Movie Reviews Far Too Late: House. Or, The Worst Horror Movie In The World.

Not the hit TV series starring Hugh Laurie. The 80s horror-schlock film starring George Wendt and some guy who was utterly forgettable as the protagonist.

So, every now and then, I get the urge to do something completely silly. Make random recipes off the internet, see how well I remember the lyrics to whole musicals, vote Libertarian, etc. And one of the things I do is watch old movies on Netflix or Amazon that I thought looked intriguing once upon a time. This is how I came to watch House.

I remember previews for House from the 1980s. It was billed as a comedy-horror or a horror-comedy. I also really like the haunted-house conceit. So I decided to give it a try and see if it was material for a cult classic.

What I found was, in fact, material that I shall use if I ever want to teach a class entitled, “Writing: How Not To Do It.” A brief catalogue of its sins will be listed below, because a comprehensive one would be longer than the film. For the hard-of-thinking, this will contain what would otherwise be called spoilers, but this film is so far gone it really can’t be spoiled.

The Junkpiled Protagonist: Our protagonist is a writer (gosh, wonder where that came from?) who is traumatized by, in no particular order, the fact that he is suffering from writers’ block, possibly brought on by his son who has disappeared from his front yard, his wife who has divorced him because of the missing son, and his Vietnam-induced PTSD. The effect is that this guy has so much shit to deal with that it’s impossible for us to care about any one issue.

The Incoherent Backstory: Apparently, the son disappeared while playing in the yard of the titular House, while I guess visiting there, because the House belongs to protagonist’s crazy aunt, but the whole family was to all appearances living there when the kid vanished. It’s implied that he either or both was kidnapped by people in a car streaking away or vanished from the House’s swimming pool before his father’s eyes.

The Endless Red Herrings: The car streaking away turns out to be only the first of myriad fake clues strewn all over the plot. Also included are Bosch/Daliesque paintings done by the aunt, endless scenes involving a medicine cabinet, a love interest that never materializes, strong hints that protagonist is completely delusional and hallucinating literally everything in the movie, and to top it all off, LITERALLY EVERY MONSTER IN THE FILM BUT ONE.

The Wandering Plot Monster: So we see the protagonist move into his aunt’s House (the same one his son vanished from and that he seemed to have been living in before) right after she has hanged herself, and despite getting fairly convincing evidence that the House is haunted — like, the ghost of his aunt appearing and saying, pretty much, “The House killed me.” — does nothing about it. Just sits and tries to plow on through his memoir of the Vietnam War despite the fact that his publisher has told him it won’t sell, and despite increasing but halfhearted attempts by the House to kill him. The fact that the protagonist looks very much like Ted from Airplane! with a perm does not add to the gravitas of these scenes. Closely related to this is…

The Idiot Plot: This is pretty much the whole film. Our protagonist kills humanoid monsters and buries them in broad daylight in six-inch shallow graves in his backyard. He completely ignores apparitions of his son begging for help. Despite the fact that the House’s clock loudly rings midnight right before monsters appear in the closets, it takes him two or three times to get it. Despite the fact that he’s a soldier, it takes him most of the movie to figure out that he might want to use guns. Despite the fact that his own son vanished in the House, he allows his sexy neighbor to use him as impromptu unpaid babysitting so she can go out clubbing and leaves the kid alone in a room of the House, from which he is promptly kidnapped by shapeshifting spirits, which he already knows the House contains. Through all of this, he continues to behave as though the most important thing is plowing on with his story of how he lost his pretty-much-an-asshole buddy in Vietnam.

The Horrible Climax: In the end, it is revealed that the cause of his son’s disappearance, the mastermind behind the House, is the ghost of his old war buddy, who has never forgiven protagonist for — get this — NOT killing him in Vietnam when he was wounded. Because protagonist went to get help instead, leaving his buddy to be carried away by the VC, who tortured him to death. So his spirit apparently decided to get revenge by invading protagonist’s aunt’s house, and kidnapping the kid to the jungles of Vietnam in another dimension, which can only be reached from inside the House.
So, EVERYTHING else in the House — the creepy distorted woman he killed, the baby kidnappers, the Lovecraftian closet-monster, the animated tools — all of this was just incidental. We never find out how long the kid was kidnapped for. Enough time for a divorce, for great-aunt to put him in a spooky painting, and for her to commit suicide. Of course, she blames the kid’s disappearance on the House from the beginning, so apparently it was haunted before Evil War Buddy Ghost got there? And I guess it was just a great place for him to take over? He’s actually a pretty knowledgeable and subtle strategist, this guy.

