Getting Things Flowing

“It’s a trap!”

I’ve just spent the last two days off the island, not writing. Sitting down to write this morning I was dismayed to discover I needed to hit pause. The blog post I was going to write was fast becoming a polemic which bordered on a diatribe. Something is wrong on the internets.

What I had wanted to say was that toxic masculinity is dangerous and that it probably shouldn’t be used to market coffee. I’d seen an ad, and yeah, I was perturbed. But here’s the thing, a couple of hundred words into my denunciation I became mindful of what I was doing.

Sinking Sensation May Proceed Realization

Fuck! Mindfulness is hard. This morning, on the way to the coffee shop, A-bear and I had a discussion about taking responsibility for our mistakes so that we can move on. During our meandering discussion, he said “All I want to be is a good guy with a secret place. Only I can get in there.”

“What are you going to do when things don’t look that way? When you don’t feel like a good guy?” I asked.

“Listen to my tummy,” he explained.

That realization we have when we first become aware of what we’re doing. It feels a lot like falling in my experience. The blog post began as an act of anger. I was angry that someone bothered to create a toxic ad, chocked full of misogyny and faux tactical dick-bluster. My guns are bigger than your guns. ‘Merica! Additionally, I was angry at a friend and former Army buddy, who bothered to post this masterpiece of douchebaggery in my social media feed. Given the crowds that he runs with and how they socialize, this is predictable behavior. It’s a habit, his habit.

Additionally, I was angry at a friend and former Army buddy, who bothered to post this masterpiece of douchebaggery in my social media feed. Given the crowds that he runs with and how they socialize, this is predictable behavior. It’s a habit, his habit.

Finally, I was angry with myself. For not knowing better. For not catching myself before jumping into someone else’s toxic cease pool. And I let that anger push my words.

CHORF

Brad Torgersen coined this insulting little acronym to describe all the people he loathes in genre fiction. It stands for Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics and I suspect that he misses cognizance that his critique of other’s could be most commonly applied to himself. But that’s Torgersen’s karma, not mine.

The practice of detachment is about letting go of our need to control outcomes, our attachment to our desires, and – perhaps most difficult – our need to control other people. I am responsible for the blackness behind my own eyes and nothing else. That’s enough.

I bring up this term and Torgersen at all because I see so many of my comrades in fiction fulfilling his definition. Given the opportunity I too have felt compelled, uncontrollably, to object to the toxicity of the Puppy’s poo. But I also realize that in doing so, I’m also aware that I’ve allowed them to change the conversation. Instead of discussing the merits of any given story we end up exchanging insults. I’d say it’s childish behavior, but for the fact that my five-year-old listens carefully to his tummy.

Moving On

The direction I see SFF headed does concern me, so don’t misunderstand, but what I’ll call Competing Dogmas of Story (CDS for short) method of resolution is predictably resulting in little more than a tide of ad hominem. And this concerns me more than just about anything. It’s no longer a productive exchange of ideas, no one’s mind is changing, we’re locked in an endless Coke vs. Pepsi argument.

Amazon Author Rank

There’s a lot of desire wrapped up in the Rocket. Back in 2014, when Larry Corria’s “Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles” nabbed a nomination, but not an award he chose to take it personally. A consummate storyteller, he created a complex mythology which justified his desire. “He was robbed, I tell you! Robbed!” And his reaction to his loss led to the creation of the Sad Puppies and their derivatives.

All that pent up anger poured into a blind, multi-year campaign of simple dominance.

My recent rise on Amazon is posted above for a reason, I invest a lot of hope in the idea that if I can climb that ladder, I’ll find new readers, they’ll buy my stories, and all my chickens will hatch. The contemporary version of Jack London’s rise is a mashup; the recombination of epic, serial fiction, and electronic distribution. Who wouldn’t like to see that kind “success?”

Even after a lot of hard work and some great promotion my bump from Alt.Chronicles Legacy Fleet topped out at #225. Follow on sales, page reads, and new Patreon subscriptions we’re weak. It makes me feel like a zombie that made it to the fence only to have a stake shoved through my eye. All those tasty brains, just out of reach. The good news is that I’m not angry. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, while I sometimes experience anger as a consequence of my circumstance, I remain aware of myself enough to recognize those moments. I can refuse to let them push me around. This isn’t a fatal failure. My attachments are visible, and that frees me to work on things that will help. I’ll write more stories.

