Faith, and the Loss Thereof

Okay, so I think I’m over my fit of temper from the last post.

Err…

Well…

I think I’m willing to work through it, anyway…and that’s almost as good, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think WordPress has achieved an entirely new level of moronicity* with their changes, but I’m going to try and struggle through.  And, yeah, some of that willingness to struggle is the ubercompetitive pride that I usually try to hide: I ain’t gonna let any other sonofabitchasswagon beat me! The less said about that side of my personality, the better.

*Why am I a sci-fi/fantasy writer?  Because I freaking LOVE to make up words!

Ahem.

So, where does that intro lead me?

Not into the following post, as a matter of a fact.

I, err…

Look, when the hell have I ever planned one of these posts?!  Yeah, yeah…I come in with an idea of what I want to talk about, but that original idea generally lasts about as long as a Twinkie at a table of 7th graders.  Once I start hitting the keys — once the words start to flow — that original plan is nothing more than a barely remembered aftertaste…

There’s been a conspiracy of late.  No, not THAT conspiracy!  No Satan-worshipping pedophile deep-state resistance for me, thank you very much.  No, this conspiracy is worse.  It’s a conspiracy of those I love, and those I read, and the world itself.  It is a conspiracy to remind of that which I no longer am; of that which I have left behind.

I just finished a new fantasy series that really put the capstone onto this “conspiracy.”  The first two books in the trilogy were good.  Good, but not Tolkien/Jordan/Martin good.  Just good.  They were also pretty basic, with not a lot of undercurrent and subtext to go with the plot and characters.  Then the third book…the third book went and pulled the rest of the clubs out of the bag.

Oh, the message wasn’t what you would call subtle…not even close, in fact.  This was CS Lewis-style allegorical fantasy, rather than Tolkien-style high fantasy.*

*If you don’t know the differing views and philosophies those two close friends brought to their respective works, you should probably go back and study more…

The backdrop for this is that I used to be a Christian.  I still consider something of a Christian, although I am far, far closer to a Deist than to any of the **intentionally skipping controversial comments here** flavors of “Christianity” that so dominate the US today.

So what got me to thinking about this?

That third book.  I copied out and emailed to myself several quotes from that book, but I’m only going to use here the first of those.  Mainly because it was the one that got me to thinking, but also because it is the one that I think has the most to say to modern US-style Christianity (note — I’m editing the quote here to be more general, but book details are at the end of this post):

“Because that’s not how it works. Faithful people suffer and evil people prosper all the time[…]you must know that is true. Besides, if our actions are driven only by reward or punishment—eternal or otherwise—then they are motivated by greed and selfishness, not faith or love. That is where so many people go wrong, even those who say they believe in [God]. They obey because they think it will make their lives better, rather than themselves. And that is very much the wrong reason.”

Why am I not a Christian?  Two reasons I’ll give you — and a third I will keep to myself, thank you very much.

The first, and primary, of those is that US-style Christianity is all about fear and punishment and force.  Do this or go to hell.  Live like this or go to hell.  Believe this or go to hell.

That there is some Kool-Aid-drinking, mind-control bullshit…especially when fed to children.  If a “god” loved me so much he would send me to Hell for even questioning, I’m quite happy to play for another team.

The second of the reasons is that Christians — mostly, but not exclusively, US-style — can’t leave well enough alone.  They can’t let anyone else get on with their life if that life conflicts with their own prejudices and intolerance.  And, yes, this second reason is basically a subset of the first…

But every so often my own prejudices and snap-judgments get challenged.  Every so often you talk to, or listen to, or read, that person who can iterate something different.  The best stories, by the way, can iterate something different.  Oh, it doesn’t have to be religion — arguable, shouldn’t be — but it has to be something meaningful.

Why do Joe Haldeman and Ursula LeGuin and Robert Heinlein and George Orwell still resonate as sci-fi writers?  Because they wrote far more than they wrote.  Their words were about more than plot and character, their words were about the freaking world…about life, and all the bullshit that goes with it.

I’m not going to hold James Islington up in that company — his books were good, but nothing near that good — but he gets all the credit in the world for making me think and question my usual knee-jerk dismissal of “message” writing.

My rule on this, by the way, is if the writer is someone with whom I would like to sit down and have a drink and talk through what they wrote. The list of such writers is pretty stinking small, but Islington (and his message) has made his way onto it.

Well done, sir.

**Note — The specific book in question is “The Light of All That Falls” from the Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

New Year’s Nostalgic Eve

Okay, so I’ve mentioned before — oh so many times before — just how much I hate the “sin” of nostalgia.  Looking back, for me, is no road I ever want to take.

That being said…

That being said, the most dangerous minefield in the world for me right now lies in the various streaming services.  Oh, the danger is not physical, no more than it is political, social or even cultural.  No, the danger is for worse than that — the danger is nostalgic.

