Friday, June 27, 2014

Mainstream Creativity - What Happened?

I wasn't there, so I can't swear to it as an earwitness. But I have read that the great Tecumseh once said, "When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness."

Our legends are not dying nowadays. Not exactly. But they are twisting. Withering. Weakening and becoming distorted shadows of what they were. I have watched it happen over the last two generations. It worries me. I'm talking about America. I am not qualified nor entitled to talk about anybody else, although some of this might apply to other countries too. I suspect it will, but I'm not going to presume to paste any labels.

Full disclosure here. I am old. More than half a century have I seen. Although neither short, nor green, wrinkled and pudgy I am too. So these words could very well be the senile mumblings of a decaying fossil. But it's my blog, so I am going to mumble along anyway.

I was a youngster back in the 1960's and 70's. It was a different world. I'm not talking about technology either. The changes in technology over the last 30-40 years have been incremental. Granted, they have been wondrous, life-changing, and fantastic. But the seeds for every technological shift today had already been planted by the end of WWII.

Rockets, jet engines, antibiotics, interstate highways, radar, sonar, electronic computing, long distance wireless communication, television. Synthetic polymers. These have all been in place for two generations. Two generations, people.

In a real sense, once the transistor was invented the solid state integrated circuit was inevitable. Once the IC was invented, personal computers were on their way. It was just a matter of time.

Well, it was actually a matter of both time and imagination. People had to imagine the PC, and the microwave, and the cell phone, and the smartphone, before they could be built.

So, will someone please tell me what happened? Where is the next big breakthrough? And please don't talk to me about one of the chip makers coming up with some way to cram yet another core onto one poor, overloaded, CPU. This is not innovation. This is desperation.

Quantum computing? When I see convincing evidence that it can be made to really work, I will get excited. Although quantum computing is an old idea too. Very old. Circa 1930's or thereabouts I believe, although back then they didn't know what quantum particles were. They just imagined that there were some things smaller than atoms and went with it. Technical accuracy in the details isn't the point. The point is that they weren't afraid to dream, and dream big.

So where did ALL of those ideas come from? Science fiction, that's where. Just like faster than light spaceships, like the design NASA says it is tinkering with now. Submarines have been used since the Middle Ages. But Jules Verne was the one who envisioned a long distance underwater craft that could stay submerged indefinitely, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And he was the one who envisioned space travel in From The Earth To The Moon. (Note that he was French. Credit where credit is due.) The idea of firing a cannon with a ship inside sounds a bit extreme, but at least he wasn't afraid to stretch his mind and dream. This was one hundred and fifty years ago!

I don't know if Heinlein was the one who came up with the idea for using radiation to heat food. I doubt it. He was too late in the game. I clearly recall that microwave ovens were being sold as upper attachments to kitchen stoves in my childhood, back in the days of black & white television. The company was called Quasar. I can still hear that cursed jingle in my head. The only real improvement to them since those days has been in the control panel, and in shrinking them slightly.

Where did today's smart phone come from? A science-fiction cartoon detective named Dick Tracy, that's where it came from. He had a wristwatch that doubled as a telephone. It also had a little screen, for video calls. Familiar? This was back in the 1930's, people. Eighty years ago. The designer of the clamshell phone freely admits he got the idea from Star Trek.

Which brings me back to the 1960's and 70's. Each new series was trying to top the last one on originality every fall, and by the time the 1970's arrived even the network executives were coming around to the idea the science fiction was a money maker. It took them a while. Same for movies. No one can possibly total up the number of classic science fiction and fantasy books that were written and published in that time. The Lord of the Rings was started back in WWII I believe, but it was in the 1960's that it took off across America like wildfire. It, quite literally, birthed a new genre.

What the hell happened? When was the last time you saw something genuinely new on mainstream/traditional entertainment media? Something that was not either a reboot, a sequel, or a re-imagining of someone else's work? When was the last time that the suits in Hollywood, or the suits in Trad publishing, permitted something new, with even the slightest amount of risk to it, out the door?

Harry Potter was a fun series, and I heartily recommend it for all young people. But wizard, witches, and evil magicians are not new. Neither are vampires or werewolves, romantic or otherwise. Nor are demon lovers in any form. I have no objection to re-telling the classics. I object when that's all that is allowed to be told.

Yes. We have indie books, and indie films, and indie music now. But the painful fact is, a lot of people either don't know about, or don't pay attention to us indies yet. Meanwhile, two generations have grown up watching and listening to the same thing, in many cases EXACTLY the same thing, that their grandparents watched.

