Category Archives: Rant
C3P0 is the poster child for a minor science fiction trope that doesn’t pop up super-often, but never fails to make me cringe and grind my teeth simultaneously whenever it does: intelligence and/or education (an encyclopedic robot brain is an acceptable stand-in for either) represented by the character knowing the exact odds of the possible outcomes of whatever is going on in the story.
I hate it so much.
One, it’s an anti-intellecual sop. The wimpy brainiac worries about failure and would never try but OH WAIT HERE IS THE SAVIOR HE WILL SAVE US WITH HIS AWESOME TACTIC OF NOT BEING SMART BECAUSE SMART SUCKS.
I really, really hate that message. I have hated it since I was a small child in elementary school being teased by my classmates for my habit of reading constantly, with “hey Einstein” and “hey professor,” which were meant as insults. Because what could be more awful than being a genius or an educator, am I right?
Two, it makes no damn sense. Reliable odds are for things that are predictable and fairly simple, like a lottery. If there are a million scratch-off tickets in circulation and one of them is a $100,000 prize winner, you can definitely say the chances of winning $100,000 by buying one is one in a million.
But look, C3P0. You can’t deliver precise odds of navigating an asteroid field. Too many variables. Like, how do you know the density of asteroids in this particular field? Or in this spot in this field? Or, you know, all their orbits? Or whether Han will sneeze and miss seeing a threat? Or whether his rickety-ass spaceship will have an engine hiccup at the wrong moment?
C3P0 is guessing. Anyone can guess, just ask a bookie. And maybe that’s the joke, that C3P0 is just guessing and only thinks he’s smart because he’s educated. And now we’re back to anti-intellectualism and anti-education and anti-expertise. And you’ve seen what those have done for us lately.
From a recent visit to the Chrysler Museum of Art. Humans pictured are family, not random passersby.
So, we stopped to pay homage to that not-quite-most-modern of gods, Television. Its younger sibling Internet was nowhere to be found, but maybe the artist will work on that next.
I’m not sure Lord Television qualifies as king, though. There’s its parent, or perhaps grandparent, Money.
Usually people are sneering when they talk about worship of television and money. When it really is worship, there’s plenty to sneer at and I do. But like those most ancient gods Fire and Story, the reality is more complex.
Isn’t it always? We try to simplify, and the universe laughs.
I’m a big fan of Story. And Book. Fire, too, because light and cooking and all the things made of metal and plastic. But I digress.
I can say I appreciate those gods. Revere some, like Story and Book. Internet, too, if I’m gonna be honest.
I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s where worship comes in. You can say plenty about what constitutes worship, but the basis is time spent and the devotion of attention and thought.
Lots of my time and attention and thought goes into Story and Book. Certainly into Internet – – have you seen how much I tweet? You should see how much I read there.
And I do end up giving what feels like too much time to mighty Television. Maybe I’m a worshiper of that one, too.
If we manage to nuke ourselves to extinction, alien archeologists will likely wonder if our televisions and computers aren’t altars.
They won’t be far wrong.
Follow the Leaders: one piece in a series by artist Isaac Cordal.
You may have seen the piece of art above already. It has been bouncing around the internet for some years now, often billed as “politicians debating sea level rise” or “…climate change.” Well, it kind of isn’t, and it kind of is, and following the link in the caption might shed some light on it.
It is a FANTASTIC representation, inadvertent or otherwise, specifically of the current US GOP/Trumpite approach to climate change and rising sea levels.
And that approach…
…yeah. That’s going to be SUPER EFFECTIVE.
But our Fearless Glorious Leader and his Band of
Thugs Merry Men (they’d surely call it sexist to acknowledge the women who choose to support him rather than lump them together under a masculine collective) aren’t restricting themselves to climate change. If you’ve been following current political events, he/they is/are not just ignoring climate change science, but rolling back environmental protections that have cleaned up industry-polluted land, water, and air over the last 40 years, acting to revive coal use and hobble the increasing use of solar and wind power generation, which I might add, is rising because it is now cost effective due to technological advances perpetrated by that terrible villain, science.
In other words, the 21st century is SCARY and THINGS ARE CHANGING and LET’S HIDE IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Unless you’re a public school student, in which case they’re shooting for the 19th century. No, really. The target there is getting rid of all those troublesome public schools and leaving education to corporations and churches, which I’m sure will work out great in an alternate timeline where suddenly technology stops working.
The only problem is that hiding in the past is a gigantic mistake, and it will always be. Yes, there’s such a thing as tradition. But traditions only make sense as long as they help people. If things change and they become harmful, or you realize they’ve been harmful all along and we don’t have a need to accept that harm — I’M LOOKING AT YOU COAL WITH YOUR BLACK LUNG AND OPEN PITS AND TOXIC RUNOFF AND OH WHAT A SHOCK BURNING THOUSANDS OF ANCIENT FORESTS IN CONCENTRATED FORM EVERY DAY MIGHT RELEASE GASES THAT CHANGE THE CLIMATE A TAD GEE WHIZ WHO WOULDA THUNK IT — then you say “yay, positive change!” and start using wind turbines to charge your iThingiee. And we all breathe a little easier, and people who live near the ocean like me start thinking that maybe, just maybe, our descendants won’t have to flee farther inland in the 22nd century.
