About Writers, book reviews, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

A Question For Mimi

Mimi Speake is an historian of sixteenth century Europe & therabouts. She delves into the private lives of such as Bernard Délicieux, the Friar of Carcassonne and Henry of Navarre. Nothing seems to delight Mimi more than to accurately include in her stories obscure details about the financial information of a walled town from that period, or a seminal work on algebra, or even lore about La Fée Verte, the green fairy.
And uh, Mimi is the only historian I know. So, I have a question for her.

Is Google messing with history? Not on purpose. But is that repository of human knowledge fatally flawed because of what it does not include?

I ask because I recently searched for early reviews of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book, Against the Fall of Night, published by Startling Stories magazine in 1948. Despite the story itself being vintage Clarke, the novella was initially panned for its word dumps of the author’s social theories. They added nothing to the story. I know this because I read it as a kid and I still remember my eyes glassing over the pages of preaching.
A few years ago, I re-read it. The book that I re-read said it had been published only because fans had expressed interest in reading Clarke’s first novel. It’s forward discussed Against the Fall of Night’s initial reception (dismal) and included some of those early reviews (bad.)

But Google has unwittingly rewritten history. I cannot find any of those original reviews. The Fall of Night is today presented as if it hadn’t bombed; as if it is just another good book by Clarke, even though he had to rewrite it in 1956 as The City and the Stars.

I know. I know. Google is not a complete history of anything. It is only a collection of whatever bits people put on the ‘Net. (But I wonder how many people think about things that are not on the Internet.)

So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?

And for everyone, a broader question:
To what extent are search engine results and social media the background against which we frame our questions? Do they guide the answers that we accept?
In short, does the Internet shape our collective consciousness?

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Writing to Raise Consciousness—Meaning and Intent

“Writing to Raise Consciousness”–it’s my tagline, my author branding. Since I write both fiction and nonfiction, it might seem challenging to wrap both types of writing into the same package. Eyebrows raise, faces morph into puzzled expressions, and people ask the obvious: “What do you mean? What do you mean when you make a statement saying you want to write in ways that raise consciousness? Please explain…”

Ask ten people to define “consciousness” and you will likely get ten different answers. Even among scholars who study consciousness from scientific, philosophical, and metaphysical perspectives, there is little agreement about what consciousness actually is. Without agreed upon definitional characteristics, how do I attempt to raise or elevate something we are not clear about and may not even be able to measure or quantify at all? It isn’t like raising the temperature of something through a process of heating. It isn’t like inciting a riot with inflammatory rhetoric. Physics and sociology have ways of measuring those processes.

Is this a blind men problem—trying to describe an elephant, each with only a fragmented understanding? Is this some sort of dark matter/dark energy construct—useful in trying to understand something we really do not understand? Am I deluding myself in thinking I can write ‘stuff’ that is going to actually raise consciousness? To complicate matters further, while playing my own Devil’s Advocate, if one believes consciousness is infinite and beyond constructs of space and time, then you cannot raise, elevate, expand, or increase it in any way. X + infinity still = infinity. In some ways, it is a thorny thicket.

Despite these challenges, I do not back down from my intent to raise consciousness through my writing, nor do I move from my belief that I can actually do so. The method to achieve this works at different levels or dimensions. It also hopefully works on both individual and collective consciousness.

The first level is rather simple and straightforward. There is widespread agreement that a relationship exists between consciousness and awareness. Precisely what that relationship is can be difficult to say, but for purposes of this argument, let us simply posit that awareness and consciousness are related. If I write something about a particular social ill such as violence, or racism, or children sex-slaves, and my writing (fiction or nonfiction) calls attention to this social ill, makes people more aware of the problem, I have raised consciousness at this level.

