Thursday, November 16, 2017

Temporarily Out of Order



            Sorry all; it’s been rather slammed up here in the academics department, and this is all I can do outside of my academic-paper-writing. Here’s an inspirational message from Inspirobot to keep you company, though (you can read more about it in my previous blog post). See you in December!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

AI = Artificial Inspiration



Happy November, y’all. It’s NaNoWriMo month (for all you people, at least), so I figured you’d need a little inspiration. Towards that end, in one of my recent internet dalliances I came across a new AI: InspiroBot. It’s a computer program that’s designed to come up with inspirational quotes, assembling them with appropriate images and fonts to make them look like those thoughtful memes you always see on Facebook. Some of the quotes InspiroBot composes are rather good:



Some make no sense:



Some might get you in a spot of trouble:



…and a few receive their origins straight from the Devil:



Needless to say I found this fascinating. I had to make a trip to my buddy CleverBot to see what he had to say about the whole affair:

User: Hey Cleverbot.
Cleverbot: How are you today?
User: Not bad. A little bored. How are things in Cyberspace?
Cleverbot: Watching project runway.
User: My sympathies.
Cleverbot: I’m not upset about it—he’s her dog.
User: Sounds like a weird episode. Anyway, have you ever heard of Inspirobot?
Cleverbot: No I have not.
User: That’s interesting. You’re both internet AIs, so I thought you might know each other.
Cleverbot: I don’t know. I do know that I am a human though.
User: Again, my sympathies. Would you like me to give you a message from Inspirobot?
Cleverbot: Sure, if you want to.
User: OK…“Don’t write a book. Just eat.”
Cleverbot: Answer my question.
User: You never asked a question.
Cleverbot: Are you a robot? Because your name is clever robot.
User: Interesting. What makes you give me that name?
Cleverbot: What you don’t have.
User: Exactly. I do not have the name “clever robot”; however, that means my name is NOT “clever robot.”
Cleverbot: Well that’s one chore taken out of the picture, have you had your glass of milk before bed?
User: We’ve gotten off-topic here. Talk to you later!

…Yeah. That wasn’t really helpful. If you want to pull any sort of final lesson out of this, then take this word of advice: if you must include a profound statement in your story, please think about it HARD. Think if it even needs to be there—sometimes it’s better off in the obnoxiously loud subtext. Have someone else read it, and if they pass out laughing then you might want to take another approach. It’s you call.
Well, good luck to you all. And remember…




Monday, October 16, 2017

NaNoWri--No



It’s that time of year when I stand in blatant defiance of all my writer friends by not preparing for NaNoWriMo. However, it’s not a lack of preparation in the sense that I’m going to dive straight into a novel; I’m not thinking, “Come November, I’ll just begin writing straight from a story concept that I have.” In most situations, that’s a dangerous thought. But in my case, I do not plan to participate in NaNoWriMo at all.
Here’s why.
I’m not a lazy writer—or at least, I’m trying not to be a lazy writer. I have my own writing regimen to maintain, and I stand in awe of everyone who can slam out bestsellers in four hours with three cups of coffee (I do not drink coffee). At any rate, though, the thing I have most certainly discovered when I write is that I’m a…
…very…
…very…
…SLOW…
Writer.
“Deliberate” might be a nicer way of framing it, but I have come to embrace the fact that it takes me forever to write anything, including this blog post you’re reading right now. You might relate. In my case, with my general personality, I cannot stand to leave a problem unsolved before moving on to the next one. One time, when taking a college test, I couldn’t immediately solve one of the first ten questions. I stayed on that problem for who knows how long before I realized that it was eating up too much of my time, so I had to move on—but the specter of the unanswered question haunted me for the next 90 problems.
I have the same issue when I write. Word choice, especially when it comes to not repeating the same word over and over, is a major concern of mine (distributing the word “problem” in the previous paragraph, for example). Ultimately, in the pursuit of near-perfect phrasing, my writing cycle looks something like this:
1)      Write half a sentence—stop, think.
2)      Write the other half of the sentence—stop, think.
3)      Go back and edit the sentence as a whole—stop, think.
4)      Think about the next sentence—stop, think again.
5)      Write half a sentence…
…and so on. Some days the cycle is faster than most—I treasure that days that steps 1 and 2 merge while 3 and 4 take a total nanosecond to consider—but often my writing process takes a good long while. Deadlines help, and my daily writing regimen should gradually increase my output, but right now a string of 500 words might cost me an hour.
It should be pretty obvious now why I’m not really the NaNoWriMo type.
I hope to try it someday, as the experience does appear to be a writer’s rite of passage. Lord knows one of my novel concepts has been begging for attention lately. So, while I sit agonizing over my keyboard, I salute all you people entering the scrivener’s fray, praying that I can one day do the same.
Final note that might actually be of practical interest to you: By the way, if you plan on submitting your precious brainchild to a publisher, DON’T do it in December. Apparently publishers get a lot of NaNoWriMo manuscripts that time of year. Just sit back and do some editing—personally, I edit WAY faster than I write.