Back in the days when I read more superhero comix, and today when I watch a movie with a flying superhero — especially one with some kind of ranged attack, IRON MAN I’M LOOKING AT YOU — I’m super annoyed when they just happen to fly low enough for an opponent with no ranged attack to grab or hit them.
JUST FLY HIGHER, DUMMY.
“But the plot requires me to get close enough to let my opponent start a thrilling grapple…”
SHUT UP THAT’S LAZY-ASS WRITING.
Same goes for every drama that features a standoff with a gun and the hero stands there holding the gun on the villain as the villain creeps closer and closer until they can just grab the gun. It rarely makes sense. If there’s something about the character holding the gun that makes it make sense, fine. Maybe they’ve just realized that they can’t bring themselves to shoot another human being. Or there’s some overriding reason that shooting and maybe killing the villain would be a terrible idea.
But that’s so seldom the case. More often than not, it’s a contrived situation to up the tension.
Don’t be lazy and write things that don’t make sense. If you want more tension or whatever, and it doesn’t make sense, GO BACK AND WRITE IT DIFFERENTLY SO IT MAKES SENSE.
If the tiger catches the drone, make sure there’s some internal logic to it.
So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch for three or four months.
But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.
This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.
And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.
Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.
Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.
Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.
Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”
That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.
So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…
[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]
If I wrote Donald Trump as a character, he would never fly outside of overt satire. “He’s too one-dimensional, too absurdly over the top, too poorly conceived. But worst of all, he’s just a trope. In fact, you threw every major supervillain trope but one together and called it done.”
You’d be right, too.
First trope: he thinks he’s the hero. But usually the villain has a rationale for thinking so that makes sense. Like Magneto, out to save the mutants from the humans. But Trump is no Magneto. Trump isn’t that well thought out of a character. More like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, Trump thinks he’s the hero simply because he is himself. But Mr. Burns is a satirical character, representing greed and the blindness of old money to the daily concerns of the poor and the workers and the middle class. A serious character in a serious story needs to have more to him, and Trump doesn’t.
Trump is a sore loser AND an ungracious winner, which is both a villain trope and a bully trope. Fine, plenty of villains are bullies and vice-versa. There’s nothing too wrong with giving a villain both of these traits; they’re common enough in the real world among assholes. The only real problem is just throwing them willy-nilly in with the rest of the package of tropes without any real justification. Why is Trump a sore loser and an ungracious winner? Because he was raised a spoiled rich brat and has never known being denied everything he ever wanted? That doesn’t wash – Trump HAS been denied things he wants. He has lost properties and yachts and control of businesses because of corporate bankruptcies forced by runaway, mismanaged debt. He began his business life by blowing a million dollar loan and having to appeal to his dad to pull strings to get him tens of millions of dollars in credit, which credit line he promptly maxed out, requiring his dad to give him millions more to bail him out. He’s had opportunity to learn, but apparently hasn’t learned from any of his forty-plus years of experiencing denial and defeat. It’s just not a credible backstory for the character. It’s poor writing.
His self-absorbed egotism and lack of empathy, again, aren’t unbelievable in and of themselves. They’re just so over the top, so glaring. Cartoonish, even. Like reacting to the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 by saying he now has the tallest building in the city. Who the hell would be THAT bereft of humanity? Outside of satire, nobody is going to buy that. Especially if this Trump character is supposed to be a savvy villain. Would Lex Luthor be stupid enough to say something that obviously self-absorbed, even if he believed it? In private, maybe. But TO A JOURNALIST IN A TAPED INTERVIEW? Too cartoonish, outside of maybe a one-shot comic issue where there’s no time for any subtlety or nuance at all.
He’s frequently driven by anger and mocks others for inborn characteristics like disability or physical appearance. SERIOUSLY, COME ON. Those are traits of nameless thug characters, not of big bosses. To be a believable major villain, they have to have some shred of self-control. They can’t just be lashing out randomly every time they don’t like someone. Plus it doesn’t really fit well with the ‘believes he’s the hero’ trope. Again, that trope requires at least a veneer of self-control that this ridiculous Trump character so obviously lacks.
But somehow, he harbors grudges, often for years, over setbacks both minor and major. If he’s so out of control he can’t help but mock a reporter for having a withered arm or resurrect a twenty-year-old feud with an actress over an entirely unconnected matter, how the hell is he focused enough to hold on to all these long-term grudges and plot revenge?
