Newsletter Launch! With FREE (small) BOOK!

So for a long time, now, I’ve had a CONTACT THE AUTHOR page set up on my blog. And now it’s time to kick that into high gear, because it’s time for a NEWSLETTER LAUNCH!

That’s right, I’m finally going to do what so many awesome authors are doing: send out a monthly update on all my fiction news!

And just as an incentive to get people to sign up, AND to give everyone a little taste of what’s coming, everyone who signs up gets a free copy of the DOCTOR TO DRAGONS ebook!

So come on! What have you got to lose besides your minds? To sign up, go to the CONTACT THE AUTHOR section and send me a note, making sure to check the box saying that you’d like to be added to a mailing list. And by next week, you will have your FREE ebook!

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The Query I Learned To Write

It occurred to me that it might be helpful to provide this query to the general writing public.

Last month, I won Runner-Up honors at #RevPit, a contest in which 15 editors each review 100 queries and pick about 10-20 of them to request pages. Of those 10-20, one winner and one runner up are selected. This means that my query was in about the top 15% and my query, synopsis and pages were in the top 2%.

I’m starting to get a handle on what querying a manuscript looks like, but for a long time, I did not know what the heck I was doing. And I wished I could see what queries had received positive attention. So I’m going to pay it forward and publish my query below, for those of you who would like to see it:

Responsibility doesn’t know why she has wings instead of arms. Responsibility doesn’t know why she was abandoned, nor why her dragon mother left her among humans. Nor why, on the endless ocean that the Century Ship Ekkaia trades across, she is the only halfdragon anyone has ever seen. Disgusted by her freakishness, but in dread of her mother’s return and retaliation, Ekkaia’s crew keep their hated Responsibility in safe, but despised, isolation.
But when Ekkaia captures a shipwrecked man whose face resembles her own, Responsibility seizes the chance to learn more about her past. That night, she frees him from his cell, and discovers that he is her half-brother, Avnai, and that her mother foretold their meeting before she disappeared. Together, they escape and return to their father’s kingdom.
Among a family she has never met, Responsibility experiences love and belonging for the first time. She also finds herself cast into a world larger and more complex than she has ever known. She learns true flight, and the use of magic. And she discovers danger: the shadowy sea empire called the Consortium, which holds her father’s kingdom in an uneasy vassalage, is watching her: because twenty years ago it was their attack that drove her mother away.
But when Responsibility’s part in a diplomatic ceremony reveals a plot to destroy her new home entirely, she will have to seek help from an unthinkable source: the crew of the Century Ship Ekkaia. Assuming they don’t kill her on sight.
ACROSS THE ENDLESS OCEAN is an adult fantasy complete at 119,000 words. It is the story of Responsibility’s transformation from prisoner to warrior-princess. It is an adventure in the vein of the Miles Vorkosigan novels, set on a stage the size of the Ringworld. With dragons.
Scott Huggins trains teenagers both in the inevitability of death (history) and in overcoming a fate worse than it (public speaking). He has sold a dozen F/SF stories to professional markets, and is a Very Nearly Award-Winning Author, who won Runner-up in the Writers Of The Future (1999), The First Baen Adventure Fantasy Award (2014).

 

Critiques And Stories!

I don’t want to make this blog into a marketing machine, but I haven’t written about my Patreon account for about a year, and I just made some changes to it, so today I’m going to let you know what all of you could get if you choose to patronize me.

Um, maybe I should rephrase that.

Okay, so starting at the $2 reward level, I will start writing you your own personalized story at the low, semi-pro rate of $0.03 a word. The longer you support me, the longer your story goes.

At $10 of support, I will provide a detailed critique of a single work of fiction/poetry of 6k words or less. I’m a runner-up with about 20 short stories published: it’s a good deal.

At $25 or more per month, I’ll offer a second critique, only this one will be good for up to 10k words. Yes, you can get 2 critiques per month.

Finally, $40 of support gets you a single piece of flash fiction that I will write just for you, on whatever subject you wish.