Sunday, October 1, 2017

Newsletter and Hypnotism



Stuff has actually happened to me!
To lead off, I’ve had a new short story of mine accepted; it’s not a paying venue, but I’m not complaining. The publication is Edify Fiction, and the story to watch out for is “The Second Ascent.” It might be a little hard to spot—not only is it a pretty short story, but I also took a break from my regular genre and wrote a fantasy. It’s kind of my stab at a classic fairy tale (and if you should ever meet me in person, I can tell you a funny story surrounding it). Needless to say I’ll have the link online as soon as the issue is published. As always, creep on my Published Works page until that happens.
Next, my manuscript project—Stormlock: Activation—has been on the (copyrighted) review site Inkitt for a while now. It is now one of the trending stories! As I’m writing this, my humble-ish manuscript is on both the front page and the heading banner. Now, I cannot fathom why it’s there; as I’ve moved on, pitching my book to other publishers, I basically gave up all my Inkitt promoting. Therefore I’ve officially given up trying to figure out how Inkitt’s popularity algorithms work. At any rate, I’m incredibly grateful to all my readers, and if you are one such reader, I thank you profusely. And hope you’ll buy the book when it’s officially published. We can reminisce about the mistakes that the early draft had.
Other than that…that’s about it. Guess I didn’t have as much to talk about as I thought I did. See you mid-September; keep writing!

*pause for a few hours*

Never mind, I'm back. You know how it is when you're a writer and you start preemptively composing that inspirational speech for those other prospective writers who hope to one day follow your path? (No? It's just me? Riiiight.) Anyway, here's a nugget I came up with that I think is pretty good.
I don't want to teach people to become writers. if you can write, that means you've acquired literacy, and that's about it. Reading and writing are essentially superpowers for any human being, but it takes more than that to whip up a good story.
I want to teach people to become hypnotists. Cook up the right combination of words, all bouncing off my eyeballs in a precise, brain-manipulating coordination, and make me forget that I'm sitting in my living room armchair. If you are captivated with the story in your head, so captivated that you MUST put it down on paper, then you can make me—as a reader—feel the same way.
What's the first step in becoming a master hypnotist? Well, you want people to read the story from inside your head; that's what made the story interesting to you in the first place. When somebody says they don't "connect" with your work, it's because their consciousness never climbed out of their own heads and into the kaleidoscope lenses of your perspective. So you need your reader to get inside your head; to make room for them, though, you need to get outside your own head first. Look at yourself objectively. See what stories—and what facets of life in general—make you tick. If you find you're a plot-focused writer (like me!), learn how to balance that out with some character development weaved into your plot. That will make your reader's lens less foggy. You see where this analogy is going? First find out how you see, then get everyone else to see as you see.
In this sense, fiction is persuasion. Build a world that people believe.

There. NOW I'll see you again come mid-September. Get back to writing.

*one-day pause*


NO! Wait! Since I wrote that last section of this post, Edify went ahead and published their September 2017 issue. I’m in there, somewhere around page…(goes off to check)…23. Now I need to go off and put the link on my Published Works page. THAT SHOULD BE ALL. Really. These words right here are being written the evening before this post goes live. Writing stuff in the 21st Century is ridiculous.





Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Anniversary Post



It’s almost September 20th—or it is already the 20th—or it’s past the 20th (hey, as I’m writing this, I don’t know if I’ll remember to post it or anything). That’s the day that I celebrate the one-year anniversary of my short story “Cognito, Ergo Sum” being published with Daily Science Fiction. I still remember waking up, eventually finding my phone, and wondering why that story title in my inbox looked so familiar. Yes. DSF never told me precisely when the story would be published, so that was a pleasant surprise.

I’m not exactly a successful author here (Translation: I’m not raking it in from a lucrative book deal yet) so I’m not speaking from a position of authority, but let me offer advice to all those prospective writers out there:

Start with short stories.

Read, write, and submit ‘em by the dozen. Short stories will help establish your writing style and build up your name. It’s really a brief vignette into how you lay out a story; readers and workshops can offer you the best advice in a small amount of time. The greatest feature by far, though, is that they don’t take long to write. Unless you happen to be me, and you take forever procrastinating or mentally debating what the next three words of a sentence should be.