There is a lot that the SFF community can learn from this practice, I think. Refusing to respond anger — discovering and acknowledging the struggles of others — is the way forward. Torgersen and Corria are angry that they’re not on top of the heap, that their moment in the spotlight didn’t happen on their schedule, and that’s their struggle. I don’t have to make it mine.

Love Yourself

Recently I was feeling pretty bummed. After a couple of, what felt to me, awkward social encounters I was beating myself up, generally feeling unloved and unloveable and wallowing in the self-pity that comes with that. Then to top it off, I watched a bunch of youtube videos of people rowing across some ocean or another. Adventure porn, but tinged with the understanding that I’ll likely never do those things. I felt like crap and then didn’t do anything to help myself.

What I wanted through all of that was for someone to show me that I mattered to them. An “attaboy” would have sufficed, but an “I love you Dad, ’cause you did blah-blah” would have been better, but neither of these was forthcoming. If I’m honest, I didn’t deserve them anyway. I made dinner, I folded some laundry, I watered some plants. Absolutely nothing noteworthy.

Then evening came, I ran the kiddo through the wash cycle, and Tess put him down for the night. My dog came and rested her fat head on my knee. At first, I was like “Hey, don’t do that. It’s hot, and I don’t want to pet you.” Then, when she started to press her chin into my joint and began to whine, her message made it through my thick skull. “I love you, let’s go for a run.”

I ran with my dog, not too far, but far enough for her. We had a pretty good time. Eventually, round about mile 2, I crawled up out of that pity pit and found that I could love myself once more.

A little triumph and a big reckoning.

Cultured Meats

I’ve written about cultured meat, and I think that this has real potential to revolutionize the way humans do things. But — and this is a big ‘but’ — cultured meats have to be done right.

Obviously, this infomercial (is that what it is?) doesn’t address those concerns. They’re selling the idea and are looking only at the very high-level positives. Still pretty fun to watch.

So let’s talk about these problem areas and challenging constructs, just for a moment, in our march toward this future.

Adoption Yes, Now What?

At any given moment there are anywhere from 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows on planet Earth. At an average weight of 600 kg, we’d have a disposal problem that would, at least at that moment, seem like the forgotten biblical apocalypse.

That’s a lot of biomass, biomass that’s tied up in very complex systems which will be uneager to see the change. Just imagine what the beef industry commercials are going to look like when this day comes. Take what you see now and mix it up with a tobacco ad post-1998 Tobacco Master Settlement. Yeesh!

beef

And that’s just beef. Cultured meats can replicate just about any meat. Imagine no-threat-of-death Fugu (河豚) fish platters from your favorite supermarket sushi stand. Whole meat industries, as well as all their trappings, can and will need to be swept into history’s wastebasket. The institutional inertia behind these traditions will be difficult to overcome.

Intellectual Property

The only way I see whole populations successfully transitioning into a cultured meat future is if the creation of cultured meats becomes a practice of common knowledge. A billion bread-machine like culture devices in every kitchen doesn’t have the snappy ring to it that a “thousand points of light” did, but functionally it’s a much better idea.

However, visualize a future in which this knowledge remains proprietary. On in which, just like drug manufacturers, the owner of the process can willy-nilly raise the price of something most people depend on. Everyone eats, so if a very few people have control of the food, they’re wielding considerably more power than drug company executives who on a whim decide to inflate the retail cost of a drug they own.

Let’s be clear; I’m not advocating that this become a moment in time to justify some Marxist giveaway (although you have to admit not ever seeing a picture of another hungry child has a significant upside), but there are some pretty obvious choke points in even the most distributed meat culture business model that look an awful lot like mushroom clouds. Honestly, the papers are out there. The process is repeatable. I’m looking forward to reading how to grow my own meat on Instructables sometime soon.

Living Tissue, Intelligent Design

Meat is good, quite a few of us apes enjoy eating it. To make it in this world cultured meats are going to need to be meat. Living tissue with some stringy bits and gristle. Without this we’ll be growing zombie burgers and no one is going to eat that. So, cultured meats need to living, and they need to be better than ground beef or chopped liver, which requires that we develop methods to control growth at the cellular level.

Cultured living tissue technology creates some new doors for people. Imagine being able to extract a couple of clonable cells from your body so that you can culture a new heart, pair of lungs, or set of teeth. Take that a step further, if we can direct the development of tissues at the cellar level we can also design augmented tissues and organs.

