Maine Reactor Back Online…

Hello, loyal readers. Just a little update on why the long radio silence, here.

Last week was our first really, really BIG family vacation, prompted by the 90th birthday of my wife’s only surviving grandmother, whose big birthday request was a family reunion. So, naturally, the first thing we had to do was send me and Son to Webelos Weekend, because when you’re planning for a week away from home, the best thing to do is start things off right with a camping trip for half the family. If that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, as it did not to me, I suggest you review this faithful transcript of the conversation I had with my wife over the matter:

Me: “We’re going to be driving with all our children to MAINE. It wil be exhausting, and besides, there’s a Scout camp every summer. Do we really have to..?”
Wife: “YES.”

So, having been convinced by that argument, Son and I went to Webelos Weekend where we donated approximately a half-gallon of blood to Satan’s Aerial Red Cross, but other than that had quite a bit of fun. We then came back and took off for Maine.

Get ready for a profound observation: The United States is really, really big. The last time I drove to the East Coast, it was from Kansas, not Wisconsin, so technically that was a bit longer. Notwithstanding, that time I was splitting the drive five ways, not two, and I was also about 23 years younger, and the youngest person in the car.

All kidding aside, it was a great blessing to be able to show the kids something like a sixth of the country. We waded in the Atlantic Ocean. On our travels, we saw crabs, snakes, and more deer than I ever thought possible. We met cousins we hadn’t seen in years, or in the case of the kids, ever. And they got to meet their great-grandmother. That’s not a thing that most of us get to do, these days. I remember my own great-grandmother clearly from my childhood, and treasure it. I am glad that my own children will at least have some of those memories.

On the way back, Wife’s uncle was kind enough to invite us to a wonderful barbecue, and if you have never eaten smoked salmon, pork, and brisket in the same meal, I highly recommend it. The weather was wonderful, and the only real downside to the trip struck on Friday morning, when Elder Daughter succumbed to carsickness, and we had to deal with very unpleasant odors on the way back.

I must say that while visiting Niagara Falls was wonderful, I don’t really recommend visiting on Saturday. Also, go EARLY and avoid the lines that plagued our visit. That said, riding the Maid Of The Mists practically into the Horseshoe Falls is well worth it.

Also, Saturday nights in summer, the hotels all along I-90 in Ohio are booked. Solid. Be warned.

However, that is why I have not blogged this week. Everything should be starting back up now. Watch this space for details.

On Virtue Spoofing

In society in general, as well as — perhaps especially? — F/SF fandom, there has been a lot of talk about “virtue signaling,” lately. For those readers who have been living somewhere in the planetary asthenosphere, “virtue signaling” usually means that a person wants to draw attention to the rightness of their cause, their general belief system, or just themselves.

Now, there’s no problem with signaling that one believes in what is virtuous. It’s a natural and healthy human desire to believe that one is on the the side of righteousness and to oppose evil. In that sense, it’s what every good person should do: stand up to be counted for what is right. Where would we be without patriots, or abolitionists, or even the spirit of political opposition that says, “what is popular and easy is not what is right?” This kind of virtue signaling is important, and can be laudable, and even courageous.

Of course, what follows from that is that the more your virtue signaling is lauded, the more likes and approval that is showered on you for doing it, the less courageous, the less laudable, it is. Oh, you may still be on the side of virtue, but it’s easy virtue. It was easy to be anti-Nazi in Germany in 1950. It was not so easy in 1933. It was easy to be against the Vietnam War in 1968. We forget that it was not so easy in 1964.

Humans are tribal. So we like to signal that we are a part of our tribes. At least most of us do. I seem to be very weird that way, because cheerleading for the tribe bores me to tears, and is probably the reason I don’t really have one. But I’m not entirely immune: I like easy praise as much as the next person.

So a lot of what we’re seeing here isn’t really virtue signaling, as such. It’s tribal signaling. “Look at me, I am one of you. Accept me. I belong to this tribe, and I want to love whom I love, and hate whom I hate. And I have power to do so because my tribe is strong, and will protect me, and we shall have the victory.” It’s not particularly evil, but it’s not particularly virtuous. It’s just very human.

But the real problem here isn’t when tribal signaling masquerades as virtue signaling, because that’s just a coded message to the like-minded. It sounds better than literally shouting “Rah-rah-rah, my group is the best, suck it, you outcasts.” No, the real problem is what I’m calling “virtue spoofing.”

Spoofing is an electronic warfare technique in which signals or drones are sent to simulate a radar contact that isn’t really there. It’s used to make the enemy fire at nothing or to make them run away if they believe you have a force you don’t. And virtue spoofing is used the same way: to make it appear that you have a virtue that you don’t. So unlike tribal signaling, virtue spoofing is a lie. It’s a lie that we tell others, and worse, it’s a lie we tell ourselves.