Try out some of these rewards and watch your writing improve. Or just enjoy some great fiction. Thanks for your support!

When Matter Does Not Matter

I very much like the comic strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, but I have a problem with the following comic, and I think it’s important enough to talk about:

It’s a cute comic, and I’ve certainly had the feeling of being the universe’s middle child more than once, but the central idea, that justice, consciousness, and truth are emergent properties of events, brain cells, and facts does not hold.

Perhaps the most defensible of these, from a purely scientific standpoint, is the idea that consciousness is an emergent property of brain cells. But the problem is that it’s very much self-contradictory: it established a priori that a material thing is somehow “more real” than an immaterial thing. We can see the effects of both brain cells and consciousness, and brain cells we can observe directly. There was a time when we could not (or at least a time when it was thought that the brain merely cooled the blood). So how do we know that consciousness is not a separate thing that we simply cannot see? Because it goes away when you destroy the brain? That doesn’t necessarily follow. That would be like saying that dye is an emergent property of light because you can’t see color in the dark.
But perhaps more importantly, the argument itself relies on the distinction it is trying to refute: if it is artificial and false to say that consciousness exists apart from the brain, it is just as artificial to claim that the “brain cells” generate consciousness apart from a functioning human body. No one has ever observed consciousness in brain cells: only in living humans, and by extension, other animals. Therefore, if consciousness is an emergent property, it is not one of brain cells alone, and the argument is on shaky ground. Even shakier ground when you consider that any definition or differentiation of cells on the level of function is determined by the observation of a conscious and intelligent mind. Brain cells might exist without a consciousness to observe them, but they could not be named brain cells.

However, it’s the other two examples where we run into real problems. If there is no justice, but only “stuff that happens,” then how can justice ever arise from “stuff?” That’s not an emergent property, that’s a judgment call by a consciousness. And that judgment call is predicated on the idea that right and wrong exist. If right and wrong do not exist, but “emerge” from “stuff that happens,” then “justice” is a mere preference: a complicated system whereby we prefer some outcomes to others. Now some will say, “Yes! That’s the point.” But what is the justice of this assertion itself? By definition, if it is a fact, it is a fact that is flatly unjust. If true, it leaves us unable to be both honest and just. And justice is closely tied to matters of honesty. In other words, it leaves us in a complete self-contradiction: to be just, I must be honest, but if I am honest, I must acknowledge there is not justice. Therefore, only the dishonest can be just.

Finally, we have the idea that truth is an emergent property of facts, and here is where the contradiction is plainest. Because how do you define a “fact” without saying what is “true?” A fact is only a fact if it is real and actual. If it is true. If it is false, it is not a fact at all. The very idea of facts is predicated upon the notion that “truth” and “untruth” exist. “Untruth” may be the result of an error in judgment or missing information (as in the man with the coins above) and coincidence may simulate truth in the same way. But without the preexisting truth, we have no facts, we have only perceptions, and no way to judge among them.

Why is this important? Well, because it has to do with the truth, and truth is always worth defending. Arguing that truth doesn’t exist is inherently self-defeating, and we have enough other things that want to defeat us. We shouldn’t help them.

A Late Review From Avalon: Ready Player One

So, obviously, what with the huge copyright issues involved and not being an idiot, I expected a whole lot of changes to Ready Player One when I sat down to watch the movie. It was, considered as a thing in itself, not terrible.

But it wasn’t the same story, either. And that was disappointing.

See, what made Ready Player One work for me was never the awesome geekery of the premise. That was always just the icing on the cake. Really cool icing, but icing. What made the story work was Wade’s journey of self-discovery. It was the old story of a loser taking on the system, but most importantly, the way he stopped being a loser and grew from a hurt little boy to a very dangerous man. A man who stepped into the dragon’s lair to steal the prize and walked out again.

All that went away. Instead, the characters pretty much just walked through a cheesy video game solving puzzles that the book’s Wade Watts would have figured out without a second thought.