Will someone, I am begging here, will someone please tell me how these kids are supposed to learn how to dream big dreams, and innovate, and create, and improve, and make the world a better, brighter place? How can they even learn that it's ok to dream at all, that taking intellectual risk is GOOD, and not frightening. It is not a sin to have a thought that no one has had before.

My grandchildren deserve better than this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I Don't Know Why I Do This To Myself

I just get aggravated. There is another (naturally, there is always another one) "discussion" underway on g+ regarding climate change. Which is codespeak for "The Sky Is Falling! Give us all your money so we can save you!".

This particular thread is a cut above most. What happened was that David Friedman  http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/ posted the results of a survey of climate scientists. It seemed to indicate a potentially horrifying conclusion. Not every single scientist on Earth is convinced that humanity is the root of all climate evil.

Let the anger begin. *sigh*

As far as I can tell, Mr. Friedman is not an extremist in either direction. But what possible difference does that make, when someone mutters dark heresy?

I know I should avoid these discussions. I know I should keep my opinions to myself. I have books to write, and another book that I promised to read some time ago. I have things to do here at the house. I know better than this.

Again. *sigh*

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Adding Content

I have decided to add some of my short stories to this place, along with snips and previews of work in progress. It's going to take a while to get the layout done and put it all up, but why not? Like I said on the short story page that I have been putting together, if I am going to offer things for free on Amazon and Smashwords, why not just give it away here? Maybe I can lure some unsuspecting visitor into looking at the novels too. Evil, ain't I? I would emote a villainous laugh, but it's too much trouble to type it.

Here's the page where you can find the stories. I only have one listed so far. Others will go up as time and energy allow.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Dislike DRM

I haven't heard much discussion about DRM lately. I don't know if that's because it's no longer a popular subject, or because I haven't been paying attention. The only reason I am thinking about it now is due to my recent book. When I uploaded "The Songs of Chaos" I had to choose whether or not to enable DRM protections, and whether or not to allow lending. I answered no, and yes.

I have been watching software, and to a more limited extent media, companies in a panic-stricken scramble to maintain a death-grip on their products for decades. Some of the old methods were plain silly. The very early floppy disks had a little notch along one edge. If the tab was broken off, the disk drive would not copy to that disk. Some companies ran themselves into madness trying to use that fact in various bewildered schemes. None of them worked of course. Duct tape. Grasp the concept.

Then there is the immortal dongle. By any other name, it is just as much of a pain in the ass. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I am not making the name up. The dongle is the old word for a piece of hardware that has to be plugged into a system before a program will run.) Some of the more expensive CAD packages used to be fond of using it. Start the program, and it would check the serial port for the presence of the holy dongle.  They quit messing with this kind of bullshit when people quit giving them money, due to the fact that the software packages, which cost a mint, frequently went haywire and refused to recognize the hardware.

Then things got really dumb. I mean Dumb. For instance, I bought a game once, I think it was called Star Control, or something like that. It was a primitive, DOS based game with EGA or VGA graphics that had you controlling a tiny little spaceship in battle against another tiny little spaceship, while trying to avoid bumping into planets the size of grapefruits. In order to start the game (Please note. I do not mean install. This was after you had installed it. I mean EVERY TIME you wanted to play it.) you had to dig out a little cardboard thingie like a secret spy decoder wheel. It consisted of three nested pieces of card stock, with little windows cut in them. The computer would pop up a random code. You had to align the magical decoder wheel and come up with the right answer, then type it into the dialog box before you could play the game you had paid for. When the cardstock got tattered or coffee soaked, your gaming days were over.

The Space Quest series was immensely popular for a while. It was prone to letting you get halfway through the game, then tossing random questions at you from the user manual, like "what is the third word from the end of the second sentence in the fifth paragraph on page 109?" If you couldn't answer the question, you were screwed. Paying customer be damned. So you better not throw away the manual. Of course, there was nothing to stop you from photocopying the the manual, and then breaking out the handy-dandy duct tape to mass produce copies of the disks for all your friends. Shhhh!

Another space game I had came along with one of the computers I bought. I am not sure if it was the 8086, or the 286. It was a First Person POV game where you flew a fighter space craft on escort missions and attack runs. Pretty tame by today's standards, but it was fun. Thing is, you would invariably run low on fuel and ammo, and need to pull into one of the various space stations scattered around for restocking, and also for repairs. In order to get into the station, you had to type in the proper identification for the station you wanted to dock with. They were all listed on the map that came with the game.

You guessed it. We didn't get a map. I had to obtain a hex editor, crack open the executable, and read the ASCI parts of the file in order to extract the names of the stations so I could play the game.

