Uncommon Sense

August 14, 2022

A Response to the Salman Rushdie Attack

Filed under: Art,Culture,Politics,Religion,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:51 pm
Tags: ,

After seeing the attack on Salman Rushdie, I felt powerless to do anything and then I remember the Barbra Streisand Effect. So, I went online and bought a copy of Satanic Verses and I will read it, thereby spreading the message the religious idiots wanted to suppress. I suggest that you do the same. It puts a few dollars in the author’s pocket and spreads words that the zealots don’t want spread. Let’s drive Satanic Verses to the top of the bestsellers lists . . . again.

May 26, 2022

Signposts on the Way to Oblivion

Filed under: Art,Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
Tags: , ,

I just read this year’s (2021) list of winners of Nebula Awards. Of the writings listed I discovered that I had just bought one of them (at a great discount, which I assume will disappear now the book is a Nebula Award winner).

I have been reading science fiction and fantasy books since I was 13. I am now 75, so it has been 62 years over which I have read myriad such books (all of Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Wheel of Time, all of Andre Norton, all of C.J. Cherryh, Tolkien, Jules Verne, all of Isaac Asimov, most of Robert Heinlein, all of Robert Silverberg, all of Michelle Sagara, All of C.S. Friedman, much of Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey, all of Jack Vance, all of P.K. Dick, much of Katherine Kurtz, and on and on . . .) and I still read dozens and dozens of such books every year. The interesting thing to me is that when I looked at the Nebula Award works, including the runners-up, I did not recognize a single author’s name, not one.

I have officially been passed by.

March 18, 2022

Time Travel and the Grandfather Paradox

As a wannabe science fiction/fantasy author I read a lot and often enough encounter time travel and its glorious weirdness. Some scientists say time travel is impossible because of the paradoxes involved, the Grandfather Paradox being one of the most commonly cited. If one were to go back into the past and locate one’s grandfather, what would happen if you were to kill Grandpa? If you managed to pull it off, the paradox occurs. If your grandfather died before your parents were born, then you would never have been born, travel in time, and be able to kill your grandfather.

These complications are easily escaped by creative authors, who project that when you kill your grandfather, the timeline in which he and you existed separates off and is disconnected from the current time line (both of which toddle off nicely). You are still alive because you are a visitor from that other time line, but can no longer go back as you can time travel but not timeline travel.

Another approach is you pull the trigger and kill grandpa and you immediately disappear and history adjusts, automatically tying up all loose ends . . . except in rare cases in which and our intrepid hero can find the clues and, and. . . . And the mechanisms for these things to happen physically seem way too magical.

Other authors have time fighting back. You pull the trigger on the gun and the gun jams. You fix the gun and pull the trigger again and the bullet misfires, etc. In other words time fights back. You can’t kill Grandpa because the Universe Abhors Paradoxes, don’t you know.

I like the one where you kill Grandpa and then just disappear, with the wrinkle that you end up back in the timeline in which Grandpa lived. This can be great fun as repeated trips into the past can result in trivial actions causing our hero to spring back (remember the butterfly in Brazil, flapping its wings and causing a hurricane in Japan) over and over and over, thus creating so many time lines that the time overlords investigate and take action against him, and so on, etc., usw.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is also involved in these stories. In one, a time traveler goes back in time to find out of the Jesus story was real (guess who ended up nailed to a cross). (I think that was Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock, but I am working from memory and that was a long time ago.) Or a time traveler goes back in history and executes Hitler as a youth, only to find that someone far, far worse was waiting in the wings but who had gotten pruned out by Hitler and so was unknown to us.

Fun, isn’t it.

It is not so much fun for the scientists trying to determine the differences between possibilities and probabilities when it comes to this topic. Sadly, only a few people are actually working on such problems. More are working on real problems, one of which perplexes me. It is the case that quantum mechanics and Einstein’s General Relativity theories do not seem to be compatible, that is neither fits nicely within the other, nor is there some fusion that seems to work to combine them. Actually, I wonder why this is a problem. General relativity comes up when you study gigantic objects, like planets, starts, galaxies, etc. and quantum mechanics comes up when you investigate things smaller than atoms. Expecting the theories in those two realms to play nice is a bit like wondering why the biology of frogs in the Amazon basin doesn’t inform us about the formation of diamonds deep below the surface of South Africa. Where does the expectation that the two big physics theories should be compatible come from? I suspect it comes from a desire to see the world around us as a relatively simple machine. (I do not.) It is a bit like Rodney King’s appeal “Can’t we all just get along?” It sounds nice, but there is absolutely nothing indicating that it should or even could come about.

March 9, 2022

Sometimes a Cover is Enough Again

Filed under: Business,Culture,Religion,writing — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm

This episode of this ongoing series involves the book Jesus Listens, by Sarah Young which has the snappy subtitle “When All is Lost, Prayer Remains.”

So, “Jesus Listens”? I have to ask, how could the author possibly know this? It certainly is not from all of the prayers of amputees who had their lost limbs restored. If she winkled it out from scripture then all she could really say was that “Jesus told us that he listens,” or “Jesus promised us that he will listen to our prayers” and both of those are a stretch because, well, Jesus didn’t write those scriptures. Most of those writings were by people who never met the man (if he existed). If she transformed scripture into reality, then she would also have to back all Christians vigorously following Leviticus dictates because Jesus endorsed “the Law,” every jot and tittle (actually not just Leviticus but Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Ten commandments? Tish tosh, there are 613 of those suckers, so strap ‘em on and let’s get to work!

But, on the other hand, she might have gotten the word, straight from the Holy One’s mouth, through a personal revelation from Jesus his self. And we know that when that happens, nobody ever gets it wrong. But if she believes that she would have to support Mormonism because Joseph Smith had a visitation from Jesus and Yahweh (Yahweh wanted to introduce him to the sprout, don’t you know.) and then Joseph Smith got a set of golden plates that he had translated to create their scripture, a heck of a lot better support for their scripture than there is for the Christian Scriptures, which were voted in (and out and then back in and then . . . ). She does seem to have a direct connection to Jesus the Christ as she says that he wants to have a personal relationship with you. How could she know this otherwise? She is amazing!

It seems that “there is one born every minute” was an underestimate. Books are written quite often whose only reason to exist is to support the unfounded biases of “believers” of all kinds of weird things.

My next book will be “So You Believe in Weird Shit—That’s Alright, Lots of Us Do!”

May 17, 2021

People Sneer at the Things Women and Girls Love

Filed under: Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
Tags: , , ,

Really?

“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture, yet people sneer at the things that women and girls love, and are contemptuous of the creators of that content, particularly if they are women,” Bardugo says. “To me, that contempt speaks to a deep fear. When you start dictating culture, money gets involved and people take notice. When I see someone deride things that women and girls find pleasure in, all I see is someone fearful that women will overtake the culture they’ve had dominion over for so long.” (Leigh Bardugo, as quoted in The Guardian)

Leigh Bardugo is an author of young adult fantasy books with her first novel is currently being staged for the screen by Netflix (Shadow and Bone).

I seems as if she is a bit isolated from the rest of us in her niche.

“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture” Uh, maybe with other teenaged girls and I think that has to do more with marketing than anything else. Way back when I was a teen, there were no influencers because there was no influence because there was little to no marketing to teens. Occasionally a B movie designed to attract teens would be made, but really there was not much. There were no special clothing stores or even sections for teens, their clothes were just mixed in with the larger sizes in the children’s department and the smaller sizes in the adult’s departments of department stores.

I suspect that all began to change with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll music.

“People sneer at the things that women and girls love.” Uh, again, I don’t think so. There are memes and stereotypes aplenty (women are obsessed with shoes, women are flighty, obsessed with romance, etc.) but men have a set of such things, too (men are obsessed with sex, men are clueless socially, men aren’t very bright and get easily fooled by women, men are often nerds (women not so much), etc.).

I think the comment above is largely fueled by social media responses. I can’t say for sure because I don’t “do” social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, whatever). Elsewhere in The Guardian piece I am reacting to, the author stated “I used to be very active on Twitter and, quite honestly, I don’t feel comfortable interacting there any more, so I stopped.” I suggest that anyone achieving much success rarely finds a completely sympathetic audience on any of those social media platforms.

Plus, authors are notoriously shy of criticism of any kind. When I was writing my first book, my publisher would send me an envelope full of reviews and comments (this was pre-Internet days). Those envelopes would sit on my desk for days before I could screw myself up to open them. The vast majority of comments/reviews were quite positive but the dread of criticism never left me. After having written hundreds of magazine articles and dozens of books, I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach when I read criticism of my work.

So, in this age of easy connectivity, it is easy to bask in the glow that fan boys and fan girls can waft our way, but negative criticism, even from idiots who you know haven’t read your work, still stings.

I do not “sneer at the things women and girls love.” I tend to look at them as I look ay yearling deer. Pretty to look at, fascinating to watch, etc. As an educator, I hate to see any youths, male or female, enraptured by shallow pursuits but often as not, I admire them for their energy and earnestness. It is what kept me in the classroom with 18- and 19-year olds for almost 40 years.

November 30, 2020

Fascinated by Trivia

Filed under: Culture,language,writing — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
Tags: , , , ,

Americans and the British are often described as being two countries separated by a common language. As an editor, I find myself editing works written by British people, among others, and there are definitely subtle differences between American usage and British usage. You are probably aware of things like spelling differences, e.g. honor and honour, color and colour, etc. and both region’s slangs are vastly different, but other things are more subtle.

For example, in punctuation Americans use double quotation marks, “ ”, first and then if something quoted is nested inside of that quote we set that off with single quotes, ‘ ’. The British do that in reverse order.

What stimulated this post was I was reading a piece in the New Yorker than began “On November 22, 1820, the New York Evening Post ran a perfunctory book ad that was none too particular in its typesetting:

WILEY & HALSTED, No. 3 Wall street, have just received SYMZONIA,
or a voyage to the internal world, by capt. Adam Seaborn. Price $1.

This advert was printed in 1820 in America and includes the British practice of treating collective nouns as being plural rather than singular. So, in the U.S. we might say “the team was devastated by the loss” whereas the Brits would say “the team were devastated by the loss.” In British English the word team infers multiple team members so is treated as referring to a plural thing, whereas in the U.S. the “team” is one thing and so is treated as a singular thing. In this case the publisher is clearly at least two people and is treated as a plural, with “have just received” rather than a singular, with “has just received.” (E pluribus unum?)

The quotation indicates that the American practice was either the same as the British practice at that time or at least was not fully transformed into the American practice with some doing it one way and others doing it the other.

You, of course, are wondering why anyone would care, but apparently a great many do. As a college professor, even teaching a subject like chemistry, I took seriously my responsibility to teach my students how to write. (Every chance I got to talk to an employer of students such as mine I asked them “What could we be doing better on behalf of our students?” and to a person, they responded with “Technically they are fine, but if you could teach them to write better, that would be very helpful.” It was almost as if employers of STEM students got together in their secret base to create this talking point.)

So, as a teacher of college freshmen, I gave up T-F, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank test questions and asked but two kinds of questions: one which required a calculated answer (with the reasoning displayed clearly or explained) and one that required a short, that is paragraph length, essay answer, e.g. an explanation, or a description, etc. By the end of the semester my goal was a 50-50 distribution of these two types of questions.

And do not think I was not envious of those biology teachers who ran their mark-sense (Scantron) answer sheets through our mechanical reader and had their midterm exam scored in under ten minutes. (I gave my tests on Fridays so I would have the hours needed to read and score them and be able to return them at the next class meeting.)

I was in the unenviable position of having to explain to my students why being clear in one’s writing was very valuable. I told them that if they said in a job interview “I be excited about working here.” that they would not get a job offer. People, including employers, do not think logically; they usually respond to their gut feelings about people and people who speak or write and make gaffes are generally considered to be “not up to par” and are passed over.

I am musing on “why I give a shit” about obscure grammar points. Partly I had to know better than my students what was and wasn’t acceptable in written language and partly I was curious. I became known as something of a grammar grouch, a despicable sort of human being who is constantly correcting people. (Yes, I am recovering; thank you for caring.)

I also know that all of these rules are entirely arbitrary. Yes, they have been established to promote clear communication, and this can be critically important when laws and contracts are drafted, but I know of no laws regarding the topic per se. We just go along to get along.

As an editor, my main goal is to preserve the voice of the author. If I have met them and spoken to them (this is becoming increasingly rare), I want to hear their voice in my head as I read their piece, because that is what will happen when people who know the author read that piece. If you do not understand this, consider the college freshman who writes a short essay that reads as if written by a college freshman but then abruptly transitions into formal encyclopedia English or even British encyclopedia English. Gosh, do you think they did a little copy and paste plagiarism? It is not that hard to tell the voice shift in reading such things, so readers who know the author can tell if I rewrite a part of their piece in my own voice . . . instead of the author’s.

When editing British manuscripts for our magazine, I use American punctuation for our largely American audience but retain British spellings (colour, honour, etc.) to preserve the author’s voice. For the one book I edited for a British author, I preserved both the British spellings, but also the British punctuation (which was quite a test).

Yes, I know I am weird, kinda proud of it. Just wanted to share a little of the consequences of being weird . . . like me.

Addendum Oh, and the book, Symzonia, is considered by some to be the first American foray into science fiction.

November 17, 2020

Making a Living as a Writer

Filed under: Business,writing — Steve Ruis @ 10:38 am
Tags: , ,

Recently I extolled the writing wisdom provided by both C.S. Friedman and Mercedes Lackey on the Q&A website Quora. As an example of this, here is Ms. Lackey’s take on “making a living as a writer” (the question was actually different but it equates to this):


First: Never, never, never, never, never pay anyone anything to publish your book. People who ask you for money to publish your book are frauds and scammers.

Second: You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be able to make a living at writing, especially from the very beginning.

When you start, you will suck. No one has ever been a good writer without writing about a million words of crap first. You have to learn how to write well by writing a lot and studying writing. This will take years.

Of all of the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, only about 10% make a living from writing. Only about half of the ones making a living from writing are making a living from writing fiction exclusively.

“You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be able to make a living at writing.”

Get a day job that doesn’t suck; there is nothing harder to do than to sit down to write after a day so exhausting that your brain has turned off. This is the job you are going to be having for a while, so make sure it’s something that doesn’t make you want to open a vein rather than go to work.

If you are really serious about wanting to make a living from writing, decide, right now, what the minimum amount you can live on is, because that is probably what you’ll be doing for years and years. Learn how to make and stick to a strict budget.

If you are really serious about wanting to make a living from writing, you will be sacrificing your social life. You will not be able to play games, hang with friends, go out for drinks, go to the movies, watch the Big Game, or watch television, much less binge. You will be writing every hour before or after work (some people write better when they first get up, some write better after work) and every weekend, or whatever free days you have. There is an entire 10 year swath of popular culture I know nothing about, because that is what I was doing.

You will be ready to quit that day-job and try full-time writing when you have five published books or screenplays that someone else paid you for, each one has paid better than the last, you have contracts in hand for three more books or screenplays, and you have a year and a half of expenses in the bank. Why the bank account? Because shit goes wrong, and without that cushion you could wind up unable to keep the lights on.

You might decide that you can’t do all of that. That’s fine. Remember what I just said, only ten percent of most writers write full time for a living. There’s no shame in being part of the ninety percent.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Charlie Stross, saying basically the same thing.

Common Misconceptions About Publishing

And someone else, talking about how she can write only because she has other people supporting her:

A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it

July 2, 2020

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough, Part Whatever

Filed under: writing — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am

The book is 10,000 Bones written by Joe Ollinger. Here’s the blurb.

“On the planet Brink, calcium is cash. The element’s scarcity led the world’s government to declare it the official currency. In the decades since, the governments of other colonized worlds have suppressed shipments of calcium in order to maintain favorable exchange rates, while Brink’s Commerce Board has struggled to negotiate importation quotas to keep the population alive and growing.”

In such books one is expected to suspend disbelief a tiny bit but this is just silly.

For one, calcium is quite chemically reactive. In an oxygen containing atmosphere it will become calcium oxide (calcium hydroxide if damp) in short order. A sample of calcium placed on a sensitive balance pan will show the mass going up in real time, hence a reliable measure of the amount of calcium one has cannot be easily made.

We used to use gold as a form of currency because it doesn’t react chemically with much of anything. It just stays shiny and its mass stays fixed with no special storage requirements. But we recognized that gold has many uses (electrical contact plating, tooth crowns, etc.) so using “money” for these tasks is a double edged sword, economically. As a consequence, we invented paper money. We originally had things like “silver certificates” which equated the value of a paper bill with an amount of silver, but then we recalled all of those and now just have paper money that is worth the value of the paper it is printed on, which means almost nothing. (During the Nixon presidency, no less.)

We even have gone away from using metals like copper in our coinage because the value of the copper in a penny exceeds the value of one penny, so people would be encouraged to melt those down or use them otherwise than for money.

Which brings us back to calcium as a currency. It has other uses. Preferably money should have zero to very low intrinsic value once a stable political situation can be established. In very unstable times, having “precious metal” coins was preferred because gold with anyone’s head stamped upon it was acceptable as money (by weighing it). It didn’t matter what government issues the “currency.”

I understand an author’s desire to make a fictional culture different enough to make it interesting, but I wouldn’t be caught dead with a pocketful of calcium, which could react with my perspiration to make caustic lime which eats human flesh. Farmers still use lime pits to dispose of the occasional diseased farm animal . . . dissolves the whole thing from nose to tail, including the “oink.” And there wouldn’t be 10,000 bones left as the lime dissolves the bones, too.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.