The subtlety also went away. We don’t get to see Wade and Art3mis slowly falling for each other while trying to outdo each other at the same time. We don’t get to see Aech’s and Wade’s friendship develop. And don’t tell me that this isn’t possible in movies. The book’s source material: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ladyhawke, The Breakfast Club,  all excelled in weaving atmospheric slow builds of character development throughout their scripts. Hell, even The Goonies did. But Ready Player One is a sprint to the finish, with the outcome never really in doubt.

And as the protagonists were dumbed down, so did the villains have to be. Nolan Sorrento of the book was a dangerous, evil geek, who wrote his own video games and could almost match Wade’s knowledge.* He was a villain that you could respect. The Sorrento of the film is Dilbert’s PHB, dumb enough to leave a ridiculously easy-to-memorize password out where anyone can see it.

In short the movie isn’t a disappointment because it isn’t the book. It’s a disappointment because it’s so much less than the book.

And it didn’t have to be.

*I will admit this was one of the major flaws in the book: the idea that someone of Sorrento’s talents with his resources of literally hundreds of professional geeks would not have won the contest in a walk, but the Rule Of Cool nullifies that.

Short Blog: Grammar PSA

Going to be a very short blog post this week, because it was Easter weekend, which meant that obligations to God and family were at the forefront, and it’s Spring Break for the kids this week, which means that they still kind of are. But it also means that writing projects have backlogged, so don’t expect too much blogging this week.

So, I’ve been doing a bit more researching than writing recently, mostly so I can kick marketing my novels into high gear. For anyone who’s interested, QueryShark is a gold mine for this.

And I’m kind of in shock at the number of people who want to be professional writers and really have no clue about grammar.

Look, I know we all like to joke about the Grammar Nazis, but in all seriousness, good grammar (and spelling) is important. It’s important because it’s there for a reason: to make your writing clear. Bad grammar is like static in a broadcast. A little of it can be tuned out and ignored. More than a little bit, and it gets annoying. No one wants to read what’s annoying. So here’s a few things I keep seeing that you really need to know to sell your work.

You must know what a full sentence is. A full sentence consists of at least one noun and one verb. “I ran.” That’s a sentence. That doesn’t create a sentence by itself. You can screw it up even if you have both those things. But that’s where to start.
You need to know this, not because you must always use them. Sometimes you may avoid them for rhetorical purposes. Like this. But if you don’t know when you’re using them. You’ll sound weird. Like I just did two “sentences ago.

You have to know the difference between those little annoying words. Yes, I mean its and it’s. Their, they’re and there. To, too, and two. You’re and your. And also then and than. Not knowing the difference doesn’t say you’re stupid. It says you’re careless.It says you need a copy editor. but you don’t know you need one. And that, right there, is the difference between “inexperienced” or “grammar-challenged” and “clueless.” The first two can be worked with. The third, no one wants to.

You must be able to use quotations, dialogue tags, and paragraphs correctly.

“Well, how do I do that?” you may ask.
“Firstly,” I say, “You must remember that punctuation always goes INSIDE, and never OUTSIDE, the quotation marks.”
“But what punctuation?” you ask.
“Well, that depends on a few things,” I answer. “For example, that last sentence ends in a comma, because we followed it up with the dialogue tag ‘I answer.’ It should be a period, but the dialogue tag makes it into a comma. On the other hand, because the first sentence of this whole exchange was a question, we left the question mark there. That’s really the only rule. Before a dialogue tag, periods become commas. Everything else stays the same.”
“Pretty easy. But what about paragraphs?”
“Every time a new speaker takes part in a dialogue, that’s a new paragraph. When you’re NOT writing dialogue, every major beat in the action should have its own paragraph. Paragraphs are a way to group related events together, and to separate major changes.”
“Should I indent paragraphs?”
“Always.”
“Then why aren’t we doing that?”
“Because WordPress really sucks that way.”