The only way this movie ever got made is that it was during the Great Eighties Horror Boom, when studios were desperate to mimic things like Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th Part Billion. And the production values are so low that I kept expecting to see Made In China stamped on the rubber suits. I’ve literally seen these mistakes made and avoided by high-schoolers. Take these lessons to heart: this film is not “so bad it’s good.” But it is bad enough to learn some lessons from.


General Update And Writing News: Cons And Publications And Jobs, Oh, My!

Okay, so the blog has been on a sort of soft hiatus for about a month now, for various reasons, and I have high hopes that is coming to an end. I’d really like to thank everyone who’s stuck with reading it. The hiatus happened for various reasons, exciting and mundane, including…

The End Of The School Year: Yes, with three children in elementary school, this process requires a bit of readjustment to the way the house functions, so I’ve been transitioning back into the role of Full-Time Dad.

Next School Year: Just to complicate matters, I once again have a Real Day Job. I accepted a position with a local private school teaching World History, a job I truly love. So while that’s a lot of fun, transitioning to that new job takes a LOT of time.

DragonCon: In the interim, I have learned that I will be an Official Guest of DragonCon, appearing on at least two panels and probably more. In addition, I will be hanging out at Bard’s Tower signing copies of my forthcoming book All Things Huge And Hideous, from Superversive Press! Stop by and say hi!

More Professional Sales: Also, I have been polishing up my short story “Whoever Is Not For Us” to appear next month on Kristin Janz’s and Donald Crankshaw’s Mysterion website,and just sold (of all things) a 76-word short story to Jaleta Clegg’s anthology Beer-Battered Shrimp for $5, which works out to 6.5 cents a word!

More Unprofessional Sales: While it’s not a pro sale, I also received news a couple of weeks ago that StarShipSofa, one of the most prestigious semi-pro markets out there, and one I have never cracked, has bought one of my original stories, “Wheels-Up Time.” So that’s awesome news, and I’m honored to be working with Jeremy Szal.

So a lot to be grateful to God for, and hopefully, we’ll have some more Dear Stabby and things coming up later.

Who Wants A FREE eBOOK? Doctor To Dragons!

Well, it’s been awhile since I mentioned this, partly because there was a bit of a learning curve in how to do it, but I now have a fully-functional mailing list, and I want to welcome everyone with a FREE copy of Doctor To Dragons, which is effectively the first three chapters of the full-length novel All Things Huge And Hideous, which will be coming out from Superversive Press this fall.

Honestly, I really love being able to do this, because this gives my readers a chance to preview the book at no risk. If you don’t like Doctor, you probably won’t like All Things Huge and Hideous, and I really don’t want anyone to spend money on something that disappoints them. But if you do like it, then I think you’ll be confident that the money for the full novel is well spent.

To get your free copy, all I ask is that you sign up for my mailing list, which you can do right here! It will come out on the first of the month and on very special occasions (like, I’m appearing at a con or I’ve sold a book), so I won’t be spamming you. Hope you enjoy the ride.

Scott Huggins

Witchy Writer: An Interview With Dave Butler

Today on The Logoccentric Orbit, I am interviewing Dave Butler, author of the groundbreaking Witchy War series. I won the first book, Witchy Eye, at DragonCon last year in hardcover for being a complete sci-fi nerd, and beating the tar out of my fellow panelists at Sci-Fi trivia. It is one of the best book prizes I have ever won. I strongly recommend it, and am now about halfway through the second book, Witchy Winter, which my wife and I are reading together. This led me to invite Dave Butler to do the first author interview I’ve ever hosted on my blog.

One of the things I love about the Witchy War universe is that it is incredibly detailed, with a rich history. How much research did you do for this series before writing the first book?