There is a long history of literature calling attention to social injustice. To name a few examples:

  • The horror of war—Johnny Got Your Gun
  • Racial prejudice—To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Exploitation of immigrants—The Jungle

There is another type of ‘calling attention to an issue’ that goes beyond social ills. Authors often write about potential problems that might occur in order to raise awareness, to get readers to think about a particular issue. What if artificial intelligence got out of control as in Terminator? What would an Orwellian 1984 future of government control and propaganda be like? These topics are often explored in speculative fiction. Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite science fiction authors, often addresses social themes in his writing. In many ways, his writing helps to raise consciousness at this first level. My science fiction novel, Sentient, calls attention to certain social themes. Isolation/separation and how this contributes to competition over cooperation, how we treat people with mental illness, and acculturation to violence are just a few of the issues I touch upon. In my nonfiction book, Pathways to Health, I am asking readers to think about health in a different way, to recognize the distortions and limitations that characterize our beliefs about our own health and how we can achieve better health.

What underlies this first-level approach to raising consciousness is to call attention, to get the reader to notice or to think about something in an introspective way. The process is one of raising awareness so as to effect change. The change may be in a belief, an action or behavior of some sort. This touches upon the second-level, i.e. evolution. I’ll loosely go with a broad definition of evolution as the gradual development of something. The key piece here is “development”–something that occurs as change over time. In this sense, writing to raise consciousness represents an effort to support and promote the evolution of consciousness both on an individual and collective level.

This type of development follows a sequence, much the same as a child first learns to crawl, then walk, then run. This represents increasing motor skill and developmental maturity. On a psychological level, the ego develops along a sequence of self-centered ‘me’ to expanding awareness of others–family, nation, the world, the universe. This is a natural progression of awareness and an evolution of consciousness. This change is accompanied by new ways of thinking, believing, and behaving.

A similar developmental sequence occurs as part of spiritual growth and maturation. Some teachings explain this spiritual evolution as following a path toward enlightenment. I am particularly fond of Integral Theory and how it characterizes the different stages of growth and development along a psycho-spiritual evolution (outward) and involution (inward) path. I am also fond of David Hawkins’ Map of Human Consciousness that delineates characteristic thoughts, beliefs, and actions accompanying each developmental stage of the evolution of consciousness. When I write, sometimes I intend to raise consciousness by getting readers to think differently, to challenge beliefs, to expand and grow in their consciousness. In some ways this represents personal growth and transformation toward a higher level of consciousness. I have often had this experience myself when reading the wisdom of a variety of spiritual teachers. Some of the chapters in my book, Health Wise—Integral Lessons in Transformation, are specifically targeted towards raising consciousness at this second level.

I’ll touch upon the third level more briefly. I also write with the intention of raising consciousness in a much more indigenous way. My explanation thus far has focused on raising awareness and consciousness at the individual level and more broadly at the collective level of society. I also believe that there is a planetary aspect to consciousness that also follows a developmental or evolutionary sequence. The term, “Noosphere” was first coined by Teilhard de Chardin. Basically, you can think of this as not only our specie’s, but the entire planet’s collective consciousness. Such consciousness exists as part of an entire cosmic consciousness. Our planet’s noosphere is evolving towards an expanded capacity as part of the natural evolution of planetary consciousness. This theory/belief is expounded upon in some detail by José Argüelles in his book, Manifesto for the Noosphere.

Many have written about the great shift in consciousness occurring during these times. Rather than writing about this shift or about the noosphere, I am writing with the specific desire of facilitating the shift to occur, to making my small contribution toward the evolution of our planetary consciousness. My individual consciousness, my thoughts and behaviors, and specifically my writing are all generally intended towards promoting the expansion of the noosphere. In my book, Sentient, when I am writing about telepathy and collective consciousness, these are processes associated with the noosphere. Yet, whether or not anyone reads anything that I have written, anything that I do, write, or even think potentially influences the collective planetary consciousness at this third level.

