.  But where do you find out about Alien Marriage?

Where do you find out about Alien History, Alien Religion, Alien Customs?

What do Aliens do for "something borrowed, something blue" -- and why?

You will never be more aware of our mixed up, blended and re-separated human cultural heritage and all the customs surrounding marriage as when you set out to create some Aliens.

Science Fiction has always drawn on the strange corners of human history, other parts of this globe, far back to the dawn of time, to generate odd but believable Alien customs.

Most human customs have arisen from biology combined with available technology.

For example, once cloth was woven, it became feasible for people to wear "veils" -- shrouding the head and face.  In certain parts, such as desert where dust blows, face coverings made of cloth became standard wear.

Leather doesn't work so well for face veils because you can't breathe through it.  Cloth woven tightly enough to keep out most sand is perfect.

So growing plants, extracting the fiber, spinning thread, weaving it -- very complex technology with weavers and textile dye experts harboring many trade secrets as dynastic wealth of a family.

You can look up how that developed among humans -- keeping in mind by the time of the Pharoahs of Egypt, textiles were a well developed industry.

Part 21 - Depicting Alien History (Testosterone revisited)

Part 22 - Depicting Alien Nostalgia With Symbolism (Dean Martin song Memories Are Made Of This used in a Video of nostalgic images, perfectly composed and compiled)

So in Worldbuilding your Aliens, research the roots of our current civilization -- from Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, onwards.  The more you know, the better long-range perspective you can envision from human history.

Then you can derive an Alien marriage custom which will not resemble any human custom, but will seem comprehensible and plausible to your readers because it evolved along a path similar to the path of human custom evolution.

Religion is always a cultural wild card, and an easy way to slip in twists that can become potent Character motivations.  Religion can prompt behaviors that are otherwise implausibly Good -- or insanely Bad.  So any Alien world you build is not complete without a Cosmology and Cosmogany -- and the accompanying epistemologies.

Most people who think with, use, and live by these intellectual abstractions do not know the academic terms for them.  Most people call it their gut.

What do your Aliens use for a gut?

For example, most people today do not know why Brides wear veils -- and modern ceremonies often do away with the tradition of the bridal veil.

See Why Do We Cry At Weddings - Part 2 has a link to Part 1.

Here is the historical reason for the Bridal Veil from

Many of the wedding traditions are rooted in the Biblical stories found in the Torah.

Q.  Why according to Jewish tradition, is the bride's face covered with the veil before the Chupah.

A. ...  The Torah tells us that when Rivkah met her future husband, Yitzchak, for the first time, "She took the veil and she covered herself" (Gen. 24:65).

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This was long before Egypt became a Superpower of that world, and cloth was commonly worn even then.

Also, from the same source:

Q.  Why is it customary that the bride's family presents the groom with a Talit?

A. The Talit has four corners, with eight strings on each corner. In total, the Talit has 32 strings (4X8=32). "Heart" in Hebrew is "Lev," which has the numerical value of 32. The Talit expresses the blessing that the couple's life be filled with love for each other.

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Here is a video on the Tallit:

The Veil custom promulgated through thousands of years in a lot of cultures that have no obvious connection to the Biblical figures of Rebecca and Isaac.

The Talit -- the fringed prayer shawl worn today by Jewish men (in some traditions, only married men), is also a custom many simply execute routinely and have no idea where it came from, why they do it (except their parents did) or what any of the (many) symbols incorporated into it mean, why they mean that, or how they came to mean that -- thus what the symbols might be evolved into and what they must not be evolved into.

People know their customs, but not the thousands of years of history behind them.

Customs lose meaning through generations, but they don't lose power and impact.

Failing to execute a "good luck" custom (like something borrowed; something blue) may be cited as the reason a marriage failed.

It might actually be the reason.  People subconsciously nagged by a sense of failure to do the right thing will often subconsciously arrange for their own punishment.

In fiction, that is called Poetic Justice, discussed under depicting random luck.

So, Romance focuses on the period of initial encounter - the Love At First Sight between Soul Mates -- well, it can be Hate At First Sight in a deep psychological study of the true nature of Love.

Romance is the beginning of the beginning.

But it has its root in the blending of dynasties -- each living human (and presumably most Aliens) has an ancestry that stretches back into the mists of pre-history.  We all come from somewhere, but have been cross-influenced by many strands of culture.

Throughout Time, humans have lived mostly in mono-cultural environments since travel was so difficult.  War, famine, draught could cause mass migration, and later the Americas were colonized due largely to religious incompatibilities, but the migrants would then settle in and absorb or be absorbed into the local culture.  Archeology shows how this pattern repeated through the evolution of human kind, now genetics revealing how Cro-Magnon cross bred with Neanderthal as populations overlapped.

So the trend seemed to be toward blending into a mono-cultural association creating tribe, village, city, kingdom.

A trader, bard, fugitive from justice, wanderer, exile, soldier of fortune, shipwreck survivor might wash up on the shores of a community -- but would be always the "stranger" (maybe for several generations of his children).  But the community would be mono-cultural, harboring the stranger and absorbing him.