I am not speaking here of the lies that real predators tell, such as the pastor who preaches fidelity while having affairs with the women in his congregation, nor the media icon who stands up for “feminism” while sexually harassing women in his profession. Those are problems, as we have ample cause to know, but more capable writers than I have said more than I could add to about that sort of hypocrisy.

No, the virtue spoofing I wish to discuss is that kind where we try to pretend, to ourselves and others, that if we just talk enough in the right ways about all the right things, then that must make us virtuous people. But that’s not what virtue is, and it has never been what virtue is. Instead, the narratives that we see constructed are essentially magic spells designed to create the illusion that we are good people. But when we do this, we inevitably place ourselves in the role of judges: Anyone who does not signal the way I do is bad. Only those who signal the way I do are good.

This is a very different thing than what is truly virtuous, which is to treat people as fully human, flawed, fallible, and nonetheless as worthy of love and respect as we ourselves. It is popular to spoof virtue, because loving our neighbor in spite of his evil, in spite of his sin, and in spite of his apathy is hard and exhausting. It is much easier to look at the signals, and separate the people who matter from the people who do not matter, and it is a very short step from there — shorter, I think, than we realize — to believing that perhaps we ourselves do not matter, and to fall into despair.

 

If we are to be, and not merely seem, virtuous; if we are to practice, and not spoof, virtue, then we must begin by practicing what is hard: loving one another, and loving ourselves, while acknowledging our flaws. We must not give in to the easy venting of emotions and confuse that with real action. We must remember that in Tolkien’s words, All that is gold does not glitter. Then, perhaps, we will discover in others and in ourselves the treasure that is real virtue.

It Is The Best Of Years, It Is The Hardest Of Years… Help Make It Better

Dear Followers and Readers Of My Blog:

This is so far the weirdest year of my writing career yet. I’ve sold some stories, albeit not as many as I’d have liked. I’ve done deals bigger than any deals I’ve done before, and I’ve written more than I once thought possible.

The upside of this is that I am busier than I have ever been before, and the downside is that I am busier than I’ve ever been. And this is making the blog more erratic, and I suspect, less entertaining and informative. So I will be cutting back formally to three blog posts a week, including William Shakespeare’s Dune. I will try to get these up on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, but no guarantees.

I’m afraid I can’t figure out how to create any sort of poll, here that looks neat, but I’m going to ask for feedback in the comments. What is it about this blog you’ve enjoyed? What made you follow it? The snippets? The crossover humor like “I Cast Missile Magicis?” The film criticism? The takedowns of the “logic” behind your favorite series? The writing lessons I’ve shared?

Let me know, because this is your chance to really shape what’s coming next.

Thanks for reading,

Scott

Protagonists: A Spotter’s Guide

Works of fiction are almost always centered around protagonists. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell who the protagonist is. It is possible to have multiple protagonists. One of my favorite novels, which provides a fascinating study of different kinds of protagonists, is A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I highly recommend to everyone. Although to get full enjoyment out of it, you really should read The Warrior’s Apprentice, Brothers In Arms, Memory, and Komarr  first. Do it: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature, and if you don’t like them, you have no soul.

Finished? Good.

Now, we could cheat, looking at this book, and say “anyone whose point of view we see the action through is a protagonist,” but that’s no fun, and not always accurate. For example, we see through Quentyn Martell’s POV in the Song Of Ice And Fire series, but it’s hard to argue that he rises to the level of protagonist of anything but his own story, and by that definition, every character in any book, including, say, Greedo, is a protagonist. So that’s a useless definition. However in this case it does give us our five protagonists: Miles, Ekaterin, Mark, Kareen, and Ivan.

The two pairs of lovers, Miles/Ekaterin and Kareen/Mark can give us a wonderful lesson in how to give two protagonists the same, or nearly the same, goals. Bujold does a wonderful job setting this up so that the males of the pairs have essentially the same goal: win the fair damsel. The females of the pairs also have, really the same goal, which is, become a fully-capable person. Yet the flavors of the goals are highly individual: Kareen’s is a coming-of-age story. She is a child becoming an adult. Ekaterin’s is a story of recovery: she is an adult who was scarred by emotional abuse. Both struggle to escape emotional and financial dependence.
On the male side, Miles’s drive to succeed, usually a great asset, becomes his tragic flaw: his determination to win Ekaterin leads him to deceive her dishonorably, and begin a long road to redemption. Mark, on the other hand, must overcome his self-doubt in order to take any action toward helping Kareen, so he can solve his own problem.

(And I just realized that put this way, it sounds like I am describing the most boring piece of romantic, navel-gazing lit-fic in the world, rather than the sharp, funny, action-packed novel it really is. A later blog will explain how Bujold pulled this off.)