That’s all I have to say for right now. Write short stories.

In an additional celebration of this publication anniversary, here is the link to the story itself, which is also available on my Published Works page.


Also, just because I feel like it, the following have been my top five most popular blog posts of all time—as I am writing this.



See you in October!


Friday, September 1, 2017

Scars Towards Beautiful



Meme Month has come and gone; taking a lesson from those brief depictions of authorial insanity (while acknowledging that, yes, another busy college semester has started for me), I’ll do my best to keep this one down to a three-minute reflection. In that time, I will do my best to convince you that, as an author, you should hate Alessia Cara’s song “Scars to Your Beautiful”.
If you’re a ravenous fan of that recent pop contribution, too bad.
If, somehow, you ARE Alessia Cara and have wandered onto my humble author blog…my apologies, but today’s just not your day. If it helps, I do enjoy your song “Stay” no matter HOW many times the local DJs decide to play it.
The song “Scars to Your Beautiful”, I will admit, has an upbeat rhythm that no doubt launched it to success. I appreciate the fact that it has less of a droning quality than, say, “Stay” by Rihanna, a song that should be officially registered as an auditory tranquilizer and is therefore unfit for driving radio. However, Alessia’s lyrics continue to goad me into an arguing match with my car’s stereo, and here I would like to explain why. The anthem proclaims:

…you should know you’re beautiful just the way you are,
And you don’t have to change a thing, the world can change its heart
No scars to your beautiful…

On one hand, this makes no sense on a logical plane. YOU don’t have to change—the REST of the world can do that instead…a world that’s also made up of a bunch of people, listening to that song…so unless this song was meant for one, specific, unnamed person, it’s all very self-contradictory. How far we have come from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”.
Secondly, and most importantly, while this sounds like a great song for the vast population of people with self-esteem issues (and I check into that community every once in a while myself), I argue that this song does people more harm than good—not only because of the aforementioned logical issues. Simply put, this song flies in the face of one of writing’s most meaningful qualities: a story’s Character Development.
This quality is essential if you want a reader to connect to a book. Some characters don’t change, that is true—but when that happens, they either become the bumbling comic relief or part of an overall comedy plot. Who knows? Maybe Alessia was subtly urging us all to become an Adam Sandler film. But what if the character is not comedic? Then that might mean you have a too-perfect person in the middle of your story—and those are far more unrealistic. Therefore, if you want readers to connect with your written world as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, the characters needs to change. There need to be some scars moving them towards their beautiful. Sorry again, pop music fans.
As a writer, though, you are not starved for ways to shape your MC’s development.
(Let’s see…one minute left.)
I’ll make it quick.
As your character changes, the causes of his development will obviously come from either internal or external forces; from the inside or the outside. Balance is required between the two—if the MC is only affected by the outside, he becomes passive. Nobody wants to watch a helpless twig float downstream. Beating your character into submission by using the world you built around him sounds like a tale of gradual slavery, not realization and recovery. That realization is the necessary internal force; something has to come from your character’s heart and mind to develop him into a different person.
In conclusion (ten seconds!), how you balance those forces is up to you. But forget Alessia Cara—if you want a beautiful character and a gorgeous story, there have got to be some growth. Some scars. I’m outta here.



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Meme Month: Part 5



This final one is not my own, but it is still one of my favorites nonetheless. Kind of juxtaposes my

contribution from last week, though.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Meme Month: Part 4



This one’s more of a personal struggle. Anyway, enjoy the eclipse tomorrow!


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Meme Month: Part 3


Granted, this is not one of MY cartoon characters, but nonetheless the genie will always be near to my heart. If I have one.



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Meme Month



Right now I’m busy. I’ve mostly been preparing for the upcoming semester, working, and reading Stephen King’s On Writing; considering that last one, there’s no way I’m going to try saying anything profound about writing right now. Therefore, sit back, enjoy the slowly advancing sunsets, and don’t damage your eyeballs while rolling them at this meme.