I shudder to think of what will happen to the world professional wrestling. Pretty much anything you might imagine from space marines with super human strength to ocean crossing kitesurfers with a seabird’s sense of direction become possible when we cross this technological threshold. Can you see how disruptive this technology could be?

Designed Organisms

Writing, even a little bit about this, makes me want to put this away and dive back into Winter City Above the Clouds. Humanity already alters life to meet its needs and desires. Examples of this abound from contemporary cattle to black velvet tulips. The tools we’re working with, however, are slow and clumsy.

I believe there is a roadmap here that’s worth pursuit. Biophotovoltaics, dynamic living cities – grown and tended not built and maintained, sustainable living generation ships that will take us to the stars, these things are possible.

 

Kindergarten Practice

There are roughly twenty-five days of summer left for A-bear. Once they’re gone, he’s going to Kindergarten. This is a big new experience for our little guy, and so I’ve been examining our options. The duel questions — how can encourage him to be excited in anticipation of this new experience (even though it sometimes seems overwhelming and scary) and how can I, in parallel, continue to carve out enough time for me to write, has been riding on either of my shoulders.

Aral_lunch

Practice Lunch

Today we woke up sorta late, but that’s okay because practice Kindergarten didn’t open until 10:00 AM. Our Island Library is librarian-ed by late risers apparently, and that’s not a bad thing because practice Kindergarten should allow for late summer mornings.

Aral_train

Fire Train

Right now he’s happily working on a rather complicated maze and deeply engrossed in the activity. Unlike the iPad I have to stop what I’m doing from time to time, but the interactions are all part of the process. It’s just going to slow things down for me a tad. The library is an optimal place to do this because the expectation is that he will moderate the volume of his voice. There are rules as well as social expectations here that he doesn’t necessarily encounter elsewhere, and learning to live (if not thrive) within these confines is going to be one of his chief challenges once school begins.

Via a convoluted path, I suppose, this all gets back to empathy. Teaching children the ability to imagine themselves in a situation, one in which they comprehend how other’s think and feel, is a HUGE challenge. It’s also a skill that they have to practice to perfect.

In a little bit, we’re going to head out to the adjacent park and eat lunch and play with the other kids. An obvious reward for working so hard this morning. I’m pretty excited to see what we can accomplish together in the time we have before school starts.

Picking out some books to read

Picking out some books to read

Where Did You Go?

Summer2016

“Here actually.” I was talking to some SFF convention friends recently who were wondering if I’d fallen off the face of the Earth. Apparently, the prevailing sentiment is that I’ve worked some voodoo and disappeared. To anyone living beyond our moat, I suppose I have.

Well, it’s true we moved to an island so if you don’t have a boat you may want to reconsider a visit. Serenity Base Camp has been a win for me, and that’s for certain. Despite all the hassles of my castle, I have found my place on the planet.

I spent the morning examining the possibilities, a return to conventions. Right now it’s an exercise in budgeting, but I’m studying some possibilities and putting my name if a few hats.

A Challenge to Futurists

NeuralLaceI love futurists, the very idea that we can take a statistical model and from the information revealed divine what might occur in the future is a spectacular feat of magic. And, in saying just that, I should be clear, I’m not suggesting that there is a problem with this process. The models are as accurate as the data from which they’re derived.

But there is an art to modeling as there is a science. And I suppose that many futurists tend toward optimistic predictions. For instance, take this quote from Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and author of “The Future of the Mind.”

“In the next 10 years, we will see the gradual transition from an Internet to a brain-net, in which thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories might be transmitted instantly across the planet.

Scientists can now hook the brain to a computer and begin to decode some of our memories and thoughts. This might eventually revolutionize communication and even entertainment. The movies of the future will be able to convey emotions and feelings, not just images on a silver screen. (Teenagers will go crazy on social media, sending memories and sensations from their senior prom, their first date, etc.). Historians and writers will be able to record events not just digitally, but also emotionally as well.

Perhaps even tensions between people will diminish, as people begin to feel and experience the pain of others.”

Yep! All upside, no down. I would suggest that an investigation into the issue, coupled with a fair understanding of what is taking place within the domains of technology and medicine might repeatably yield the same optimistic conclusion. Soon we will map human consciousness and develop a machine-mind interface which will allow real time exchanges of all sorts of information formerly hidden in the human heart. The implications are simultaneously staggering and astounding.

But I’d like to challenge this model, perhaps just a little bit, because it only seems to consider what we’re technically capable of achieving.

