Perchance To Dream

I’m still ignoring current politics (for the most part). I just don’t have the energy to dive into that particular cesspool, let alone try to tread water and swim…

My goal, as far as this blog (and my writing in general) is concerned, is for readers to never really know just where I am on the political “spectrum”. That is, to be honest, a pretty freeing thing as far as the ideas and dynamics I get to use in my stories. It also lets me play with assumptions and preconceptions*. I can use scenes and incidents as a bit of a Rohrshach Test to let people read in their own answers.

*I ran across this story/research on assumptions once, and it still is one of the best things ever – click the link and give it a read!

A separate part of the problem is that I don’t really fit all that neatly anywhere on the spectrum. I believe things from many different “camps”, and value things that occasionally set me at odds with even those who generally share my worldview.

*shrug*

What the fuck…it keeps life interesting and entertaining, at the very least. And, by definition, anyone who agrees with me 100% of the time is completely nuts anyway. Groucho had it right: I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would admit someone like me!

But…this post is something of a but.

Since I’m writing sci-fi* at the moment, I thought I would (should?) say a bit of something on plans and directions for the US space program for the next several years.

*It definitely ain’t hard sci-fi…I could actually set it in a current, modern city and get away with it, but by doing sci-fi for Connor’s stories, I get to exaggerate and emphasize certain problems and crises I see in modern western society and culture.

The elephant in the room, at this point, is climate and Earth-monitoring so I’ll start there. I know this will set some people off right away, but bear with me: I don’t actually see a problem with transferring the vast bulk (if not all) of those tasks to the NOAA. That is the NOAA’s mission, after all.

It does not mean those satellites and missions are going away – were that case, then there would be a real problem. But by putting them completely under the agency most responsible for analyzing and using the data, I think there can be some legitimate savings and advantages. There can also be a a greater level of recognition (and accountability) for what the NOAA does. That is a good thing.

To be honest, the more important part of this argument is, for me, about NASA itself. That space agency, once so geared to exploration and expanding the reach and grasp of human knowledge and endeavor, has become far too limited and narrow.

I would dearly love to see NASA leave near-Earth orbit (for the most part – certainly not completely) to the burgeoning private enterprises. The basic foundation has been laid – much like with the US highway system – now it is time to let the UPSes and FedExes and Amazons of the future develop and grow.

To be honest, I think the only way we will ever see near-Earth orbit and the LaGrange points develop the way sci-fi has been dreaming of for sixty-plus years is for creative, aggressive and ambitious folks to figure out how to make a buck up there…

The other benefit is “freeing” NASA to focus 100% on what it does best: pushing the envelope. A big reason why I want to see the monitoring and orbital stuff taken out of their bailiwick is so they can turn their attention and energy to exploring outside of Earth’s orbit. Manned missions focusing on the moon and Mars (at present). Asteroid mapping and exploration in order to eventually open the gates to mining, as well as adding a further “jump off” point for outer system exploration and development.

And then the really exciting stuff: the outer system missions.

New Horizons should be a starting point for Kuiper Belt and trans-Neptunian objects, not an end.

More missions to Jupiter and Saturn. No, really…please, more missions to Jupiter and Saturn!

Missions to Uranus and Neptune (neither of which we have, in so many words, so much as scratched the surface of).

More spaceborne telescopes and observatories for deep space work. Shit, I recently spent a couple hours obsessing over the images from HR 8799. Yes, I know, they were mostly from Keck, but still…direct imaging of an extra-solar system! That gives me a serious nerd-stiffie.

In the end, I want NASA to use and build on what it has done very, very well. Crap, the Mars rovers are fucking All-Stars at minor league prices. And don’t even get me started on Cassini and Galileo…

Once we accept that the way things are working in space has to change and grow (and I think most, if not all, can agree on that), then all that remains is to work out the details.

And to dream…always to dream, and always to reach farther…

The Peasants Rejoiced!

I gave myself the best present of all this week: I started the actual writing.

img_0028Yay!

Am I done with all the outlining? Nope.

Am I done with all the character details? Nope.

Is the Act I outline in good enough shape to start the process of laying out and writing scenes? Is the overall story idea developed enough? Big yes, to both.

I’ve mentioned before that I write the end of the story first (err, well, sorta…), then go back to the beginning. To me, you can’t go on a journey until you know where you start and where you finish. In between? That’s the time for all the wandering and randomness. And, yes, in real world terms that is how I ended up staying in a brothel in Spain. Don’t ask.

In writing terms that means I get to spend the next month or two working on Acts I and IV. When those are finally pounded into first-draft shape, then I will go back and fill in all the blanks in Acts II and III to make everything come together.

Hey, it works for me.

Honestly, I’m pretty geeked up about this – I’ve done snippets and little bits and pieces, but to finally get to sit down and write…well, that’s the fun part.

Which brings me to the harder part: beta readers.

As writers, we need ’em. But finding the right ones? That’s pretty damned hard. Too often those we ask to read either give no feedback at all, or give feedback that is, err, “less than useful”.