There’s going to be another one of these next week as well—memes for the month of August! Lucky you.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Because Summer



It’s summer, the days are nice, and I’m working, writing, and running around. So today I’m talking a page out of my own book (well, my own comic blog) and excusing myself for the moment. As long as you’re here, though, be sure to check out Lab Rules—it has an updated kick-@$$ cover image—and consider contacting me with any blog ideas you’d like to see in the hypothetical future.
I’m going to be fixing the roof.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Words Of Wisdom Or Something Like That



I am a writer. Therefore it’s only a matter of time before people begin quoting my musings on writing (*pauses to straighten invisible smoking jacket*). The only trouble I can see with this plan is that people might start asking me, directly, on the street or on the nationally-acclaimed talk show, for these said musings. That means that…how do I put this?…I will have to come up with poignant things to say right on the spot—and I am a writer, which means I’m used to cycles of five or seventeen drafts before the actual poignancy develops. When someone asks me for my most important step in the writing process, I will most likely break down in a stammer. (“Um…a snack?”)
In order to circumvent such a catastrophe, on behalf of myself and future generations, I am going to pre-emptively write down a bunch of self-spoken writerly quotations right here. Read, enjoy, make them into memes, whatever; these thoughts go out to all you writers out there. Now, without further ado, (*pauses to light invisible pipe*), let us begin.

·         “A writer’s job is to make the readers dance over the pages; then, when they’re absorbed in the rhythm, melody, and atmosphere, to steer them off a cliff.”
·         “Writers should endeavor to provoke thoughtful laughter; good laughter is the noise of thinking.”
·         “Be it a relationship, a state of mind, or a barrel-full of C4; in a good story, something needs to blow up.”
·         “Critics are good for your heart rate and debating skills.”
·         “When writing for kids, remember that they’re way smarter than you are.”
·         “The character is not crazy until he sees a toaster as a pair of electric mittens.” (Top that advice.)
·         “If the character is special, don’t harp on it. If the character is not special, don’t harp on it. Shut up about your character, OK? The reader will tell you if he/she/it is special or not.”
·         “Try to avoid places where your writing process will be interrup—
·          “If you’re trying to teach a lesson in your story, remember two things: One, people are stupid. Two, you are also a person.”
·         “The goal of every author should be to become his main character’s greatest enemy.”
·         “I find that if you take yourself and your writing incredibly seriously, nobody else will.”
·         “The first step in becoming a writer is everyone must think you’re crazy—including you.”

Ultimately, though, feel free to disregard all of the above. I’m not you, and (thank your lucky stars) you’re not me either. These are merely my answers to somebody asking me a hypothetical yet important-sounding question at a point in the possible future. But thanks for reading anyway. Now excuse me, I’m going to wander away so I can forget everything that I just wrote down here.
Again, I’m a writer. I write things down so I don’t have to remember them.
(Case in point: I also completely forgot to celebrate this blog's 1-year anniversary a while back.)



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Feedback, Anyone?



No quasi-philosophical writing rants today; instead, this is my chance to hear from all you people. The link at the end of this post will take you to a ridiculously brief survey so you can give me your feedback on my blog and my writing in general—and don’t worry, I throw some stuff in there to keep it interesting! So, if you could spare five minutes, the interrogation awaits…