I tend not to do very much research specifically for my books. For these books, I did a lot of reading, but I didn’t think of it as research at the time. Let me tell you about how I came to write Witchy Eye as an example. Several things I was reading at the time came together, and from those I concocted the basic stew of this story. One of them was a work of historical anthropology called Albion’s Seed, which is a classic work of history by David Hackett Fisher. The basic argument is that we think of the immigrants [that founded the US] as being from England, but there are at least four distinct waves of immigration coming from different parts of England, each with their different dialects and cultures. Now, I didn’t read that as research, I just read it. And then, as I was trying to think of a book to write, I was reading the Brothers Grimm to my kids. And at the same time, I was reading a history of the Thirty Years’ War and realized, embarrassingly late, that the setting of the Brothers Grimm, this whimsical setting full of lords mayor and bishops who are also princes, is early modern Germany. So what eventually became the Witchy War series started out as an idea to retell the Brothers Grimm in early America. While I tend not to research specifically for a book, what I read very much informs what I write.

Hmmm. And here I was trying to figure out how NOT to ask the dreaded commonplace: “Where did you get the idea for this book?” and yet you’ve answered it anyway. How cool is that?

Along those lines, let me throw out one more piece at you. The heroine of Witchy Eye is a character named Sarah, who is 15 years old. She has one eye that has never opened, which has become a festering wound in her head, and she is called, by various characters, ‘The Witchy Eye.” My second child, when she was four months old, my brother was visiting us and noticed that her eyes were dilated to different diameters. And it turns out it was not a sign of concussion, but was in fact a harmless neurological condition in which some people’s eyes dilate at different rates. And so, from the age of four months, I have called her my witchy-eyed child.
Also, my son was born with one ear folded flat against his skull, because in utero his head was pressed up against the uterine wall. And my third child has a recessive gene on my wife’s side for very curly hair. So she has this extremely curled, white-girl ‘fro.
So these three facts about my kids are part of the basic inspiration for this story, which is fundamentally about three siblings who come to learn of each other’s existence, and each of them is marked from birth—one with a disfigured eye, one with a strange ear, and one with strange hair—because of the inheritance they have from their dead wizard father.

That’s awesome. Now, as a history teacher, I have to ask some questions stemming from my own professional geekiness, so here goes: You have created a universe, here, in which the Enlightenment never really happened. Was there anything in particular that led you to that concept?

Well, these books are often called alternate history, which is a fair thing to call them, but they’re not alternate history in the sense in which that term is usually used. In the Harry Turtledove sense, that usually means taking a moment in history I regard as pivotal, changing the outcome of that moment, and then writing a story exploring how things might have been different as a result. And that’s not this. In a way, it’s more of a cartoon. It’s rewriting the world as it is to make a lampoon of it. I try to show some things about the world that I think are interesting or important. And if there is at a moment at which the timeline diverges, it’s pretty much in the Garden of Eden. The word ‘human’ doesn’t even appear, but there are several species of human around, and one of the major themes is the struggle among them. So it wasn’t that I wanted to erase the Enlightenment, but I did want to give the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War a different significance. And doing so meant that Protestantism got written out…

Because those got replaced by the Serpentwars, correct?

Yes. So there are movements in the Witchy War universe that are Protestant-like, but no Protestantism, but many of those historical figures still have roles to play, such as Calvin and Robespierre showing up as lawyers, for example.

I laughed out loud when I came across “St. Thomas Paine,” as a holy figure of the Catholic Church.

I find it difficult to write pure humor, but neither can I write books that are purely humorless, so the books have a number of jokes baked into them, and some are kind of “highbrow” and some are fairly broad pop-cultural jokes.

And you just anticipated another of my questions, which was what the chief point of divergence that differentiates the Witchy War universe from our own. But I noticed that of the major figures of the Enlightenment, Newton perhaps being the sole exception, most of them have been pretty evil: Cromwell the Necromancer, the Sorcerer Robert Hooke, and so on. Was there anything about Cromwell that made you choose him as an avatar of evil? Or drove you to select Newton as the good wizard that opposed him?

Well, Newton was interested in many things that we today would call occult, and in fact when he proposed the laws of gravity, many of his peers, who were steeped in Aristotelian science, said, well, that’s action at a distance and is therefore occult. And it didn’t help that Isaac couldn’t explain WHY there was gravity, only that there was. So it’s kind of a truth to say that Isaac was one of the last great wizards in history.
As far as Cromwell goes, we tend to look at him as a force of progress, a democrat who is moving toward universal suffrage. But there are other lenses through which to see him, especially when you consider the idea of the Divine Right of Kings, which says that the king is God’s representative on the Earth. From that point of view, Oliver Cromwell is a kind of cosmic villain. He is the man willing to raise his hand to strike down the Lord’s anointed. So I wanted to use Cromwell as a cosmic figure, relating to one of the book’s themes.

