Archive for December, 2009

Steeler Win is Fiction

Lots of folks would like that to be literally true, but what I mean by it is that tonight’s 37-36 win over Green Bay was a classic ride on the drama roller coaster.  We had a dagger to the enemy’s heart on the very first offensive play that turned out to be a flesh wound (when Green Bay scored soon thereafter), a field goal that narrowly missed, a field goal narrowly made, and a fourth quarter that saw three lead changes. Copious third down plays were made, a surprise onside kickoff seemed to work only to fail, and the game was finally won on the very last play, a near miracle catch in the end zone by the same guy that let a touchdown pass slip through his hands the play before. If that’s not formula fiction, I don’t know what is.

To top it, the game itself was symbolic of a Steeler season in which they came out of the gate roaring to solid victories, solidifying their incumbent Super Bowl winner reputation, only to lose a game they had in hand in the fourth quarter, then another, and another, and another, each time looking as if they’d won, only to lose to an inferior (by the win-loss record) team. It came down to this Green Bay game. Steelers lose, their playoff hopes are gone. They win, the quest goes on. The game itself was a sort of last play heroic on the same order as that winning touchdown catch tonight.

We won’t know if the season is also fiction until the final two weeks play out, but it’s looking kind of promising with the teams that need to lose losing, and the Steelers pulling this last chance out on a last ditch effort. If this is to be solid fiction, they will win in Baltimore and their final game at Miami will come down to the wire. Whether they win or lose that will not matter so much (each would be a different message).

I, for one, am anxious to find out how this book ends. We humans do love a good story.


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There’s a lot of press these days about scientists believing in Evolution or believing in Global Warming. Of course the tactic here is to equate a scientific understanding with a leap of faith. The simple fact is that these two systems operate in very different ways.

Science, real science, does not seek to prove anything. Rather, it sets up hypotheses (and ultimately theories) with the intention of disproving them through experimentation. This is, in essence, the scientific method and it has served our world well for a few thousand years. Strong ideas survive, weak ones die out.

Faith, real faith, seeks no proof at all. Rather, it sets up fundamental truths and tells adherents to believe them in the absence of observable evidence. In fact, it is this absence of, or even resistance to, observable evidence that forms the core of true faith.

Given these polar systems, it should come as no surprise that science thinkers and faith thinkers arrive at conclusions in fundamentally different manner.

The scientist observes evidence, crafts hypothesis, and seeks to design experiments to test the validity of said hypothesis. In essence he or she does not “believe” anything, but seeks reasons to disbelieve.  His/her conclusions are often transitory for this reason. “I’ll believe this until someone rigorously disproves it.”

The faithful begins with a belief and seeks evidence to support it.  His/her conclusions are often steadfast for this reason. “I believe this and so should you. Here’s why.”

It seems to me that our society is increasingly choosing to engage at the level of faith rather than science. The almost inevitable result is a growing polarization of opinion and general lack of willingness to compromise. And spin. Lots and lots of spin.

Part of the reason could be that science has become so complex it’s just too difficult to fully understand. Much easier to believe Global Warming exists or does not exist (as if it were as so simple as that) based on whatever talking head we follow on tv or radio.

Science fiction could have a helpful role to play in this ballet of beliefs. In the 20th century, science fiction brought a new understanding of physics (especially the more speculative facets of the field) and computers/AI to a broad audience. I believe SF can do the same in the 21st century for the life sciences.  It’s beginning to happen, but we can do better at speculating from real hypotheses and understanding current research (cognition and behavior, epigenetics, epidemiology, etc).  Mundane SF is one attempt to start this process.

Check it out.

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I had this plan, you know, where I was going to write the perfect Writers of the Future story and take down that large prize (and excellent workshop) before moving on to marketing all these lesser stories I’ve built up over the years. It seems, however, that I’m just not capable of writing the perfect Writers of the Future story. This is what we writers call an obstacle.

So, like any classic hero, I decided to go with Plan B, which is, basically, to ignore Plan A, and submit every story I’ve finished to whatever markets seem even remotely likely to be interested in them. I’m up to 18 submissions now, all dutifully logged through Duotrope.

I still have several more ambitious stories to be finished and submitted to the major markets, but I’m no longer holding up the train to polish the locomotive.

There’s a danger in this strategy, though.  Less ambitious stories are easier to write, take less time to write and polish, and are often easier to sell. It’s easy to become ensnared in small press success and lose track of the goal, which is to become the best possible writer I can.

Maybe it won’t come to that. It’s certainly not out of the question that all of these stories will be rejected by the smaller markets. In which case, tune in later for Plan C.

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I was flipping through channels today and heard a preacher man explaining to the devoted that faith “is certainty in what you cannot see” or something to that effect. I don’t argue with that literal statement, but do worry that we have come to revere this idea of faith too greatly. The person who believes in something against all odds and who turns out to be right is  glorified. The person who believes in something unseen, but turns out to be wrong is vilified. Of course what is “right” today might be “wrong” tomorrow, meaning that our faith is something of a crap shoot at best.

Wouldn’t it be easier to worry less about being right about what we cannot perceive and focus instead on achieving a consensus around the world we can? Does it really matter whether my god can beat yours? (She can, but that’s beside the point). In this era of nukes and climate change, I think we’d do better to direct our efforts elsewhere.

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Sometimes it can be intimidating to read another writer’s work. This weekend I started Paulo Bacigalupi’s novel, The Windup Girl with great expectation. The guy has been writing some of the finest SF in the last decade. Near future Earth SF, not an easy subgenre to master.

Chapter One was not all that impressive, with quite a bit of repetition; you know, those sentences and paragraphs where you’re trying to say something powerful just right, only you don’t quite get it right, so you try again and say it a little bit differently, then again with just a tiny twist? I set the book down, feeling vaguely encouraged. “I can write this well,” I told my wife. Too bad I wasn’t going to enjoy the book as much as I’d hoped, but at least I knew I could match words with a winner.

Five chapters later my ego’s EKG has flat-lined and I’m feeling as if I’ll never write another story. Beginning somewhere in Chapter 2, Paulo kicked into high gear and he has not let up since. His world is wide and deep, filled with cultural details, colorful characters, mind-blowing SF concepts, and flawless action. Oh, every once in a while he still repeats himself, but for every one of those passages there must be ten or twelve that just drop my jaw. How in hades did he think to describe that concept like that? OMG that’s downright poetic! Oh no he dihn’t….

I spent hours staring at the screen today, pushing my prose around like a kid playing with lima beans.  I wrote maybe two new sentences. Where Paulo’s work glows, mine merely shimmers. Where his cuts, mine whimpers.

Anyway, I highly recommend The Windup Girl. Give it a couple chapters.

As for my work, I’m thinking of taking up knitting.

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