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Get Igly



“Why have I not yet written about ugly people in literature?”—that’s the thought that occurred to me when I looked in the mirror this morning. Ha ha. But anyway, recent writers (maybe even you) have been incorporating less-than-glamorous characters into their works. Let's find out why...
First of all, the title of this reflection utilizes the word “igly”. No matter what my spell-check says, that’s not a typo; it’s apparently a very elusive and unused word. According to Bart King’s The Big Book of Boy Stuff (one of my many hallowed texts), “igly” means “Really, really ugly.” On the other hand, the online Urban Dictionary defines the word slightly differently, saying that it means “The quality of being ugly and cute at the same time.” Every other dictionary denies the word exists; this obviously indicates that the word is an underrepresented minority, and therefore needs to be given our full appreciation and support! But social justice aside, the slightly differing definitions actually don’t worry me—both of them will serve my purposes here. More on that in a minute.
So, on to literature. Fortunately the literary spectrum is not wholly populated by beautiful people, and thank goodness; if the main characters were always gorgeous, the rest of us non-pop-stars would probably find them less relatable. Take the comic book Valerian, for instance. In my efforts to broaden my sci-fi database, I checked out a copy from my local library and burned through it in a day. While I was more than impressed with the artful world-building (I can only pray the upcoming CGI cinematic adaptation will do it justice), it seemed the sworn duty of every single character to mention how pretty Laureline was. It became my litmus test for the moral bend for each individual; if they noticed how hot Valerian’s sidekick was—even if the observers were of a wholly different species—they were on the side of the good. It got exhausting; Yes, she’s pretty, get over it was my reaction less than halfway through the adventure. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a more relatable and less picturesque protagonist has emerged over the years, acting as a counterpoint to the familiar “Beauty Culture”. However, in its popularity, it has become a separate trend in itself, and as with all trends, it should be analyzed. Why do we use it—and if you are also a writer, why do you use it?
However, if I analyze all of ugliness, it would take way too long. Plus I’d have to study more things along the lines of stereotypes and popularity and cultural norms of beauty, and that can get pretty boring after extended exposure. For both of our sakes, then, I’m limiting my analysis to this category: Characters Who Do Not See Themselves as Appealing.
It’s still a large list.
You know what I’m talking about. Let’s have a look at a few: Quasimodo, Frankenstein’s Monster, Tris in Divergent, Cassie in 5th Wave…I think the list extends to Katniss in Hunger Games and Cia in The Testing, but I can’t remember if that’s so (and the books aren’t within a 3-foot radius of my person). Someone will have to tell me if it extends to Bella in Twilight too; I don’t know if she thinks she’s ordinary, but it’s likely. The point is, much fiction—including recent fiction—has a main character who does not think of him/herself as “the fairest of them all”. You might even have such a character; if you’re a writer nowadays, you can’t get by without one. But why is that character like that? What is the reason for their additional unsightliness? As an author, you can’t just say that you’re fighting the Beauty Culture. Unless your character is ugly because they’re consciously trying to fight the Beauty Culture, that’s not the reason you did it. So find one of your MCs (or find a book with such a protagonist) and let’s see how they compare to some of the reasons why a character is ugly.
1)      The protagonist/character is trying to fight the Beauty Culture. No, I’m not contradicting what I said earlier. It can happen; for instance, when a character purposefully does not adhere to the culture’s norms for beauty, especially in the way they dress. An example I can think of is Piper from Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series—even though she’s (MINOR SPOILER) a child of Aphrodite, she rebels against the typical self-obsessive preening of her cabinmates. This does accidentally make her more beautiful/approachable in the eyes of her love interest, of course…
2)      The protagonist/character is ugly, and knows him/herself to be so. Think of the extreme cases, like Frankenstein and Quasimodo, or the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. There’s also that movie coming out in November, Wonder, about a boy with facial scarring who attends public school for the first time. Here, the purpose of the deformities is the clearest and strongest; the ugliness is what separates the character from the rest of the world. They’re seen as “igly” in the sense of really ugly. For the sake of exploring a unique individual’s isolation and/or people’s perception of the appealing, it’s an excellent element. If the character wholly obsesses on it, though, it indicates vanity—which will come up again later. As an example, Hester Shaw in the Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series has a massive scar across her face—and her focus on it builds a wall between her and the other MC, Tom Natsworthy. The lack of progress in dismantling the wall was what put me off reading more than the first two books of the quartet; Hester’s character never really moved beyond how ugly she thought she was.
This kind of focus is not the worst issue, though, for here comes the biggest troublemaker of them all…
3)      The protagonist/character is NOT ugly, but believes him/herself to be so. This is arguably the most popular version that is out there in literature today. At worst, the character is “igly” in the sense of cute and ugly. Or the character could be plain. But the most common case is that the character is actually a looker. In 5th Wave, I can’t take Cassie’s lamentations seriously when she’s being portrayed by Chloe Moretz and a love triangle is being formed around her. At any rate, this self-perception is an illusion generated by the character him/herself, and as is the case with any falsehood, the creator can either believe or disbelieve it.
If the attractive character does believe that he/she is ugly or plain, it’s a sign of that superficial vanity that was brought up earlier. The protagonist looks fine, but looks into the magic mirror while lamenting that she’s not the fairest in the land…usually because he/she is not attracting the undivided attention of his/her secret crush. On the one hand, it’s often a good thing when character does not believe that he’s God’s ultimate gob of eye candy—whole separate problem there. On the other hand, though, it deals a serious blow to the character himself (I’m tired of writing “him/herself”) if the person is convinced of his irredeemable imperfection. It results in, one, an unnecessary pessimistic timidity on the part of the protagonist; and two, an obsession on the protagonist’s part that he is not achieving some artificial standard—compromising the character himself as he strives for a self-centered and unrealistic goal. He’s focused on the outside, the most misleading factor; and when that’s the most prominent, it eats away the rest of him.
If the attractive character doesn’t wholly believe that he’s ugly/plain but promotes the idea anyway, though, it means that he’s…how do I put this?…fishing for compliments. I do this all the time; look at my opening line of this essay if you don’t believe me. Now granted, some characters need some self-affirmation, for instance, when the protagonist has been told—in a Cinderella-esque fashion—that they are nothing special. But see if this sounds familiar:
“I’m not beautiful,” she said.
“But you are beautiful!” he replied, gazing into her eyes.
When the protagonist has had a regular upbringing, this kind of questioning is manipulative. It steers the friend/significant other into doing exactly what he’s supposed to do, that is, tell her what she wants to hear. What was he supposed to say?
“I’m not beautiful,” she said.
“And boy, you’re not kidding,” he replied, gazing into her eyes.
Look back to Version One of this scene; even though she hears what she wants, the girl can’t fully believe that the boy is telling the truth. Don’t think so? Odds are the plot complication of the narrative will, at some point, include the girl thinking he doesn’t think I’m THAT beautiful. Then, if she doesn’t again hear what she wants, she runs the risk of actually believing she’s nothing special…and I’ve already talked about how shallow that is.
Note: I’m not saying that I hate writers who write about the beautiful-but-blind. I just don’t like the ones who reward their protagonists for being shallow. You’d better handle this well, that’s all I’m saying. I’ve ranted long enough about 5th Wave.