In the second book, I actually use a term from Classical Egyptian, djet er nekhekh, which means “enduringly and repeatingly.” For the Egyptians, there were two kinds of eternity—that which continues indefinitely, and that which disappears, but then returns. (By the way, I make the suggestion in the books that this is an idea that comes from astronomy—in the northern hemisphere, we see some stars that never go away, and some that go away and return. So that’s my great contribution to Egyptology. We’ll see if anyone notices.) One of the themes of the books is that there are differing views of eternal life. Cromwell believes that eternal life means you never die. But some of the other forces believe that it means recurrence. Cromwell is science standing against death.

Which leads to another question: Are you going to get around to explaining the theology behind this world at any point? Like, why God might have made a different decision regarding an Earth with MANY sentient species and usable magic, as opposed to our world, in which we have a Christian theology that forbids magic entirely? And with which most readers are familiar with, at least in passing?

I don’t think I mean that to be forever a mystery. Most of the gods in this series are in fact things people could be familiar with from our world, such as pagan beliefs and Vodun. So this universe is polytheistic in that sense, but I think ultimately what you will see by the end is the ecology of a God that is rooted in the Bible but that includes not just a single God, but includes a triad of gods: Father, Mother and Child and how that includes many creatures, some of my own devising.

And are the Heron King, Peter Plowshare and Simon Sword, completely your own creations, or do those have a basis in history of which I am not aware?

No, those are my own creation.

Since we’re talking about religions, here’s a question at least partly from ignorance: You’re a practicing Mormon, and as I understand, Mormon religious tradition involves the story that the prophet Nephi led his people to establish a civilization in the New World. On the back of Witchy Winter is a site designated Na’avu. I know that in the TV series The Expanse the Mormons called the interstellar colony ship they were building the Nauvoo. I don’t know the significance of that term in the Mormon faith. How much, if any, did your Mormon faith inform your construction of the world of the Witchy War?

Well, Nauvoo is Hebrew for “beautiful,” and it appears in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The only real significance of the name is that the Mormons built a settlement in Illinois during their migration westward, and called it Nauvoo the beautiful. For me that name is one of several jokes or call-outs that some people will catch.

Am I trying to write a re-written version of Mormon history, the way Orson Scott Card did with his Seventh Son series? No.

Am I trying to influence people to think a certain way about Mormons or Mormonism? No.

Does Mormonism influence what I write? Of course. I am a practicing Mormon, I live in Utah. I’m not just a little Mormon, so of course it does influence my writing. The books are theological: not in the sense of wanting to preach or teach anything, but in the sense of exploring ideas in a context of faith. I consider myself a seeker in my faith.

There’s a lot of Bible in these books—the characters take their vocabulary from it, and their ideas about order, and their magic. I’m trying to find the soul of America as it exists for me, and many Americans have seen and still do see themselves as living out the epic of the Bible. Mormons do, certainly, but so do others. I think you can’t tell a true story about America and what it means if the Bible is not somehow involved. So as I tell this story, it’s inevitable that my Mormonism is part of the equation. But it’s not an allegory or a missionary tract.
One more thought, which I’m afraid is sort of grandiose, but I’ll say it anyway. Tolkien wrote to a Jesuit friend that he was afraid nobody would like The Lord of The Rings because it was too Catholic. T.A. Shippey, who followed Tolkien in his chair at Oxford, commenting on this letter said frankly he had no idea what Tolkien was talking about. And that’s funny, because it’s obvious that you can look at Tolkien and see Christianity and Catholicism. To give just one example, Sauron falls on March 25th, and that becomes the new year of Gondor. And Tolkien the medievalist knew that March 25th was believed by medieval Christians to be the date of the crucifixion. What was Tolkien doing? Trying to build a mythology for his native land, in which his Catholicism inevitably shines through. And I am trying to do the same thing for America. So it will have a lot of idiosyncratic stuff in it, including my Mormonism.  