This is all leading up to my point. I don't bother with DRM on my books because I have never seen it accomplish anything except aggravation for a paying customer. Anyone savvy enough to steal a computer file is certainly savvy enough to crack a DRM scheme. And in fact, I am confident that there is already more than one cracking program out there for the kind of books I publish. I don't know for sure, I haven't looked, but I am confident that they are out there. I see no reason to make life difficult for my paying customers, and accomplish nothing in the time of it. Besides, who knows? Today's pirate might be tomorrow's purchaser.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Finally Gave Up On Smashwords

It happened this afternoon. I was updating my two previous books, inserting a blurb at the end of each to describe my new book. At no time did I alter anything else. Rather, I updated *one* of my previous books, "Athame" with the new blurb.

Note again that the file was otherwise identical to the one that had previously been uploaded. I sent it up to Smashwords and started updating the other book, "Wrath". I got a message back from Autovetter. It told me that my Table of Contents was screwed up. I had not touched the Table of Contents. I have seen this happen before with Smashwords. But whatever. I went in and carefully checked, cross-checked, and double-checked everything. Then I re-uploaded the newly modified copy of "Athame".

I turned back to work on "Wrath". Got another email notifying me that my file had been reviewed by the Smashwords staff and that the links weren't working right. I grumbled and opened the file again. Before I could finish going over it yet again, I noticed something on my Smashwords Dashboard. It seemed that my second book, "Wrath", was showing Autovetter errors, too.

I HAD NOT MODIFIED "WRATH" YET! (Please excuse the shouting. But I am ticked off.)

That snapped it. Over the last few months Smashwords has taken half a dozen wild hairs and sent me false error messages whenever I tried to update, correct, edit, or otherwise modify my files. Half the time all I have to do is upload the same file, unchanged, and it will pass muster the second time through.

But when it gets to the point that Smashwords starts to send me error messages on files that have been sitting, untouched, on their own server for several months, just because I happened to edit one of my other files, I have hit my limit. I am a writer, not an HTML programmer. If I wanted to spend all my time tweaking the nuts and bolts of marketing presentations, I would get a job at a used car lot. I can't get any writing done this way.

For the present, all of my books have been unpublished from Smashwords. I am marketing strictly through Amazon for now. I may, or may not, try to publish directly with B&E, Kobe, etc. when I get some free time. But until and unless Smashwords fixes that mess of a Meatgrinder/Autovetter system they use, I am not interested in spending any more time on it that I could be spending writing. I have enough of a challenge formatting the books properly to begin with. I don't need to deal with an automated system that gives me inconsistent and unpredictable results.

It's a real shame too. I liked Smashwords a lot when I first got started. Their email help was always courteous, although it has been getting slower and slower and slower. They also don't get in a hurry about paying the pittance of sales royalties that I have made though them. But they were a convenient way to distribute to multiple outlets without needing to do it all by hand. That is, they used to be. Shame, really.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I Know I'm Odd, But I Don't Get It

One g+, you will frequently encounter posted cartoons of fantasy women wearing what are ostensibly supposed to be some kind of armor, or maybe a mage's outfit, but is actually a bikini with stalactites. It's supposed to be sexy.

What am I missing? I am old and I lack imagination. Stipulated. But while I can see the attraction of all the bare skin (or what would be bare skin if it was a photo instead of an ink sketch), I honestly don't understand why imagining oneself hugging up to someone in that outfit and having 87 sharp objects stabbing you in the groin, scrotum, belly, nipples, throat, thighs, shins, and pinkie toe would be erotic.

I lack some essential quality of imagination I suppose.

Friday, June 13, 2014

It's Almost Time To Shoot The Engineers And Start Production

I'm going through my new book, The Songs of Chaos, for the final content/structural/does-it-sound-like-crap check. It has been line edited twice, spell checked by two people and computer, and beta read twice.

I'm now to the point where I am tweaking things, and then going back later to restore the text to its original form. When you start second guessing your own second guessing, madness is not far behind. I even have a cover that I am instructed in no uncertain terms, "Leave it alone."

I always hate this part. It's scary.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It Is Not Settled

Again. Science. Is. Never. Settled. Science is not a gods damned religion. Nor is science a system of indisputable facts, nor is it a list of imperial decrees delivered ex cathedra from the ivory towers of academia. Science is an attitude. It is a mindset. A perpetual way of looking at the universe of a sense of wonder, and an irrepressible hunger to learn More and MORE. Never satisfied, always questioning. When something becomes settled it isn't science any more. It doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as science. When something is settled, it becomes an article of faith.