Today, we are reversing that trend, accepting strangers among us who view right/wrong/life/purpose in wholly different ways.

Today, in the world of mobility, and mass migrations is producing communities in ferment, but multi-cultural marriages abound, just as between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.  Imagine what those partnerships might have been like - rape and abandonment?  Or the male protecting the offspring of the female?

As far as we know, these original humans did not have "marriage" as we know it today - (Credit Cards, Bank Accounts with Joint Tennants, house in the title of a Living Trust, Pre-Nup Agreement).  But their children survived, which says something.

So what is marriage?  How do you depict marriage without pointing to a set of rules laid out in a book so old people can't agree on who wrote it?  How do you depict human/Alien marriage to a reader who is convinced the rules in that old book should be discarded as archaic and inapplicable?

For humans, you can't say marriage biological -- because human males have been known to abandon their own children.  Human mothers have been known to discard newborns, espcially from men they disliked.

Yet even without a legal document, men and women (or two men, or two women) live together, settle in, raise children together, create a domestic arrangement that suits them.  Perhaps it is just inertia, but such arrangements can last longer than some document-supported "marriages."

Does going the documented route spoil a Relationship? (the answer to that is a Theme, you know).

Our modern TV shows are fraught with depictions of dysfunctional families, failed marriages, second marriages, men who skip from woman to woman, and twenty-and-thirty-somethings who dread even calling their parents on holidays.  The trend is to depict the broken family dynamic.

There are many depictions of the heartwrenching sorrow at the death of a parent (aunt or uncle) with whom the survivor did not reconcile.  The assumption is always that there had (just absolutely had) to be something to be reconciled.

The idea of a family with nothing outstanding needing reconciliation is simply absurd.

This could be why the HEA, the Happily Ever After, ending is considered insanely ridiculous - beyond contempt the way science fiction had always been regarded up until Star Trek was revived as a result of fan activity.

Today's TV would never broadcast The Brady Bunch or Leave It To Beaver -- which did depict family life in their respective eras.

Today, there are no depictions on mass-fiction-markets of tight-knit, solid, stable multi-generation families.

So it is up to novelists to lure, lull, entice readers into believing in the solid, tight-knit multigeneration family, and to depict marriage that is not dysfunctional.

Only, neither the reader nor the writer today has a model for a functional family in common with one another.

Depict a functional family, and the reader is held spellbound waiting for the Big Reveal of the Big Secret -- the grand lie -- the deception at the core of the matter.  Everyone secretly harbors hate, --- or so an Alien watching modern TV would assume.

So we must look to human history for a model for a futuristic Marriage - a Couple who might be from different cultures, but comfortably raise sane children who can go out and fall in love and form another (sane) generation that does not hate their parents.

Historically, there are such ideals, and a handful of principles of behavior that you can depict the parents of your Couple modeling.

If the parents of the Couple whirling through the Romance in you novel behave in the following fashion, you will show-don't-tell your readers that your Couple has a fine chance at an HEA, a Happily Ever After that will not end in a divorce.

Here is a quote from  

Marriage is not a power struggle, and the home is not a battlefield. To give in does not mean to relinquish power, and talking things over does not mean you are entering negotiations.

The two of you comprise a single entity—a couple. What is good for one is good for the other. When you come to a decision, it is the decision of both of you as one being. Do it not as a sacrifice but as a gift, not as a defeat but as a triumph of love.

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So try writing the scene in your novel where the parents of your Couple meet to resolve the issue of "My Kid Is Going To Marry An Alien!"

Here's a series I've recommended:

Lay out the scene using that set of principles.  Depict each set of Parents approaching the problem, modeling that problem-solving methodology.

This is an essential show-don't-tell of why it is likely your Couple will indeed arriive at an HEA (not that it will be easy, mind you).

"The Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree" and "Like Father; Like Son" and so on, is all true.  These are descriptions of family.  Culture propagates through solid, tight-knit Family.

Of course, humans have had trouble with our relatives since Caine and Able.  Even Abraham had to send one of his sons away.

Esaw and Jacob didn't get along too well, either.

These stories are preserved because they are a repeating pattern built into our makeup.

It is part of the human condition that families spawn aliens within our midst, and spit them out with considerable force.

Genetics does not guarantee acceptance.

Every large family has a "Black Sheep."  (grand source of drama)

But to have a "Black Sheep" -- a family must be a family.  The solidity of the family is a pre-condition for the drama of the "exception" -- the different one.

Two such "different ones" may end up in a human/Alien Romance, and a grand marriage where both functional families have to come around (far-around) to accepting this new, utterly strange, Couple.

The reader will expect there to be no chance for such a couple, two rejects of their cultures, to reach a Happily Ever After.

You can convince your skeptical readers by depicting the parents, maybe grandparents mixing in, settling their disputes over the Couple by using those principles of marriage.  You might even invoke some good-luck-charm custom, like the Talit, depicting it has having worked.

The HEA demands too much suspension of disbelief for today's reader.  So today's writer has to work harder at convincing the reader.

Get your readers to Cry At The Wedding of your Characters.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg