It's All Just Fiction, Right? Right?

A conversation popped up on Twitter not too long ago that left me thinking. Thinking isn’t a common occurrence for me, so my first worry was I have a brain aneurysm. That was followed up almost immediately by me wondering if I’d been a total dick and hadn’t realized it.

Normally I eschew political correctness. Not because I necessarily have anything against it, but because I feel it’s better to subscribe to the “Don’t Be A Dick” philosophy of living. That way when someone pulls a tweet years down the line, I can honestly say, “No, you’re the asshole! Very unfair!”

Just kidding. If someone pulls a tweet of mine years down the road and says, “Hey! This guy was being a dick!”, I can honestly say, “I’m really sorry. At the time, that wasn’t a thing, but I do apologize to anyone who I was a dick to.” And mean it. I really don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.

Anyway, I’m not going to reprint the discussion here, but I am going to reprint the tweet without a link so we can all start from the same page.

“When the walls are falling and the world is singing songs of doom and the record is skipping and everything’s about to go totally to shit, steal that kiss. Because that might be the last time you ever get the chance to.”

It was paraphrased from a short story I was working on. For the most part, people seemed unperturbed by it. There was one negative reaction, though. Fortunately, no one jumped on her for her response and everything moved along civilly. After a little back and forth, she apologized and I apologized and everyone went away happy.

The general gist of her complaint was stealing a kiss was wrong. To be honest, I can’t argue with her. Don’t go kissin’ folks that don’t want kissin’. Ain’t exactly rocket surgery. Just ask Greta Zimmer Friedman.

But it got me thinking about a couple of things. One is you can never be sure how your audience will react to your words. In communication theory we used a model called the Triangle of Reference to describe the phenomenon that different people will have different reactions to things based on past experiences. Think about this way: If you got scratched by a cat and the cut got infected and you nearly lost your arm and wound up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a hook for a hand, you’re probably going to have a negative view of cats. You also probably got treated in America.

Bottom line on that is words have meaning and it’s not always the meaning you think it is. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to control that. Even if it’s only fiction, words can have an effect you didn’t expect.

Which leads to the second thing. If we can’t control how people interpret our words, should we strive for avoiding all potentially controversial topics knowing full well we could be poking a bear? In other words, should fiction be safe? Or is it better to write with iron fists and damn the consequences?

I know what I think, but I’m interested in hearing what other think. Drop me a comment.

The Tesla Truck Is Gorgeous

One of the few popular posts I’ve made on Tumblr was from the set of Aliens, James Cameron’s epic tale of motherhood in space. Since time is short and no one has time to read a thousand babbling words of description, it was this picture:

Two lovely ladies

Aliens definitely pitted two devoted mothers against each other. It’s easy to defend Ripley – she’s a badass human, after all – but it’s more difficult to defend the alien queen. Some of that is the way the story was written. We’re expected to see the aliens as the antagonists because they run contrary to the human goal of staying the fuck away from monsters with acid blood and penchant for implanting their parasitic young in our chests through a process that’s not entirely unlike rape.

Turn that around a bit and you’ll see a young mother – the alien queen was probably less than a year old at that point – trying her damnedest to raise a family in a harsh environment and then a bunch of weirdos with guns show up and start shooting up the house she’s built for her kids. Then, in the ultimate dick move, the weirdos nuke the planet.

Jerks.

Now, all joking about motherhood in space aside, you have to admit the alien queen was remarkably good at her job. By our standards, she’s a hideous beast, but she was an efficient hideous beast. Before Prometheus and whatever the name of its sequel was came along, it was possible to see the aliens as the most recent product of their evolution. Critters that took reproduction to whole new levels. Amazingly tough, single-minded, and adept at fulfilling their biologically-programmed goal of making more of themselves. You can’t do that kind of thing and worry about how you look doing it. You just do it and if you’ve got an evolutionary advantage like acid blood or the ability to survive in the vacuum of space, you use it.

In their own way, the aliens were beautiful. The queen even more so. Not because of any fickle human concepts of beauty, but because they used their bodies to further their goal of reproduction like a bunch of drunken sorority girls with armored skin.

So, that picture was, indeed, two lovely ladies. You just had to get past the queen’s looks to see she was freakin’ beautiful.

Hold tight, here comes the segue.

Whoops. Wrong segway.

Last month Elon Musk and crew dropped the Tesla Cybertruck on an unsuspecting world. It looked like something out of the old Battlestar Gallactica, a brown, pointy thing with weird lines and not a curve to be found. Imagine if an F-117 had sex with a Lancia Stratos and the baby got the Nighthawk’s looks. Immediately, the world jumped on it. Hell, I’ll admit it, I took a few potshots at the thing’s looks, too.

But the more I look at it, the more I see the beauty of the design. It’s a truck. It’s meant to haul things. It doesn’t have to be a classic beauty. After all, who would you rather have carrying your stuff, Audrey Hepburn or Andre the Giant? Audrey may look better doing it, but I can guarantee you Andre could have carried more.

The world of trucks is the world of functionality. It’s the world where other people will judge you based on your truck’s towing capacity and ability to go off-road and save virgins from terrorists. Apparently, the Cybertruck can do all those things, although Tesla hasn’t published the results of the all-important saving virgins from terrorists test. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that pickups were very much the realm of American manufacturers. The first full-sized pickups from Toyota and Nissan were originally shunned, but now they’re commonplace. I promise you, it won’t be that long before the Tesla Cybertruck starts winning people over. The lusty allure of not having to put gas in a vehicle coupled with the promised torque will be all it takes. Soon, you’ll see Cybertrucks with lift kits and Molon Labe stickers and bumper stickers that read “These colors don’t run”.

Just like with the alien queen, sometimes you’ve got to push past the initial looks to see the beauty. If Tesla can pull it off and make it do everything they say it can – tall order, I know – it won’t be long before people start looking at this thing and thinking, “Damn, this truck is freakin’ beautiful”.

Book Review – Night Shift by B.K. Bass

A little-known fact about me: I have a minor in Theatre. That’s with the re not the er because theater is different from Theatre. One’s a place, the other’s a much larger things. Among other classes I took, one was set design. Our teacher once sat everyone down and said, “Look, there’s a lot more to good set design than just following the play directly. If you want to set ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the tropics and have palm trees on stage and make Theseus a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, you can do that. Just don’t let the scenery upstage the story.”

Bottom line, a good story is a good story no matter where it’s set.

Take, for instance, B.K. Bass’s take on detective noir that he’s dropped into a cyberpunk-ish setting. Traditional hard-boiled detective stories were a thing back in the day and they wove tales about vicious crimes and the die-hard detectives that set out to solve them. Those tales are still being told today – look at stories like L.A. Confidential. It’s a genre that seems simple to do from the outside. Bad guy does bad things. Good guy sets out to stop them. Simple, really. But to do it well takes a deft hand and an ability to drop oneself into that world to write it well. It’s not a genre for pulling punches or writing feel-good tales. Bad things are happening and they need to be treated with the shot of whisky and punch in the gut they deserve.

It’s also a genre that opens itself nicely to fit into whatever world we decide to drop them into. Because, if there’s one thing humans are really good at, it’s being bastards to each other. It doesn’t matter the time or the place, you can rest assured someone is out there right now pulling the ultimate dick move on someone else.

And that’s why Night Shift made for a fun read. Bass has pulled the hard-boiled detective out of the past and present and dropped him head-first into an ugly future where the country has fallen apart. But for all the technology floating around in the story, human nature is still human nature and there are still bad people doing terrible things. It’s just the way the world works. There are still jerks, they just have better computers. And cyber-hookers.

While Bass may not have given us a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, he’s done something similar; he’s taken a good story and changed the set pieces. And, like any good set designer, he’s done so without falling into the trap of letting the setting drive the story. Night Shift lives and breathes in its setting without the setting becoming a major character.

If you like hard-boiled detective stories – and who doesn’t – and also like your sci-fi served up with heaping helping people still being jerks to each other, check out Night Shift. It’s a good read. My only gripe was the book is only part one of a three-part story. That means I need to wait to see how the whole thing is going to play out.

In New Angeles, crime is part of the daily business of running the city. But when a routine murder investigation starts turning up more questions than answers, homicide detective Harold Peterson finds himself unraveling a decades-old conspiracy that leads him to the highest echelons of the mob and the city government. As various threads start to come together, the big picture is revealed to be more than he ever bargained for. As bullets start to fly from both directions, the only thing Harold knows for sure is that he isn’t being paid enough to deal with this.

Get your copy on Amazon or from Kyanite Publishing’s online store.

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn't Suck

It’s Thanksgiving day here in the States. Or, as I like to call it, the Feast of a Thousand Turkeys. So, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Go eat a shitload of food and get ready to spend a bunch of money tomorrow.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s on to the meat of the story.

I think we can all agree that there’s been a rise of white nationalism in the United States. You can shake your head and cluck your tongue and call me a dumbass libtard all you want, but when jackasses in polo shirts are chanting things like “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”, the evidence is right there in your face. A lot of people fought and died to wipe that scourge out decades ago, but hatred and pathetic losers have a way of lurking in the shadows like cockroaches.

Since punching Nazis in the face – a longtime American tradition – seems to fallen by the wayside, new ways of sticking it to them had to be invented. Oddly enough, this time by a Lebanese guy who bought up all the Hitler memorabilia at an auction in Germany just to keep it out of the hands of neo-Nazis.

You have to appreciate not only the will to do that, but also the sheer spite of it all. Abdallah Chatila spent €600,000 on ten items that he didn’t want, just to make sure that a bunch of jackasses who did want them couldn’t have them. That, in my opinion, is a good use of money. With a bit of luck, Mr. Chatila will film himself tossing Hitler’s hat in a fire and pissing on that silver-covered copy of Mein Kampf.

With an even bigger bit of luck, it won’t be long before the whole sick cult of Nazism is tossed into the ash heap of history.

Read the whole story here.

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And now your moment of Zen.

The Art and Science of Selling Out

Earlier in the year, some of my Twitter writing community friends and I were trying to pull a guy back from the ledge. We’ll call him Gunther because, for some reason or another, that name popped into my mind.

Gunther, it seemed, had a problem. His prose was weighty. Dense like a collapsed star, and about as fun to read as stereo instructions. His reviews were coming back with things like “Reading this was like wading through rancid molasses” and “This was so bad, I think it gave me cancer”. Note: not actual reviews, but those were the general gist.

Now, as every writer knows, reviews can be important things. They can help drive sales, but they can also give you an indication of what’s working and what’s not working. I got one a couple of years ago about head-hopping in a story. For the uninitiated, head-hopping is the process of switching back and forth between viewpoints in narrative. It’s part of the third person omniscient style of telling a story and, done correctly, it can be a useful tool because it lets the reader get into each character’s head. The problem is, done poorly, it can be jarring and leave a reader wondering which character was thinking what at the time. That leads to confused readers and the number one rule of writing is never confuse your reader.

Guess which way I did it.

Actually, when you get down to it, that’s really the only rule of writing. You can do anything you want in a story as long as it doesn’t leave the reader scratching their head and wondering where you scored the crack before you started writing. Tell an entire story without punctuation? Sure. Charlie Huston did it in his Joe Pitt books. (Fun fact: Charlie Huston is kind of my hero). Tell a story while you’re hopped up on every drug known to man and drunk as a skunk to boot? Go check out Hunter S. Thompson. (Also my hero). Make liberal use of the word “fuck”? Guilty.

Point is: Huston and Thompson and every other successful writer out there knew how to tell a story without confusing their readers, no matter what other weird chicanery they may have pulled. Gunther lacked that skill. So, not only was his prose dense as fuck, it was confusing to boot. Think of it as a weightier version of Sean Penn’s abysmal writing without the star power to drive sales.

While a handful of us were imploring Gunther to just, you know, change his style to something that people would want to read, he was busy complaining that he couldn’t change his style. And moping about it. And whining.

That was about the part where I checked out. When you’ve got a handful of people giving you some advice, you don’t immediately discard it because “you can’t change”. Advice is like a live-action review and woe unto the person who ignores the review that says a book was so bad it gave them cancer.

Here’s the deal: any writer worth their salt is going to be able to adapt. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation. Like the U.S. Marines like to say: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

You can call it selling out if you’d like. You can even call that a bad thing if it makes you happy, but what’s worse: Writing exactly like you want and having no one read it or adapting and still getting your words out?

My grandfather used to love to say, “A piece of information is only good if you have a use for it”. Thomas Edison’s middle name was Alva and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? Unless you’re really into history, that’s useless information. Knowing Edison was an inventor who’s credited with a short ton of inventions is useful. Knowing he was vicious bastard who happily stole inventions from other people and called them is own (*cough Tesla cough*) can be useful. Knowing his middle name? Who cares.

Writing’s kind of like that. You can either be the bit of information out there, all alone and screaming into the void, or you can be the thing that changes the way people look at the world. Gunther, if you happen to come across this post at some point, consider at least trying to do things differently. Trust me, you can do it. You can improvise, you can adapt, and you can overcome. Or you can be Alva. Your call.

Book Review – Mind’s Horizon by Eric Malikyte

I’ve always loved H.P. Lovecraft’s ideas. The worlds he built were amazing with a richly detailed mythology that shows us exactly how tiny and insignificant we are in the universe. Imagine a universe where it was not only obvious that humans were terribly outgunned, there’s an undercurrent that god doesn’t really love us. It’s kind of like stepping to a guy in a bar and getting your ass handed to you and then spitting out your teeth and watching through swollen eyes as your gal goes off with him.

But here’s a funny thing: Much as I love Lovecraft’s worlds, I really have trouble getting into his writing. It’s too dense and has too many apostrophes. Maybe that’s just me, though. I’ve been bitter ever since Miskatonic University turned down my application for “not understanding magic” and “being lazy”. Anyway, the whole “universe is out to get you and, let’s face it, you’re boned” philosophy has a great vibe to it and giant world-eating things are fun to think about, even if reading Lovecraft’s prose ain’t my bag.

So, when I get a chance to read something that tracks along with Lovecraft’s “giant things about to eat the planet” mythos without his weighty prose, I jump at it.

If you look back a bit, you’ll see I reviewed one of Eric Malikyte’s books a while back. Echoes of Olympus Mons was a brilliant bit of sci-fi horror. Malikyte has recently followed up the woeful tale of Mars’s untimely death with a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft. Mind’s Horizon features all the good apocalyptic stuff you expect from Lovecraft, notably world-ending excitement, a hint of magic, and teeth. Lots of teeth.

Humanity’s time is done.
A modern ice age has all but stamped out human civilization and left the Earth nearly uninhabitable. For Ira Hartman and the dysfunctional band of survivors that surround her, all that’s left of the old world are ghosts trapped beneath the still forming ice sheets.
Living in retrofitted tunnels beneath Riverside, California, scrounging for food, supplies, and desperately trying not to kill each other, things could be worse; but when an accident causes the generators powering their shelter’s heating system to be destroyed, hope seems to have run out.
That is until Ira discovers a strange heat signature in the San Bernardino mountains, and it leads to a secret military research facility housed deep within the mountain.
At first, it seems like the perfect shelter. Plenty of rations. Water. Warmth.
Then they discover the remnants of horrifying experiments. Corpses, strapped to operating tables, horror etched on decomposing faces, experiment rooms filled with strange machines and occult symbols, and the logs of a raving lunatic. The unmistakable feeling that something is watching them, waiting in the cold, tubular concrete tunnels, in the shadows.
What Ira and the others don’t know might just kill them.

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