Complicated…straightforward…perfectly muddy? I don’t expect the typical reader to really understand what I mean by, “Writing to Raise Consciousness”. In some ways, it doesn’t matter if a reader understands my intent, my goal. What matters to me is whether or not something I have written has the intended outcome. Does it work? Am I successful in achieving my goal? I don’t know for sure, but if you are at least thinking about these things, feeling a bit introspective, wondering about your own consciousness or the greater collective consciousness, then perhaps I have had some small success. I think of this effort applied in three different dimensions at which I can potentially raise consciousness. In some small way, I hope what I have written has been instrumental in raising your consciousness…

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About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Useful Definitions of Genre

Hard Sc-Fi
The essence of hard science fiction is hope that given all we know, humanity will triumph in the end. Because the science we know is hopeful in that it presents no requirement for failure, we, certainly I, expect humans to outlast Earth. Reality is what actually happens, of course, but isn’t that what humans do, make things happen? In my fiction, the definition of intelligence is the ability to decide what ought to be and then make it so. To quote my own novel:
“The consequences of the Big Bang should have flowed like rows of falling dominoes; the physical universe should be predictable. But it ain’t, because intelligent life forms are messing with it.”
– Ambrose Phoenix, The Phoenix Diary

We all write our stories from some operational definition of our genre. The above is mine.
Let’s use the Comments section to add more definitions: How do you define your own genre in a way that helps you to write your stories?

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About Writers, blogging, publishing, reading, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Online Montmartre

Imagine if you will, a gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, publicists, personal assistants & purveyors of writing paraphernalia sharing expertise and enjoying one another’s company. No matter what your writer’s question, probably someone here will happily reply based on their own experience.

Writers Groups exist online for you to join and interact with according to your own schedule. I belong to the SciFi Roundtable on Facebook, a group of writers serious about their work but with a hearty sense of humor and tolerance for the writing life. Different opinions are respected, even encouraged. (Avoid opinionated and competitive groups; they are vexatious to the spirit.)

While you can make connections and build rewarding friendships in writers groups, the real value of finding your own online Montmartre is the synergy of creative, hard-working minds similar to your own. The right group will teach, entertain and inspire you. You know it’s the right group when people take pride in helping others become successful.
Oh, and just sayin’, you’ll probably also want to join a readers group in your genre. 🙂

But, enough work. Go eat:

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND TO YOURS
From All Of Us Here At The Writers Co-op!!

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About Writers, book promotion, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

A Chance Encounter With Author Eric Michael Craig

Note: Eric Michael Craig is a successful sci-fi author and publisher. The following is about the man, as a writer.

+++“That’s the science fiction author, Eric Michael Craig,” wait-bot Sally answered me.
+++I’d asked because at 4:AM, he and I were the only two people left in the bar. Outside, the wind howled but that was why they called this planet The Howling. “Think he’d talk to me?”
+++Sally giggled, “He doesn’t mind talking. I mean, about his work.” That suited me. I had a deadline approaching and an author’s interview would keep my publisher happy for… minutes. So, I walked over to his table and unceremoniously plopped into a seat. “Why?” I asked him.
+++In the tavern lighting, Eric has a Hemingway look about him, solid, bald with a standard circle beard, a bit scruffy. He wore a workman’s shirt with the top buttons open and a braided leather necklace.
+++“Why do you write science fiction?”

+++“My Father. He wanted to be a sci fI novelist since well before I was born. In fact he completed two manuscripts but never managed to get either one accepted. He submitted the first one when I was maybe 5 years old and got a form letter rejection because he hadn’t followed the guidelines for submission. After that he kept writing but never again tried to get anything published. He wrote because he was a fan of the genre (back in the heyday of people like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov).”
+++We both genuflected.
+++“When I was old enough to read the very first books he handed to me were Rocketship Galileo and Between Planets. I was maybe 5 years old when I started into those novels, and from then on nothing else I ever read held my interest like Sci Fi. Dad gently encouraged me to write, but his own rejection made him a bit more cautious in how he pushed me. Then when I was in 7th grade, an English teacher I had, wholeheartedly started shoving me in that direction. Together the two of them tried to keep me writing, but I was a typical teenager and I had the attention span of a flea … so of course I went off in another direction with my life.
+++I started flirting with the idea of writing seriously only after my father passed away and my mom gave me copies of the manuscripts that he’d written. I was about to retire at that point in time (I was 41), but it wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she and I were talking about losing our dreams (and how it had affected my dad when he gave up wanting to be a writer) that I decided to commit myself to it. For him and for me too. My mom lived long enough to read the first draft of the story that became my first two novels.
+++You could say, if you forgive how this sounds like an epic fantasy theme, that this was a destiny I inherited from my father and denied for most of my life, only to discover after the trials I faced that it was indeed my inevitable path.
But I usually tell people, it was me just being too damn dumb to know better.”