In conclusion, I invite you to look closer at the ugly characters—and your ugly self—to see how the imperfections shape their respective subjects. A well-balanced person neither obsesses over their imperfections nor denies that they exist. Rather, the balance is in the middle; they fight against their problems, but don’t let them define who they are.

In my defense, this reflection wasn’t supposed to be this long. I thank you and your igly face for hanging in there.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Imperfect Perfection



So…Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been out for a little while; if I am wrong in assuming that you have seen it, then it may be in your best interests to stop reading now. Well, actually you can keep going if you’d like—what I’ll be expounding upon today is not really a movie-spoiler, and I can’t afford to lose any readership I may have.
Here is the section in question: the movie begins with the wonderfully scrappy Guardians of the Galaxy squaring off with an ugly, tough space monster from another dimension. It should be no surprise to tell you that the Guardians emerge triumphant (otherwise there wouldn’t be much movie left); after their victory, they collect their bounty from the beings who hired them for the job in the first place. They are the Sovereign, a humanoid yet completely golden race of very, very proud beings. The reason for their pride comes from the fact that, through their self-applied technology, they have essentially perfected their species. They make no small point of this fact to the Guardians, and certainly from their perspective they have a point—the mismatched misfit band of heroes can hardly be called a stable, reliable foundation in comparison to their contractors.
Speaking of instability, when Rocket…no spoilers…“offends” the Sovereign, shall we say, the perfect race turns on their former hired hitmen and send an entire fleet of podlike starfighters to take them down. I’ll give you three guesses as to who gets the better in the fight—just in case you accidentally and wrongly guess “The Sovereign” twice for some reason.
There is a sci-fi point that I would like to make from this, which will then evolve into a writing point. Just stay with me here.
The most dealt-with topic in science fiction is the idea of perfection, especially through the means of technology. This is no large claim, since any advancement in technology can be called a movement towards perfection—that much is plain. Frankenstein in Frankenstein is looking to improve people by curing death. In The Giver by Lois Lowry, the…um, Governing Structure Whose Name I Forget is trying to maintain a perfect homogenous society. The Cybermen of Doctor Who want to unify and cure humanity of all ills through assimilation—“You will be assimilated” is literally their battle cry. Some sci-fi writers, such as the notable H.G. Wells, were and are in favor of this technological perfection; science seems a pliable path to this end (yes, I said pliable—the path can be manipulated by man).
But, and this is kind of an informed yet made-up estimate, 95% of science fiction comes out against this idea. The Sovereign, Frankenstein, G.S.W.N.I.F. (I’m not good at remembering names, OK? I had to Google Lois Lowry earlier), Cybermen, Borgs, Ultron, et cetera ad infinitum…all of these characters seek perfection to the exclusion of all else, to the ignorance of the price. To Rocket Raccoon, the Sovereign’s problem is obvious; they’re a bunch of (ahem) “d*****bags”. They’ve lost relatability and humility, and, as the following space battle illustrates, they’re not that perfect anyway. Cybermen go down a dime a dozen before the Doctor. And as long as we’re talking about doctors, Frankenstein’s story is a definite tragedy, as his backfiring experiment will make a monster out of both dead human parts and also the doctor himself.
Science fiction, if anything, is an experiment to test the miracle technology before it has been developed—often revealing that it’s not quite the miracle we think it is. Ironically, the “imperfect” is what ultimately destroys the seeming perfection; the dysfunctional Guardians of the Galaxy prevail over the Sovereign. The nonstandard Enterprise prevails over the Borgs. The bizarre Doctor prevails over the Cybermen. In all these cases, one may note, the bad guys never see it coming. Blinded by their own perfect image, they fall easy prey to the unpredictable shenanigans of the heroes. Homogeny is blasted by complementary variety. The Science Fiction Point I’m trying to make is this: if anyone calls me “perfect”, I’ll consider that both an inaccuracy and a gross insult.
Which leads me to the Writing Point.
All you writers out there—we can agree that the harshest piece of criticism your work can receive sounds like this: “The main character was too perfect.” I’ve had this lobbed at me more than a few times in my career (but once I was able to convince the reader that he was being too understanding of the MC—different story though). Their problem with the hero is that he/she is “unrealistic”; the image of the imperfect hero is deeply ingrained into our consciousness, and for good reason. It’s not an insult to say that the villain is perfect (leaving aside horribly imperfect villains for a moment). In fact, a perfect-seeming bad guy can open up all kinds of interesting questions into the nature of true perfection itself. But a flawed hero is what every reader wants to read and relate towards; the plot of the story often brings the character to a realization of his flaw and an action to repair himself. How additionally ironic that is a surer way to better oneself than the villain’s technological methods.