Below is a segment of a recent John Oliver, Last Week Tonight piece (I’ve started the video at 6:06 because this is where a relevant conversation begins. The conversation Oliver exposes is relevant, but watch the whole thing.)

Climate change, social justice issues, violent crime, illegal immigration, even the threat of terrorism: none of the facts of these critical, arguably whole societal issues, matter to a significant cross-section of the population.

“The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.” — Newt Gingrich

The narrative/ideology regarding these questions (and much more) are the only considerations of consequences for some people. Now imagine a technology, say neural networks or the accurate mapping of human consciousness, which will not only expose the flaws in these competing narratives but erode the power base that upon which these ideologies are built.

My challenge to futurists is this: develop a societal component to your models. Look at the many narratives that are in play and which may affect the technologies you’re examining. Consider the possible downsides of these technologies as well as the marvelous potential.

Underachievement: A Gut Punch

Clawtank by Wan Amirul Adlan

Recently I caught a social media share from Samuel Peralta. He cross-posted a blog post from Monica Byrne, which details her plans to make a living wage from her writing via Patreon. An idea I have been pursuing with no small amount of enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want to transform the bulk of their labor into a self-sustaining relationship with the people they service?

Other names in our genre are pioneering this new economy which, amongst many other things, makes their short fiction a viable creative effort. Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemisin and Wes Chu — to name but a few — are all bringing in respectable incomes writing short stories at their own pace.

Since shifting to writing full time in 2013, I’ve struggled with many challenges, perhaps none as significant as my own obscurity. Finding fans, getting my stories in front of anyone willing to read them, has been a persistent difficulty. And the one thing all these examples have in common is an existing fan base.

Byrne’s introduction is a TED endorsement from Neil Gaiman coupled with a laundry list of traditional publishers and awards. Hurley’s introduction is equally littered with awards and publications. She has 433 supporters. And then Jemisin’s introduction opens with “Update: Folks, thank you. As of July 1st, I’ve quit my day job and started full time writer life. Let’s see how this goes!” She has 885 sponsors.

What does this mean for me? Honestly, I’m more than a little jealous, but let me be clear, I’m glad to see other’s achieving this kind of success. Since I finished Big Red Buckle in 2013 all I’ve been able to complete is a series of short stories for small and independent press. And make no mistake, I love writing short works. Watching as others figure out ways to make these words pay, even a little, is a vital sort of pathfinding and so I’m paying attention.

Right now I have two writing projects on my table. The first, Plague of Contentment, is a novel and hasn’t been anything other since I dreamed it up. As we get closer to the start of Kindergarten, I should be able to leverage more writing time and consequently more progress on this project. But PoC is clearly not well suited Patreon or similar platforms. It’s a thriller that requires careful consideration as put down each and every word.

Last spring, on a whim I started writing an episodic with the working title of Vex. A coming of age story about a brutal alien war fought on the ground by a small crew of gritty and broken soldiers who sacrifice their humanity to save humankind. This story is going fast, and it’s structured so that it can easily be broken up into pieces. Recently, I’ve brought an editor on board to help me polish before I make it available and I’m looking for an artist for cover work and other “rewards.”

I understand that my only way out of the obscurity in which I operate is to continue to write. More, more, more! Production is the only first step, but I have a sizable and growing collection of words that aren’t doing a damn bit of good for me. Many of them are short stories that won’t ever find a traditional market. So understanding this harsh reality is also, I believe, critical to my success as a writer. Traditional markets don’t buy short fiction and when they do it’s drastically undervalued.

Patreon offers me two potential benefits. First, it provides me a way to monetize my labor. In my short experience, income from my writing is as variable as the time I have to have to write it. Finding new fans of my fiction who are interested in supporting me as I write will help stabilize this aspect of my career behind the letters.

Second, the Patreon platform gives me a way to interact with these people, not just their pocketbooks. More than money right now, I believe interaction is what I need. Of the short stories that have gone to Peralta, I don’t see any mention of what I’ve written until months, six on average, after the publication date. And I’m not complaining, but I can see that people aren’t buying these anthologies to get the next story from me. That much is obvious. For stories I’ve published on my own, the interaction timeline is even longer. Finding reliable beta readers has become a bit of a chore.

So, right now I’m building a schedule and beginning to manage entry into Patreon with some very modest financial goals in mind. A hundred bucks a month is still a better per word price than what I’ve been able to bring home to this point. In the meantime, I’m researching. Learning how I might bring new people to my table. I need to learn how to be a more effective self-promoter while continuing to develop my bibliography. That’s going to change.