+++I smiled. Sally was right. “Marshall McLuhan once commentated that artists and outlaws are on the outside looking in. He also said they see things as they are while the rest of us are looking at the world through a rear-view mirror.
What effects do you hope your books will have on your readers?”

+++“Sleeplessness?
+++Actually I hope my story will leave the reader thinking (and if that thinking keeps them up at night, that isn’t entirely a bad thing). I want my writing to engage their mind, not just entertain them. I think it is far easier to simply tell a story than to inspire a reader to keep thinking about what they read. If I can leave them wondering, “what if it really happened?” … then I have reached my goal.”

+++“What kind of world do you like to create for your characters?”

+++“I guess I am different in how I write because I tend to think of my world and my characters as an integrated single thing. The world is not so far extrapolated from the one we live in, so I tend to leave the world building to the current headlines, and then I just broaden the perspective to paint a complete perspective of the action. I can’t say I liked building this world because I really didn’t build one… Instead I focused some light into the more hidden corners of the world we already know.
+++Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon are very complex stories with multiple character sets interwoven in very broad ranging story lines. I have over 150 characters in the two novels and it takes all of them to tell the story.
+++I didn’t treat the characters as individuals, although they are fully rounded in and of themselves. But it is probably easier to think of them as character groups that work and act together, and in some ways represent segments of a culture that has its own personality (and purpose).
+++I guess I kinda took the question sideways, but world building is not something I have done in my most recent books. You might say it is more of a process of analysis, than creation of a world.”

+++“You like to work deeper themes into your novels. What themes, and why?”

+++“Darker themes? Hmm I don’t know if I would call them darker themes. Sure the idea of facing the potential end of the world is dark in and of itself, and it is bound to bring out the worst in humanity, but it also brings out the best. I think that what I write is based on a fairly accurate extrapolation of the world we live in. If it feels dark, then unfortunately that might be a reflection on the current human condition.”

+++“‘Deeper,’ not darker. But I like your answer.”

+++“Oh you’re right, how Freudian of me. Of course deep down in the ocean it’s pretty dark (even if it is teeming with life). Real depth sometimes can only be found if you’re challenging the dark.
+++I know that as I wrote the first two novels of ‘Atlas and the Winds,’ I tried to keep a balance between both the heavier elements and the lighter and more uplifting side of the story. With only a few exceptions I think I balanced the tragedy with the triumph.
+++In my mind, balancing triumph with tragedy is something that has to happen in life. When that balance is lost in one direction, hope dies a hard and bitter death. When it is tipped in the other direction, the victories become easy and meaningless.
+++In some ways I believe suffering is essential to finding value in those moments when you come out on top. That’s not to say I like to suffer, but when I do finally triumph, it makes the victory infinitely more meaningful.
+++As to the whole concept of balancing highs and lows in my outlook on life, I can say … maybe. Although ultimately it is the darkness that allows us to appreciate the light (however dim it is).
+++However, in writing if you only focus on one side, the story never spins well. If my books only told about how everything pounded the characters mercilessly and relentlessly (or how the characters were all indestructible), then I don’t think there would be much point in reading them. The closer you can keep to the point where the plot could go either way, the more intensely the reader is drawn in and compelled to invest emotionally in the arc of the characters.”

+++Good stuff, I thought as dawn lit the windows. I thanked Eric and left, feeling that I had just met a man worth knowing.