Now I’d like to ask some questions about the series in general. Is magic in this universe something that anyone can do? Or only certain people?

Both. Some people have the talent to practice magic at a high, theoretical level, called gramarye. Firstborn tend to have more of that gift. Most people, however, practice magic through a sort of hedge-wizarding tradition, using the rituals of actual magical traditions.

One of the things I’m very curious about is this: Sarah is child of a union between the firstborn AND what would we would think of as “normal human?” She thinks of herself as firstborn by the time she knows her heritage. Are the firstborn traits “dominant” in any sense?

That’s an interesting question, and not one I’m sure will ever definitively answer. Even among the characters in the books, there’s not always a sharp dividing line. It’s possible I will write stories exploring this in the future.

Aside from what happens to the soul at the moment of death, what is the difference between a purely human-looking Firstborn and what we would think of as an ordinary human?

It’s possible you wouldn’t be able to tell. You could tell if they came into contact with silver, because there’s something in their blood that reacts badly to it. It will cause them pain if they contact it, and injury if the contact is prolonged.

How did you come to sell Witchy Eye to Baen?

I went to WorldCon in Reno in 2011, trying to make contacts. Among others, I noticed that Toni Weisskopf was there doing a “Strolling With the Stars” event, in which you could meet famous people by going on a walk with them. So I went and discussed Witchy Eye with Toni, and shortly after that my agent at the time dumped me. So I sent the book to Toni on my own in February 2012, and her first response was, “Hey, this might not be the best fit for us.” So you have to be smart when you talk to editors—you don’t want to crowd them, and you also don’t want to let the connection go cold. So I’d wait for good news, drop her a line, and say, “Hey, congratulations that your author won such-and-such, and I look forward to hearing from you when you’ve had a chance to read my book.” In the meantime I got a new agent, and my first sale was a three-book deal to Random House.  So I mentioned Witchy Eye to my agent, and then went to Sasquan and told her that I was going there to talk to editors about having her send them this book. She was more of a children’s literature agent, so she didn’t know a lot of these people directly. I said, I will give you the contacts and you can submit to them. So I went up and connected with 4-5 editors, including Toni, who had not yet read the book, and then had my agent submit to them. Including Toni. So in 2016, Toni came back and made me an offer. So my experience wasn’t nearly the straight line you hope for, as a beginning author. And I got very lucky, because I passed up a number of opportunities that would have seen it published if I had been willing to rewrite it in ways I didn’t really want to. And the moral, here, by the way is not, “Hold fast to your vision, you will succeed in the end.” The moral is, I got lucky.

So you’ve just delivered Book 3, Witchy Kingdom, to Baen. Do you know how much further the series goes, or is this the end?

It’s planned for six. The second half will have a different naming convention, so it’s kind of two soft trilogies. I have other projects in the works that I can talk about. The Cunning Man, which I co-wrote with Aaron Michael Ritchey, is coming out in November from Baen. It’s set in 1935, about a beet farmer who learned traditional lore from his grandmother, and uses his magic to fight the evils of the Great Depression.
I also have hopes to sell a book entitled The Palace of Sorrow and Joy, which is a kind of a sword and sorcery noir about two thinking-men down on their luck, working as thugs, who end up getting targeted as patsies in an insurance fraud scheme involving murder. I’m also hoping to publish a middle-grade series, sort of an Encyclopedia Brown/Dr. Doolittle style set of books called The Tarantula Thief, which is about a boy who talks to animals and uses that skill to fight evil in his school and neighborhood, and I’m in about 4-5 anthologies coming out this fall.

Tell me about what winning the Whitney Award means to you.

There are two Mormon literary awards, the Association for Mormon Letters Award and the Whitney Award, and Witchy Winter won them both. I’ve seen that winning awards has almost no effect on sales, but awards do mean that someone read your book and thought it was good. For years, I got used to being an also ran—I was a finalist for the Dragon Awards and the Whitneys and the AML before—so from a morale standpoint, it’s awesome to finally win.

I’d just like to take a moment at the end to thank Dave for being a great guest on the blog, and for being very approachable and helpful both online and at DragonCon last year. For those of you intrigued by the series, you can buy the first book on Amazon right here.

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!

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?”
“Then why aren’t we doing that?”
“Because WordPress really sucks that way.”