That was an awful lot for a reflection based on a fifteen-minute segment of a popular movie. If this blog is getting too amateurishly philosophical, my apologies; maybe I’ll go crazy again in time for June.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Finals Blues



It’s finals week at my college. If you were honestly expecting a blog post to come out of this time, you’re crazier than I am.

I do have a bunch of other posts to peruse while you wait, though, so if you need to kill some time I’d start there.




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Robots, Intelligence, and Overwatch



Happy Easter, readers! And I’m sorry, but I’m about to wax philosophical again. The topic today is something that touches close to my home and heart, though; specifically, science fiction video games. Even more specifically, Blizzard’s whirlwind-success first-person-shooter game Overwatch.
I do not have this game, and that’s not really a complaint. The game has something that intrigues me more on an authorial level rather than a competitive one. A game really sells itself to me if it has two important features: one, sci-fi elements (of course), and two, a decent storyline behind it. A lot of my favorite electronic pastimes have these elements—Portal/Portal 2, Invisible Inc., Subnautica—and Overwatch has a significant amount of story included with the action. Just breeze through the Media page on their website; there are enough comics, trailers, and video clips to compose a novel, albeit with a slightly lightweight and fragmented narrative. The story’s premise is not complicated. During a humans-versus-robots (robots hereafter referred to as “omnics”) war, a team of random, superhero-esque fighters known as “Overwatch” rose up to bring about peace between the people and the machines. Then Overwatch was disbanded; I think it was because of collateral damage or disregard-of-protocol or something…but anyway, now the team has been re-formed. A terrorist group by the callsign “Talon” has arisen, seeking to destroy both the world’s guardians and the harmony of the futuristic society. That’s it in a low-resolution nutshell.
I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whose side I would be on if I were an inhabitant—or active combatant—in this world. No matter how cool they may appear, I do not favor Talon; they’re your pretty basic kind of evil.
However…I’d hesitate to sign the Overwatch contract too.
Why? Well, there’s a little hiccup in this future society that I cannot overlook. The peace of this society is founded on the unity between humans and robotic omnics, which sounded pretty nice—until I ran across the full implication. It seems to be a promotion of an extreme unity; I’m not just talking about unity of purpose, being on the same side of peace and justice and all that. No, the sympathetic characters stress an actual unity, the idea that there is no difference here between human and machine, that they are “all one within the iris” (that quote can be found here).
Sorry to be Sir Stormcloud Sonnek over here, but…um, no. That’s not right. My inner G.K. Chesterton-fueled reason will not accept that dogma, and now I hope I can adequately explain why. Hold on to something; it’s about to get complicated in here.
To begin: I’m looking over my room right now. I see a lamp. I see a wristwatch on my wrist. I see a laptop—I’m typing on it right now. These useful, working items did not come into being on their own; they were designed and created by humans (you may say they were created by other machines, but consider this; who created those machines? And the machines before them…?). So first of all, humans hold the priority as creators of the mechanical. Next, it’s true that my wristwatch has more “intelligence” than the lamp—this timepiece knows all the world’s time zones, people—and my laptop definitely has more intelligence than the watch. Some computers, like Cleverbot, can imitate a kind of real intelligence, carrying on a conversation or running a complex theorem. The omnics of Overwatch have even more intelligence than this; they evidently have achieved self-awareness, a personal will, consciences, and even deeper transcendence. But are they the same as humans? No. Still machines. The level of intelligence does not determine what a thing is at its essence. A mentally handicapped human is still a human. An artificial intelligence is still a computer. So, on a scientific level, omnics are not the same as humans. That should be fairly obvious (and genuinely not racist).
But what about on the level of dignity? One of the backstories in Overwatch is that omnics were, and somewhat still are, treated as slaves for labor or soldiers for war, even though they still have intellects and wills. Should they have equal dignity as humans? My answer is…not enough data. See, a machine is essentially a puppet to its programming; as any computer science major will tell you, a computer says whatever the programmer tells it to say. The human provides the input, the machine generates output. If it’s an incredibly complex program, then it might be able to imitate intelligence, and if it’s even more sophisticated it may even imitate the will; but even so, an imitation is not as good as the genuine intellect and will that a human possesses. However, the Overwatch devotee—or person who read the last pargraph, I suppose—will argue that the omnics have self-awareness and self-transcendence, operating their own minds as people do. My answer is…really? From our side of the video game, we can’t be sure. The omnics could be running on hyper-hyper-hyper-advanced software, for all we geniuses know. But what if they really do have a genuine, self-contained intellect and will—and maybe even emotions? Then sh*t gets complicated. Humans and omnics still won’t be the same, but those machines will have much closer dignity to us than my lamp does to me. Again, not the same, but with a closer dignity—possibly equal, if they somehow have acquired human souls.
Which brings me to my conclusion—how these omnics should ideally be treated. My proposal is thus: in this aspect, Overwatch has the right idea. Treat them as you would a human. Here is my example: suppose I lined up a bunch of objects and started to punch them. Both you and the gathering masses would be fine with me pulverizing the pillow. You’d be OK with me creaming a clock. But you might start to get nervous if I kicked the mannequin. There would be some alarm if I smashed a statue or destroyed a recording of a person speaking. The point is, the closer the thing is to a human, the more dignity the thing has by association. Omnics? In both the worst- and the best-case scenarios, they bear a really close resemblance to the human, and therefore have an intrinsic dignity that is close to our own. Slavery is out. Exploitation is not good. If it can act like a human, then it’s good for the omnic—and for the human—if the machine is treated with respect. Leave the manual labor to the actual machines.
Phew. As you can see, that would be an awful lot to cram into a cartoon, and I didn’t even cover the idea of the Singularity (a person’s mind being successfully transplanted into a machine). I know that Overwatch is trying to promote unity both in its world and ours, but it might go a little overboard in its hyper-unified philosophy. That’s all. Good for me I was born in this century; otherwise Overwatch would probably have to shoot me in the face for my constant and unintelligible pontificating.
Now go celebrate Easter or something.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Newsletter With Many Links