Scientists at the University of Texas, the real kind of scientist, you know, the ones who work with numbers, have just discovered that there is serious volcanic activity underneath the west end of Antarctica. Apparently, this is having a significant effect on the rate of melting.

Researchers Find Major West Antarctic Glacier Melting from Geothermal Sources

"...geothermal heat contributed significantly to melting of the underside of the glacier, and it might be a key factor in allowing the ice sheet to slide, affecting the ice sheet’s stability and its contribution to future sea level rise..."

"The science on climate change is settled. Humans are responsible for everything. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a 'Denier'."
-Uncountable numbers of talking heads.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Am Out Of Step

Perhaps I have outlived my time. Or maybe it's because I never was normal. But I don't see things the way other people see them. Or at least, I don't seem to see things the way that it has become fashionable for public conversation to advocate.

For instance, the environmental movement. My desire to preserve the stability and health of the ecosystem is based on enlightened self-interest. We need to keep things stable for fresh air, clean water, and plentiful food. But I see nothing wrong with using the world around us for our benefit as humans.

That includes the animals around us. Maybe it's my farming background that makes me hard-hearted to the plight of poor Bambi and Wilbur. The way I see it, none of the other life forms on the planet would care a whit if every human in the world disappeared overnight. (OK, maybe our dogs would miss us. But they would get over it. Dogs go feral very quickly when they are out on their own.) So I don't feel any pangs of conscience at eating meat, or wearing leather, or using any other animal product that doesn't threaten the stability of the ecosystem by coming from something endangered.

I have been flabbergasted recently (I love the word for some reason. Flabbergasted.) by reading people who are all upset at the thought of mean old humans contaminating the pristine universe with our space exploration. Or worse yet, "despoiling" space with our rapacious ways. I had to sit and re-read that one a few times, and go get a new cup of coffee.

In the first place, we have no evidence that there is any other life anywhere. We certainly have no evidence of intelligent life anywhere. Given that fact, who does space belong to, if not to humanity? It's our universe, so what's wrong with us using it? Nobody else is going to get any benefit from it, and we can certainly use the room. Not to speak of the free solar energy. And the essentially infinite supply of raw material.

I even saw some people concerned with us littering space. Littering? Um. Space. Is. Infinite. We could use the sun, or Jupiter, or Saturn, or Neptune, Or Uranus, or Venus for that matter as a garbage dump for the next million years and it would harm no one. No one. Grasp the concept. There is no one else here. It's our universe, it's our property, and it's our stuff. We have every right in the world to use it to make our lives, and the lives of our children, and our children's children, better and richer and safer and healthier.

Some people would benefit immensely if they had to spend a year doing field work on a farm, and chop their own wood to heat their own water to wash their own dishes by hand. Instead, they take an elevator down to drive their car to an air conditioned office where they sit in a padded chair all day. Then drive home, turn on the microwave for dinner, pop their dish into the dishwasher, and sit down to vent about how evil humanity is for wasting energy and resources.

Bah. I am just too old and grumpy. Time for my medication.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I Can't Stand It

This is a pet peeve of mine. (I have many.) Someone on g+ posted a link to an article on space.com about the Fermi paradox. The Fermi paradox, for anyone who might read this and not know, is the supposed mystery that asks, "If there are other intelligent beings out there, why haven't they asked us to come out and play with them?"

Duh. The list of possible answers to that are as long as the patience of anyone who wants to sit and listen to them. I rambled on in partial reply to the g+ link, and decided to post a slightly modified version on this blog too Partly so my golden wisdom can be preserved for the ages. Mainly because I got aggravated.

The Fermi paradox is an example of humanity's inherent lack of imagination, as well as our hard coded conviction that the universe must be measured by our standards.

Earth is what? Four to four and a half billion years old? Sapient, or quasi-sapient life has been here, that we know of, for a maximum of four to five million years. And that's being generous. Humans have been here for one to two million years. If you are talking true humans, it would be closer to one million.

For 99.9 percent of our history we have been hunters and gatherers. Just as intelligent as we are today, mind you. But not interested in modern technology because we didn't need it to survive. Modern technology is a fluke. A wild hair that humanity got caught crossways in our shorts because a list of unlikely events happened to coincide at the same time.

China had a fully functional, efficient, and quite workable civilization for thousands of years without so much as a steam engine. Africa lived the same way from the time Adam crunched the apple until Europe invaded. Except for Egypt and its spin-offs of course. However Egypt, although they were the most advanced people for their day, weren't known for hi-tech innovation. They found a pattern that worked for them and stuck to it religiously. Pun intended.  Some primitive tribes were discovered in South American in the last few years, that are now unlawful to contact for fear of destroying their culture and way of life.