No Ordinary People: The Weight Of Glory And What C.S. Lewis Can Teach Us About Notre Dame

From “The Weight Of Glory,” by C.S. Lewis

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind… which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

I was thinking similar thoughts to this as I considered the destruction of the Notre Dame cathedral over the past two days. The loss of that incredible piece of art is simply unfathomable. And I was very glad to hear that the loss is not as bad as first reports led me to believe. I will be very glad if it is confirmed that the cause of the destruction was indeed accident, because I hope no one would wish to commit such a terrible act, or that those who do wish it would be prevented.

The Notre Dame Cathedral, like any incredible work of art, is not a person. In some ways, in fact, it is more than a person, because it has added to, inspired, and provided comfort for people in ways that another person simply cannot do. What art does is not what people do. If people could do what art does for people, then we would have no need for art. So it is not wrong to mourn the loss, nor to be shocked and saddened by it. Hardly any person could mean what great art means to so many people.

And yet, in the end, the Notre Dame Cathedral is so much less than a person. It is unique, and complex, and storied, and ancient. But speaking as an educated man, I know that it is less, not more complex than a single human being. Speaking as a Christian, I am bound to profess that not all the works of art on the planet can be equal to the story of a single unique human soul wrought by the Creator. And as Lewis reminds us, its ancientry is nothing measured against eternity.

The real tragedy is not that Notre Dame has burned. Not even if it burned to the foundations and was lost as utterly as the Library Of Alexandria. The real tragedy is that all of us not only assent to, but actively participate in, burning and destroying each other’s souls every day. Social media is only the most obvious battlefield.

I do not think that in our fallen world we can do otherwise. Scripture itself tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. So many of our temples are desecrated, by others and by themselves. Some of us seem determined to burn ourselves down. Our problem is that we live amid an embarrassment of riches: there are eight billion of us, and so many die, or worse, every day, that we can only notice the loss of those that are especially “valuable” (God, what a blasphemy) to the majority or to those in power. Or those who are close to us. Notre Dame we can notice: there is only one of it.

We know we must do better than this. The barest vestige of moral sense demands it. But it is beyond us. To do otherwise than as we do would be to be perfect. It is, in fact, not enough to do “better.” Ten times better, or a hundred, would still leave countless eternal souls burned and destroyed. Would still leave us walking amid the suffering shells of living cathedrals. But this alone should awake us to the terror of our state. To make us cry out for a Savior who can reconcile us to the God whose eternal children we daily destroy.

I suppose that this is why I wrote this. I am under no illusion that a blog post will stop human suffering, nor cause our species as a whole to stop doing what we do so well. But waking up one person? Well, maybe.

Postscript Note: I realize, of course, that not all readers will share my faith. Discussion is invited. Trolling is not, and will be removed or simply not allowed. Thank you.

Very Nearly Award-Winning Author Very Nearly Wins Another Award!!

I very nearly won an award today, which puts my lifetime of very nearly won awards at 3.

The award I very nearly won was the annual Revise & Resub contest (#RevPit on Twitter), which allows you to win a full five-week editing session with an editor you choose from a list. I came in 2nd of 100 for my manuscript ACROSS THE ENDLESS OCEAN. So that’s not too shabby. I will get my query, first page, and synopsis formally edited. That’s not nearly as cool as getting the whole manuscript done, but it’s probably worth at least $100 if I was paying for it, so I’m not complaining. I learned a lot through the process, and recommend it to anyone who’s querying novels.

An Open Letter To The Manufacturers of the Spice Melange

Dear CHOAM Company,

I would like to take the time to complain about your spice “MELANGE (a genuine Arrakis product!) It is my opinion that not only is your overhyped and overpriced, but is deceptive and dangerous as well. My own family’s case will prove illustrative.

My wife came home with a jar of melange about six months ago, for which she paid the exorbitant price of $575. While the jar was approximately the size of the other jars in our spice rack, we were surprised and dismayed to discover that within the jar stood barely enough melange to be visible, and no, I am afraid that thoughtful as it was, the microtweezers and hufuf oil magnifying lens included was not enough to significantly improve the inconvenience of digging out enough to use in cooking. Which brings me to my second point. Regardless of your advertising copy that promises “a flavor unmatchable in the known Universe,” the overwhelming impression I got from the scent of melange is cinnamon, the best grade of which is easily purchased at about $10 for a full ounce. As to the claim that melange is “never the same taste twice,” it’s rather ridiculous to make the claim when there is not more than one taste in the jar, even for the most artful of cooks.