I am, I should probably mention, far more than hip-deep in that particular minefield at this particular moment.

I gave up cable and satellite TV because I was tired of wasting time watching shit I didn’t particularly want to watch.  “No,” I said to myself, “it’d be much better to stream and watch just those shows I want to spend time on.”

That thought sounds great on the surface.  Hell, it sounds like exactly what I want…

Then I start browsing the catalogs for various services.  Then I fall into the twin minefields of nostalgia and memory.  Then I start exploring all that with which I grew up…

Don’t get me wrong, I want and like to try the new and unique, but there is always the pull of the old and familiar.

“Wait a damned second!  Just what the hell are you talking about?” I hear you cry.

Star Trek (the original series, thank you very much!), The Twilight Zone, Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, Star Wars, BladeRunner, and…well…Lost in Space.

Yeah, yeah, I admit it: I (kinda) grew up on Lost in Space.  Crap, even as a kid, watching the show a couple of decades and more after it originally aired, I knew it was cheesy schlock.  I knew that, and still I watched it every Saturday morning.  Still I wished I was Will Robinson…

Okay, so that still doesn’t answer your cry.  Fine.  Here goes the answer, here is why I’m talking about this — I sat down tonight to stream something.  I checked out my usual options and nothing struck me, so I finally dusted off my old NetFlix subscription to check out what they had going.D49D5096-1FAC-42FE-B870-323E91CFD336

Danger, Will Robinson!

Crap, as soon as I saw NetFlix had a take on that old series, I had no choice but to renew.  I certainly had no choice in what I was going to watch tonight!*

*”Wait, why aren’t are you going out to live it up on New Year’s Eve?!”  Nope.  Not anymore, not for me.  Too much memory, too much pain.  I either watch TV, or I get bitterly, painfully, intentionally not-gonna-function-tomorrow drunk.  Since there’s no middle ground for me on New Year’s Eve, I have lately tended to go with the TV option…

I don’t even know if this particular version of that old show is any good; all I know is that it scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had.  And, even if the new Will Robinson fails, there still is Stranger Things to kick me in the nostalgia gland…D3DAD449-C104-43D0-B0DD-E1120154A44C

Happy Freaking New Year, Will Robinson!!

I Don’t Do Nostalgia

Something scary happened to me the other day.  Now, I get disturbing and unsettling things fairly often, and I get irritating things every single day, but scary?  Not so much.

I was talking with an acquaintance.  Arguing, really.  It was a discussion about the best sci-fi TV series of all time.  Nothing unusual for me in a debate like; while I have strong opinions on shows I love and hate, I am always looking for ways to get another perspective, always willing to talk about shows and movies.

images-3.jpegIn addition to writing and music, I am also — if you haven’t guessed — a movie and TV nerd.  We all have regrets from when we we were young.  We all have those annoyingly nostalgic memories and thoughts of paths not taken.  Well, my biggest regret, my worst missed path, was in not following my love of cinematography and directing.  I worked in film/TV in high school, even did some in college, but I never trusted myself enough to pursue it.  Of course, I didn’t trust myself to pursue anything in that first stint in college…which is probably why I drank my way through it rather than study…

Ahem.  Never mind.  That particular little bit of random regret is most definitely not what I sat down to write about…

I’ll spare you all the gory details of the debate itself.  I mean, you already KNEW Deep Space 9 was the best of the Star Trek series, that the (relatively) recent re-make of V was muddled garbage, and that HBO’s Game of Thrones is better than the actual books right?  Right?!?  Of course you knew all that.

None of that was the scary part, anyway.  Want to know what the scary part was?  Firefly.

images-2.jpegFire-fucking-fly.

Not just one of my favorite sci-fi shows, it’s one of my favorite shows of any genre and any time period.  I mean, crap, it’s on my list with Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H and Cheers, for God’s sake…

And it’s better than fifteen years old.

FIFTEEN!

Holy shit…it feels like that thing just came out!  I mean…crap…I can still remember watching it when it when it was new!  Hell, I still binge-watch it at least once a year…

Fifteen years old.

The damned show can almost drive.  Pretty soon it’ll get married and have little baby shows!*  Crap, a barrel of scotch made when it premiered is just about ready to drink!

*Don’t I wish — Firefly’s tiny fourteen episode run is still far-too heartbreakingly short.

By the way, if you want a good lesson in the use of flashbacks and seemingly-random jumps in sequence and timing to tell a story, and to build pathos, watch the episode Out of Gas.  I’ve written before about learning from everything when it comes to writing, and I meant it.  Some of the most important lessons on writing and storytelling I’ve ever learned came from movies: Spielberg on foreshadowing, Hitchcock on tension and suspense, Scorsese on symbolism, Scott on mood and atmosphere, Singer on manipulating perception and expectations…I could go on for a long time, but I think I’ll save that digression for another time.