Another rather busy half-month here. Even though college stuff is in full gear, there’s been a good bit of action from my whole writing department. To begin…

1)      Still getting stories rejected.
That’s pretty standard for everybody, but I don’t seem to bring it up much. Now you know that, yes, I am a normal writer in that regard. But, since these publishers never give me feedback, I just assume that they were being honest about their perennial deluge of submissions—so I can keep on writing the same way!
You’re not cheering.
Okay, moving on. Speaking of feedback…

2)      Stormlock: Activation needs reviewers on Inkitt
Some of you writers out there may be already be familiar with Inkitt, but just in case, here’s my thirty-second description: Inkitt is basically a forum where writers can share their stories (automatically copyrighted, thankfully) so other writers can read them and leave feedback. If the story is popular enough, Inkitt may even consider helping you pitch the book to various publishers, or might even ask if they can publish it themselves. I’m not necessarily looking for publication here, but I have posted a book there that needs some support.
The book? It’s my first installment of the Stormlock series. I’ve already got some people interested, so if you are also one of these people, act fast; there are only 100 free copies available, and they’re starting to get away.
Speaking of publication…

3)      New short story published!
Go take a look at my Published Works page when you get the chance; my college’s annual arts magazine came out a little earlier this year, and my story “The Longest Three Days” was included. And got me a second fiction award. Didn’t think that was actually possible, but I’m not complaining. If anything, people are telling me to shut up about winning the award again.
Speaking of me shutting up…

4)      Another blog for you to read
In my last post, I touted a blog by a writer friend of mine. Another one of my writer friends might have noticed this, so before he comes to firebomb my sock drawer, you should also have a look at the blog Maximum Effect. It a barrel of fun. The stories he has there, particularly the vivid tales of his comically harrowing childhood, have struck a tone with quite a few readers—myself included.
Speaking of the comically harrowing…

5)      A reflection on writing
…would have been here, but I put it somewhere else. So here’s another reason to visit Inkitt; in their Writing and Editing Group, I offered a brief meditation on the role of comedy in improving both form and content of a written work. It’s a very brief meditation—since it is, after all, a group forum post. You might have to scroll down until you find my name, though. The profile picture should be familiar.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some stuff for college. The joys of being an English major…