Actors are pretty much the biggest attention-whores in the Universe – shit, their entire being depends on people paying attention to them – but writers ain’t all that far behind. We live inside our own heads, and in general we understand just how badly we can lie to ourselves. We need the feedback and comments from readers. Even misanthropes like me crave that feedback…

I know writers who insist they will only use other writers as beta-readers. That, to me, is a bit of a head-scratcher.  On the one hand I can understand the sentiment: who better than a writer to know what feedback is important?

On the other hand, isn’t that just a bit like a manic-depressive getting therapy from a sociopath?*

*An old Steven Wright joke: a masochist and a sadist go on a date. The masochist says, “Hurt me!” The sadist answers, “No.”

I’ll have to think pretty hard about my beta-readers for this one. Yes, I trust myself and what I imagine and write. But trusting myself does not mean I actually get it right. That is what a beta-reader is for: to find the inevitable holes and flaws. It most definitely is not a grammar thing, it’s a story thing, and not a lot of people are wired to think (let alone respond) that way.

Shit, I wonder if I can order one from Amazon…

Yet Another Random Post

I wrote a while back about different books that influenced me, as well as books that I thought folks should read (or have read) to really get their mind wrapped around a breadth of voices and visions.

Well, that topic is part of a much larger argument/debate in which I’m involved. I wish I could say the debate was new and fresh. It’s not. It’s one of the oldest debates around: what makes someone educated?

Now, to set the stage a bit…this debate is taking place in a forum for navalists. Many are current or former officers or senior enlisted, some are involved in naval history, and others are civilians in the world of defense policy or products.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying this is a STEM playground. My degrees in history and linguistics are not in the majority.

The gist of the argument is the same you can hear or read in the news these days: the only legitimate courses of study are the STEM majors. Anything else is a waste of time, money and effort.

Bullshit.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we need engineers and scientists and accountants.* We need lots of them. But is that the totality of life? Of intelligence and education? Not even a little bit.

*Shit like Marketing and Poli-Sci? Those we can drop into a hole, fill the hole, then nuke the shit out of the land containing said hole…

Short of modern day Germany, pretty much the most engineering-centric society in human history was ancient Rome. The Romans really only did three things well: make laws, kill people, and build stuff. We love to look at the buildings and roads they left, but how many names of Roman architects do we remember?

Exactly.

We remember Caesar (who could do all three superbly well), Cicero, Virgil and Ovid. Heck, we remember Marcus Aurelius as a writer and philosopher far more than as a general and builder.

I used Caesar and Marcus Aurelius as examples very intentionally. To them I could add other names: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Ben Franklin, Tokugawa Ieyasu…

What do all these names have in common? They could do it all.

There was a current in history, up until the mid-20th century or thereabouts, that demanded a person who wanted to consider themselves educated have a wide and comprehensive base of knowledge.

Literature, Poetry, Music, Art, Personal Combat*, Engineering, Strategy, Politics, Math, Logic, Language. A bit of everything was expected, to be honest. Of course people could and would be better at some of those versus others – the Caesars and DaVincis are real rarities – but the expectation was to have at least a grounding in all.

*I’ll use that term to cover the wide variety of fighting skills (swords, spears, bows, guns, etc…) that changed and evolved as time went by.

But that message has seemingly been lost. We are telling students today that only math matters. That things like history and literature and art and music are wastes. I cannot and will not accept that. Not even the littlest bit.

To be honest, I would like to see all levels of schools, from elementary through college, bring back a breadth of education. I want kids to learn algebra, geometry and calculus, yes, but at the same time I want them to learn the basics of music. I want them to learn to appreciate art and literature. Crap, I also want committed and dedicated PE classes.

A person is a whole that is greater than the sum of his or her parts. But if you neglect any of those parts, that whole becomes vastly less. Challenge yourself, and challenge any kids you know and can influence: learn it all. Be a whole person, don’t be the limited stereotypes that “society” today seems to want.

When Commitment Becomes Insanity

Mmmm…commitment. Or a complete lack thereof. I’m not really sure…you be the judge:

It is still very much winter where I live. Now, winter here means we can get two feet of snow in an afternoon then have temps in the fifties for the next week. I have, quite literally, gone skiing in shorts and a sweatshirt since I moved here.

That being said, I do have my limits.

I’m still trying to be a good boy and ride my bike as much as possible.  It feels good, it’s healthy, and hey, I can confuse all the Prius drivers by riding like a “civilized” person then go off and tear up the countryside in a 4×4…

At any rate, back to riding. It’s supposed to be in the forties today. Supposed to be.

I’m tough, I can ride in that. C’mon – some gloves, a decent fleece…how hard can it be?

I made it two miles.

Holy shit it’s cold. “Walking in a Winter Wonderlond” my ass – I’m ready for some global warming right fucking now!

My fleece might as well be made from used paper towels. My gloves are, well, back at home. And my, err, “nether regions” have run away to hide somewhere warm. I hope they come back some day.

Soooo, either I’m committed because I decided to go for ride in the face of all common sense, or I’m a weak-willed failure because all I could manage was a ride to a coffee place. Evens worse, it’s the most annoyingly hipster coffee place within twenty miles of me. Shit.  I blame Al Gore for this.

All I know is it better warm up soon or I might end up living here…