The original Star Trek is over fifty…Star Wars over forty…Blade Runner thirty-five…and none of that is quite so depressing as Firefly being fifteen.

Crap, I don’t do memory (when I can help it), and I avoid nostalgia like the plague…this is no freaking way to start a day…

***

Random musical interlude — nothing really to do with Firefly or the post I just wrote, nothing other than the fact that this particular song is one of the most evocative pieces I have ever heard.  I know it’s the key and the progression and the rhythm that all combine to evoke memory and nostalgia…I know that, but still it works:

Making Stuff Up

Okay, it’s time for the second part of the “long post” I promised.  I did the astronomy bit last week, so today gets to focus on the sci-fi part…

I’ve already done a couple of posts on why I write sci-fi (most recently here), so I won’t go too far down that particular rabbit hole, other than to say that I like sci-fi as a tool.  That genre lets me play with social and political and cultural questions and problems in ways that “real world” fiction wouldn’t really allow.

Okay, that’s it for the theory part of the post.  Instead, I want to get to the nuts-and-bolts of how (and why) I turn my love of history and astronomy into science fiction stories…

Err…

That’s easy: I like making shit up.  I make a lot of shit up…and that’s the fun bit.

Crap…maybe I should expand on that explanation just a bit…

**By the way — if you’re as much a fan of cognitive dissonance as I am, you might enjoy the fact that I’m listening to a band called the Avett Brothers while I write…this song has many things going for it, but I’m pretty sure no one would ever associate it with sci-fi!**

First off, I am in no way or form a writer of “hard sci-fi.”  Hard sci-fi, for the uninitiated, focuses on evolving real-world, modern physics and science into the future.  It tends to be the product of those astronomers and physics professors who have turned their hand to writing…folks like Clarke and Benford* and a handful of others.  Now, a few guys have made it work, but the vast majority of “hard sci-fi” concentrates just too much on the “hard” part — the science and engineering become the story most of the time, and…well…that doesn’t often make for a good read.  Even good ol’ Arthur C. could get dry and boring at times…and that’s as close to science-fiction-blasphemy as I can come without an angry nerd-mob coming for me with torches and pitchforks.

*An old professor of mine, by the way…thanks, Dr. Benford!

No, when I write sci-fi the, err, science part is NOT foremost in my mind.  Character and story — and those social, cultural, and political problems that I mentioned before — are what I’m thinking about, not the details of orbital mechanics.  Don’t get me wrong, the science part of sci-fi part is important, but it’s there to serve what really matters, not define it.

A bit of perspective on that: in last Friday’s astronomy-nerd post I jokingly described faster-than-light travel as space magic, and it is.  The limit of the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is the most fundamental and iron-clad of the universe’s many fundamental, iron-clad laws.  But, to be blunt, I wanted to write about a shaking/tottering/decaying Earth “empire” that is ready to fly apart without having to focus on voyages of many, many decades.  Even less did I want to even try to deal with the effects of relativity in terms of the passage of time.

So…space magic!

A wave my magic space bar and *WHAM* ships can go many times the speed of light.  Okay, okay … so they can only do so outside of a star system — I managed to restrain my baser impulses and keep enough “scientific integrity” to limit my ships to realistic accelerations and velocities inside a special (magic!) red line.  I haven’t completely surrendered my nerd-dom, after all…

Ahem.

And gravity…

Don’t get me started on gravity.

No, I did NOT want to deal with all the bullshit that comes with spinning ships/stations for gravity, and the Coriolis Effect.  Nope, not me.  Too much work.  Another wave of my magic space bar and *WHAM* artificial gravity!  My characters get to walk and talk and function like real folks!  Err, except when I don’t want them to.  Then I just turn off the gravity.

See…making shit up is fun!

I do, by the way, keep the universe itself the same.  I mentioned before the 3-D computer model I made of all the stars within 50 lightyears of Earth.  Well, part of that model was to create a list of the stars most likely to have planets suitable to supporting humans..and then to create “travel lanes” based on the limitations of my magic-FTL-drive.  From there, it was “simply” a matter of writing a few hundred years of “history” to define the expansion and development of my tottering/reeling society…

Okay, I have to admit, that bit was fun, too.

I do, I should add, have aliens…in spite of the realities I wrote about in last Friday’s post.  Those aliens figured in a big way into the two “trunk novels” that started/inspired my DockRat universe, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the more “realistic” stories about Connor and Oz.

Of course, when the time comes to go back to those two novels and give them a (badly) needed rewrite…well…I’ll get to indulge my nerd-side quite a bit more than I can in the dark, gritty settings of two street kids…512x512bb

ALIENS!  SPACE MAGIC!  LASERS!  PEW-PEW-PEW!!  WHEEEEEEE!!!