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About Writers, Magic and Science, reading, Uncategorized

The Magic of Science of Magic

Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” thereby wedging open the door between two things that are often viewed as being diametrically opposed: magic and science.

Trying to define science in the modern sense of the word would probably provoke a lot of hair-splitting arguments, but any reasonable definition would have to involve a description of the scientific method, which Websters defines as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” Magic, on the other hand, is defined as “the use of means believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.” In reductive terms, science attempts to understand the natural world while magic operates outside of it—even above it, as the prefix super- suggests.

My interest here isn’t really in semantics or even the scientific method, so much as the way the two are presented in two genres of speculative fiction: science fiction and fantasy.

Superficially, the two genres seem to be at odds. The former traffics in spaceships and rayguns, the latter in dragons and magic wands. But even on a deeper level, there is a fundamental difference: while both present events and processes that might seem impossible or unexplainable, sci fi works from the premise that such things will be possible and explainable in the future, while fantasy tends to ignore the whole question by labeling the extraordinary as supernatural: magic.

I know, this is simplistic, so lets dive in a little deeper by looking at some examples:

One)  The Enterprise is about to blow up. Never mind how or why or which Enterprise. Maybe it’s a subspace inversion or an innerspace subversion or a race of telepathic protozoa, but either way, they need a fix and fast.  Cue the Science Officer or Engineer: “Captain, if we depolarize the ophion emitter and detonate a platonic charge in the region of 25 thousand gigahertz, it might create a plasma shock. The resulting discontinuity would only a last a few seconds, but it might give us time to warp the hell out of here. It’s so crazy, it just might work.” (Spoiler alert: It works.)

Two)  Harry, Ron and Hermione are in transfiguration class. “Bloody hell!” Ron exclaims, slashing the air in an ungainly fashion. “This stupid spell doesn’t work. Portipot Vertigo! Portipot Vertigo!” A column of blue smoke rises from the thoroughly untransfigured toad, which croaks dismally. “Ron, you insufferable pillock,” Hermione huffs. “First off, it’s Proteo Fortissimo. And don’t swing your wand so. You aren’t beating a rug.”

Okay. I admit I’ve just made fun of two venerable franchises that I’ve always enjoyed (it was done with love, people!). But let’s examine each. In the first, we have what seems to be a science-based solution to a science-based problem. Scientific investigation gives us the parameters of the problem, and our advanced technology provides the means for solving it. But it isn’t real. I mean, some of the words might be real, and maybe the tech has at least SOME connection to real technology  (or at least the concept behind it)  but it’s only the trappings of science. The context—spaceship, computers, beams and rays, big numbers—gives the impression that this is science in action, but the mechanism itself is every bit as opaque as a magic spell. It works because it works. It might as well be magic.

In the second, we have the same thing in reverse. The spell they’re trying to learn involves saying particular words and making particular gestures. If you do it right, it works. Presumably, if you do it the same way each time, the results will be consistent and repeatable, which sounds suspiciously like science. The mechanism for how it works remains unknown, but as long as you know the recipe, you can make the dish.

Now before anyone thinks I’m bashing Harry Potter, I am not. I admire Rowling’s series a lot, and though I have occasional issues with her writing, the story is fantastic. I use it here only because it is surely the best known series of its type, and because it does typify some of the challenges faced by the average writer of magical fantasy.

Rowling does play with the notion that there are deeper, more arcane magics in the world. The protection that Harry experiences in the Dursley’s house, for example, is less the result of a spell and more the product of Lily’s self-sacrifice. (These deeper magics, it should be noted—the magic of family, of love, of loyalty—could be just as applicable in a story that didn’t involve any fantasy magic at all.)

But for the most part, these are not the kind of day-today magics that occupy the story. Mostly we see very specific spells with specific names and formulas for operation and we rarely get into theory. In fact, the actual learning of magic looks pretty rote most of the time. In the Deathly Hallows Harry casts the imperious curse without any difficulty at all, even though we know he has never performed it before. We’re told it’s a high level spell (as well as an illegal one) yet use seems to be as simple as pointing your wand and saying imperio. There are similar issues with the patronus charm, which, we are told, is very advanced, yet Harry has no trouble teaching the callow kids in Dumbledore’s Army to use it. Again, it seems pretty simple. Get in the right mind set, then say the words. No problem.