Finally, I must question the wisdom of allowing — let alone advertising — the fact that melange is an indispensable part of foldspace drives. I can’t think of any other machine additive I would be well-advised to put on my food and consume. Besides the which, ever since we did use melange on our Thanksgiving apple pie, our familial harmony has been shattered. Not only did no one in the family notice the expense and trouble to which we went, but my wife has been going abut murmuring that she thinks I will divorce her when I discover what she really paid for the jar of spice. My high-school age son has decided it is impossible to pass calculus no matter what he does, and the younger children are all complaining about what they are getting for Christmas, and I haven’t even finished my shopping yet. Plus ever since that meal they youngest one has seemed to be in several places at once.  If the doctor says that’s more than the fact that he’s seven years old, you may advise your legal department that they will be hearing from my lawyers.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Idaho
Duchy of Grumman

memo: write the Ix division about eye treatments, re: younger brother DI

 

Video Game Rant: Faster Than Gossip

I really like 4X Games. My favorites, back in college, were Civilization (yes, I am literally older than Civilization. None of my students get it) and Master Of Orion. Lately, I have been overjoyed to discover Stars In Shadow, which feels like the sequel to Master Of Orion that I always wished had been made and never was. MOO 2 was trying too hard to be Civilization In SPAAAAACE! and MOO 3 is best set on fire and forgotten. But Stars In Shadow has done everything right: Their planetary improvements hit the right balance between monotonous and gimmicky, the ship combat is wonderfully differentiated, with several equally valid styles of play, and the tech tree is interconnected and awesome.

But there is one thing that the game just absolutely falls flat on… the diplomacy.

To be fair, most 4X games handle diplomacy with all the poise and finesse of a drunk Chihuahua. it’s HARD to get AI to simulate negotiation. But the two things that just make me want to punch a fist through the screen are:

  1. The AI Mean Girls Club: No matter what you do in SiS, the AI players know about it. Instantly. And react to it. Instantly. Also, they have an eidetic memory for all your slights. So that means that if I am, say, playing the Gremak, the interstellar slavers, and I enslave members of a race? Everyone knows about it. And everyone cares. I perform experiments on the slaves? That’s instantly known and remembered, too. In fact, races I don’t even know about will show up holding a grudge a hundred turns later. And that sucks because first, it’s a bait-and-switch: “Hey, PC, your race has this super-cool ability, sort of a balance to other races’ super cool abilities you don’t have! But don’t you dare use it, or you will be permanently at war forever, because everybody will hate you!” But it’s not just that: the races will have bad impressions of me because “We heard how you treated the innocent Ashdar!” Which leads to the more important point, that it’s not reciprocal. No one comes to me and says, “Hey just so you know, those evil Orthin have attacked two other races because they noticed that they had inferior navies and thought it would be fun!” No, I get to float in blissful ignorance.
  2. I Don’t Get To Speak The Language: The AI almost always, in these games, has options unavailable to the PC. So I’m constantly getting messages like: “You have a world that is rightfully ours. Return it, and we will stop hating you,” Or, “Sever the diplomatic relations you’ve spent  lot of time forging with our enemies, and remember if you don’t we will dislike you. A lot.” Or, “Give us money and we won’t attack.”
    Meanwhile, I don’t get any of these choices. I can pretty much say, “Let’s have formal relations, let’s have a trade/research treaty, let’s have an open ports treaty/alliance, or let’s have a war.” That’s it. I feel like I am constantly the foreign exchange student just arrived to a gaming party, and I know a third of the language and a quarter of the rules.

I mean, some of these are admittedly hard to code, but hell, the option to demand tribute from enemies was included in Civ I for crying out loud!

You know, it’s still an awesome game. But it really should be better.