However, in the end, Bujold creates four living, breathing protagonists, each of whom have their own unique conflict that means the world to them, and each of them solves that conflict. That’s vitally important: not only does the protagonist HAVE his or her own conflict, s/he SOLVES it by making his/her OWN vital decision. BUT, each of the protagonists does have an important role to play in helping to solve the others’ problems. This creates the complex interplay that makes the book succeed so well.

But lastly, we have Ivan. Is he a protagonist, or not? At first glance, he is not. Unlike the pairs of lovers, Ivan is played purely for laughs. His romantic goals are pursued half-heartedly at best, and his pursuits fail as soon as he begins them. How then, is he a protagonist?

And the answer is this: Ivan’s goal is to help his ex-lover, Lord Dono (formerly Lady Donna) win his goal of being appointed Count Vorrutyer. A close examination of the text reveals that while Lord Dono is quite capable of running his District, he is utterly incapable of acquiring it through political maneuvering. And from inception to climax of that plot, Ivan is the key to turning Dono’s campaign from an utter failure to a triumphant victory. This gives us an important lesson: a protagonist’s goal need not be solely his own. It can be carried out in the name of another, provided that the protagonist achieves that goal in the pivotal moments.

Retro Movie Rant: A Brief Defense of X-Men 3

I think I was one of the few people who actually had anything like good feelings for the last X-Men movie of the original trilogy, X3, The Last Stand.

And there were things that upset me about it, most notably Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ death offscreen.

But overall, I found that the complaining was without much merit. It seemed to me that mostly, the audience was upset that the screenwriters and director had chosen to make a tragedy, in which the old X-men fought, and half of them died, for their ideals.

I mean, I have some sympathy with those who get stuck with a story they didn’t want. But in many ways, I felt the movie did an excellent job of portraying the costs of war, both between humans and mutants, and between mutants and mutants. You don’t go into that and not suffer loss. You don’t go into it and not come out scarred. And the characters who survived took up roles they had never really wanted, and found that they could do what their mentors would have wanted.

It was, to turn a phrase, not the movie we wanted, but perhaps a movie that we deserved to see.

The Return Of The Logoccentric Orbit!

Hello, readers!

Okay, so it’s the end of week two of The New Day Job, and I’ve been spending this week trying to figure out how to keep the productivity up that I enjoyed while working part time. Needless to say, it’s harder. But the job is good, I’ve made some adjustments, and I hope to get back on track with everything that’s going on.

So my goals are, in approximate order:

1) Get back to at least 1000 words per day on the contracted novel.
2) Get back to daily blog posts.
3) Get back on track for providing my Patreon supporters content.
4) Improve my online presence (hints gratefully accepted for that last one, BTW)
5) Get back to the James & Harriet stories.
6) Return to William Shakespeare’s Dune.

I really appreciate all my blog followers. Remember, a writer who’s read is a productive writer, so if you’ve enjoyed following me, please comment, respond, and spread the word!

Thanks again,

Scorr

This Is The Kobayashi Maru…

…nineteen periods out of last publication. We have struck an approaching day job, and have lost most of our time… motivation punctured and we have sustained much loss of productivity.

Yes, so, between novel,  new day job, marketing, a child’s birthday, Patreon obligations, and a number of other things, the blog may have to be the last priority for awhile. I’m afraid it truly is a no-win situation, except of course, for people who buy my books! Those people ALWAYS win!

I love all my readers and will strive to back to daily output as quickly as possible.

Am I In An Epic Fantasy? A Guide

This is the kind of thing that my Patreon supporters get periodically!

This Guide Will Help You Determine Whether You are In An Epic Fantasy.

What kind of person am I?

You are young and single.
Where do I live?
In a small, unregarded village, hundreds of miles from anywhere important.
What’s my job?
Apprentice something-or-other. Or nothing, really.
Who are my parents?
Dead.
What? No, they’re not. I live in their house!
That’s what you think. Be prepared for a big revelation, soon.
How soon?
As soon as the Village Elders talk to you.
What? Why would they talk to me?
It has to do with the mysterious sheep-killings and dark strangers we’ve been seeing about these parts lately.
Yeah, what’s up with those?
And about that mysterious amulet you always wear.
I always wondered about that. Where did that come from?
We never talk about that.
Dammit! That’s what my “dad” always said when I asked.
And you were never suspicious that your parents always referred to themselves in quotation marks?
Dammit. What do I look like?
Like an absolutely typical person in your village, possibly with an atypical (pick one):
Hair color
Eye color
Birthmark
Minor physical defect that in NO WAY detracts from your attractiveness
Do I have a religion?

Yes, but God or the gods, or the Whatever doesn’t really ask a lot of you, or have any commands, or do much at all, except for facilitate Ancient Prophecies that totally have absolutely nothing to do with you or anyone you know (wink, wink!) and that no one actually reads apart from Mysterious Strangers that appear out of nowhere.

Excuse me, but there’s a knock at the door.

Don’t hurry back.