I don’t want to dump on Harry Potter too much. It really is a great story, and the ambiguity about magic that JK Rowling (eventually) develops and sustains for its duration is both intriguing and enjoyable. But I think it highlights a problem that writers of science fiction and writers of fantasy must face (in different ways). Sci fi can’t explain the science because—even if it is genuine—most readers would find it incomprehensible or boring. Fantasy can’t explain the magic because there is no explanation. That’s why we often end up with science that might as well be magic, and magic that is as mundane as science.

It’s interesting to consider how some of Rowling’s predecessors tried to account for the mechanism of magic. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings features surprisingly little magic, at least in the sense of spells and incantations. Certain objects have magical properties, obvously, but the powers are often vague. The one ring allows domination of all of the other rings, but aside from invisibility, it conveys no other definable powers. Neither does Gandalf wield much in the way of curses or conjuring. He stands off the balrog by literally standing in the way and forbidding it passage. He starts a magical fire at one point, but even there, he mostly seems to be calling fire forth by force of will and knowledge of the elvish language. It is not, in the way we normally think of them, and incantation.

Possibly, Tolkien’s use of magic is closer to Ursula Leguin’s in A Wizard of Earthsea. Earthsea wizards attend an academy (of sorts) and learn spells, but underlying all of the magic is the knowledge of the names of things. Knowing the true name of anything gives you power over it.

My own relationship with and presentation of magic has varied from book to book. In Flight of the Wren, the magic was in the magic carpets themselves. and a rider’s proficiency with various related spells mostly depended on how well they connected with their nearly sentient carpets. In Whisper Blue, the manifestation of Wysteria is given a plausible science fiction style explanation, but that is as much a quirk of the character of Miles Faber as anything else. Miles needs an explanation for the unsettling events of the story, but there’s no textual reason to assume that he actually got it right (or wrong, for that matter.) In Spark, the nature of the eponymous fleck of light remains conjectural right up until the end (though I plump for the shard-of-divine-entity explanation.) Does it matter? Only, I suppose, to the rare reader who cares to read beyond the surface events of the story. Hopefully the mystery is at least a little intriguing, a small source of wonderment. I’m not sure we can, or should, hope for more than that.

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About Writers, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Quantum Soul

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”

Victor Acquista, in Soul Mates, wonders if adding back what a dying person loses will reanimate the corpse.
In New Year, GD Deckard wants to know where are we when we’re not alive?

Claire Buss, in Patient Data, explores what might happen if medical robots know a patient is alive or dead only after the fact. CB Droege imagines what freed ‘bots do, once freed, in The Dream Miner’s Drill. In Rob Edwards, Shepherd of Memory, an Alien encounter changes a man but he can’t remember in what way he is now different. Darran Handshaw’s engineer finds a girl in an Ancient pod in The Machine in the Mountain. If you assume all intelligent life forms are animal, Brent A. Harris’ The Trees of Trappist will delight you. For that matter, “Are we alive or are we the A.I.?” is the question in Greg Krojac’s Pixels. And when we do meet an alien intelligence, linguistics just might be the most crucial skill we have, as it is in Leo McBride, Second Contact.

Learn what an autobot might think about in his dying moments in Jeanette O’Hagan, Project Chameleon. Probe other’s dreams in Lyra Shanti’s The Endymion Device. Enjoy ways strange can be wondrous in E.M. Swifthook’s Wondrous Strange.

Cindy Tomamichel has Sci-Fi fun When Words Are Not Enough. “Are created people, people?” may be answered by Ricardo Victoria in What Measure is a Homunculus? And why not create a “people” to travel the light years through space for us, as Jim Webster does in Aether Technician.

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”
You get the SciFi Roundtable’s Anthology, The Quantum Soul.

Released today on Amazon.

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