Were it not for European invasion, much of the world might still be living the way they always had. I am not advocating colonialism. I am saying that modern technology is far from inevitable. For all we know, the galaxy could be chock full of contented sapient beings, driving their little buggies to church picnics, tossing a ball around on their days off, and generally enjoying life without giving a rodent's backside about interstellar communication. "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

New Science Fiction Book Is In Final Editing

My newest book, The Songs of Chaos, is essentially complete except for final tweaking. It's been line edited twice, in addition to my own checks. I still have to run the spell checker (argh) which I always do last. The cover is falling into place too. It's starting to worry me. This is too easy.

I wish I could get some content editing. I can't afford to hire anyone, and family is too worried about my feelings to be blunt. I did get lucky enough to have someone give the first draft a run through, and I am grateful. I guess I just have to hope I was rough enough on myself.

Here's the blurb I am tentatively planning to use:

Tom Forester had lived on Earth for most of his life. He met his beloved here, raised a family, traveled everywhere, saw everything. But his wife was gone now, and he wanted to visit his homeland one last time before he died.

His descendants didn't think the old man had any business traipsing off across the multiverse. Especially since anyone in his homeland who got caught caught making unauthorized use of a world portal was subject to summary execution. The family had a lottery of sorts, and one of his grandsons went through the portal with him as a bodyguard.

Someone else came along for the ride.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

This Does Get Ridiculous

As a writer on google+, I'm constantly being added to people's circles that I have never heard of, and getting spammed to within an inch of my patience. But some of it is just foolishness.

Like the email I just got (again) offering me the "secret" to selling a million books. It purports to tell me how to use social media, along with a carefully orchestrated email spam campaign, to metaphorically grab people by the scruff of the neck and force them, kicking and screaming, to buy my books whether they will or no.

Now, I am not a best-selling author, just in case anyone didn't know that already. But I am going to go out on a limb here. I may be wrong, and if so I will just have to hang my head in disgrace. But I strongly suspect that the way to sell a million books is to write a book that a million people want to read.

Like I said, I could be wrong.

National Styles

My son picked up a copy of Pratchett's "Snuff" the other day for me. I already read it, but didn't have my own copy. Like any sane person, I'm always delighted to add another Pratchett to the library.

As I writer, I stand (OK, I'm sitting) in awe of the man's wordsmith skills. As an American, I have to say I really like the British flair. My son and I were talking about this, comparing Pratchett's style to Mark Twain. Both of them geniuses, and both of them unmistakably representative of their culture. Twain was quintessentially American. Pratchett is quintessentially British. You can't possibly mistake the two.

Twain's humor can range from an axe to a stiletto. He can be subtle, when he wants to be. But Twain's humor is never understated, and certainly never delicate. Pratchett's humor is Pythonesque. Or maybe, given the extent of the man's popularity, it would be more accurate to say that Python's humor was Pratchett-esque. It's like a tiny boot knife that comes out in the dark. But instead of stabbing for the heart, it flicks out and nicks your earlobe. When you grab for your ear by reflex, he knees you in the groin and scalps you when you bend over. There's always an onion's worth of layers in Pratchett's humor.

That's why I am re-reading this book for the third time, and loving it just as much as the other two times. Maybe more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Writing Is More Addictive Than Reading

It really is. I have been locked to this laptop for the last week. I haven't even taken time to do any gaming. I don't know what's going on, but when my subconscious takes this kind of spasm I hate to get in its way.

I finished the first draft of the first book in my new science fiction series. The series is called The First Ones, and the first book is titled The Songs of Chaos. I really should be working on the third and final book in my fantasy series. But for some reason, the blasted science fiction story is is stuck in my head like a cockle burr to a sock. With me it's usually either feast or famine. Either I'm coming up with ideas faster than I can type, or I'm bone dry.

Maybe I will get back into the fantasy series tomorrow.

Random Thoughts

I had a blog for several years before this. I found it sucking too much time and attention that I wanted to spend writing. And maybe even talking to people. So I yanked it.

Lately I've been wanting a place to scribble my thoughts. I'm like Mark Twain, too lazy to write things out by hand, so a bound journal is not in the cards. I guess I use this instead. This is not intended to be a world changing source of inspiration. Nor do I expect hordes of eager viewers to crash the server in the rush to view any of my posts. Just a place to scribble things from time to time.

The subject matter could be anything at all. I will probably put up links to my book pages on Amazon when I get around to it. No reason not to. But this isn't a sales page either. When it comes to commerce, I couldn't sell condoms in a whorehouse. I'm just scribbling. More later.