And on top of all that, he’s also blind to major portions of reality. He imagines himself winning when he’s losing. He calls abject business failures – by the way, bankrupting casinos during a gambling industry boom? Failing to sell VODKA, STEAKS, AND FOOTBALL in the United States? Who’s going to believe that shit? – victories. He thinks he’s suave and professional when all he has to do is watch his own interviews to see differently. He thinks he’s an opinion leader when he constantly changes his opinion on every position he’s ever taken.
It’s all too much. Way, way too much. All this isn’t needed to establish a character as a villain, unless he’s deliberately written to be a campy parody. And it’s not even subtle enough for that. There’s a point where the reader says, “this is all too crude and clumsy. It’s not interesting. It’s a mere catalog of assholery. This writer should have just written a listicle entitled “Ten Ways To Be A Total Prick” because I’m not buying the character AT ALL.
And after all that, what is this villain’s nefarious plan? To become the President of the United States and… not do the job. That’s it. To hand the whole job to the Vice President and travel around the country being a cheerleader, giving rah-rah speeches. Really. That’s the big revenge.
What’s the missing trope, you ask?
Trump isn’t a casual killer.
As far as we know.
…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.
In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.
Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.
Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.
“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.
“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.
But what if you don’t?
“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.
Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.
And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…
…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.
And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.
But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.
My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…
…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.
You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.
You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.
You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.
You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.
You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.
You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.
You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.
You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.
You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.
You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.
You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.
You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.
You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.
You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.
You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.
You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.
You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.
You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.
You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.
You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.
You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.
You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.
You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.
You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.
You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.
You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.
Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.
You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.
Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.
The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”
Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.
This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!
Here you go. You can thank me after you stop sighing, laughing, eyerolling, puking, or whatever your reaction of choice is. I think I managed all but the last in the space of 3 seconds, which probably isn’t a new world record but has to be close.
I may have sprained an eye, in fact.
I get it. New stuff can be scary. There has been a TON of new stuff in the last couple of centuries. Internets, pocket computers, flying machines, devil carriages that move without horses, lights that mysteriously light up without a hint of whale oil in sight.
If some folks want to hole up in the past, well, that’s sort of their choice. The Amish and a few similar groups manage to do it pretty gracefully and even give their kids at least some degree of choice as to whether they’d like to stay in ignore-the-changes-land or come out and share the benefits and, yes, detriments of modernity.
And then there are people like Mr/Ms “NASA is a Satanic snake tongue”.
It takes a special kind of asshole to employ a computer to create a blog that can be viewed, potentially, by anyone in the world via a global communications net made possible by transatlantic fiberoptic cables and a network of satellites to urge others to reject space exploration as offensive because it doesn’t fit in with their particular (and particularly narrow and ugly) view of a ‘how to live’ manual composed roughly between 6000 and 1500 years ago depending on which bits you read and what you believe about how they came to be. Oh, and assume there’s somehow a giant secret conspiracy to lie about it spanning 70+ years and involving, by now, at least hundreds of thousands of people, becasue we all know how great several hundred thousand people are at keeping a secret over many decades, right?
If you want to see the WTFery for yourself, I’d rather not generate hits for them but here’s a Google Cache link.
There’s always the danger of being wrong when making a prediction. I’m well acquainted with that risk — I write science fiction. My entire job is making up cool stories on a foundation of predictions that are probably wrong.
So when I predict that Trump will withdraw from the race with a Scooby-Doo quote, I’d be flabbergasted to be completely, literally correct.
But I do expect to be substantially correct — but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a cop-out?
Let me explain with an example.
Take the H.G. Wells “scientific romance” of 1901, The First Men in the Moon. In it, Wells imagines the invention of a fantastic metal called “cavorite” which naturally rises. His heroes make a vessel out of cavorite, fly to the moon, and have an adventure among the native “Selenites,” their “moon calves,” and so on and so forth.
Wells figured that as technology advanced, people would want to go explore the moon. So he made up a story about it. The details are way wrong, which is almost inevitable when you’re predicting future discoveries that are unknowns to the age in which you’re writing. But the meat of it is right: people wanted to explore the moon, we figured out how, and some people went and took a look around the moon.
Similarly, I figure Trump is going to flake. Flaking is his whole history. He has a ‘great’ idea, pursues it like a monomaniac, overdoes and misunderstands a bunch of things about it, the idea goes sour, and he finds a reason to back out and a way to leave with enough money in his pocket that he gets to go on being rich (which I figure probably has more to do with the skills of the lawyers and accountants he retains than his dodgy business acumen). He did it with his casinos and his vodka and his steaks and his home financing company and his “University” and his football league and his water and his airline and… yeah. We’ll be here all day if we want to list everything.
Well, he’s had the ‘great’ idea to finally pull the trigger and run for President like he’s been hinting for the last 30 years or so. He has pursued it like a monomaniac through the primaries, going nuts on Twitter and at rallies, and has effectively won the nomination, being the last candidate standing as the primary season has come to a close. But he has overdone a bunch of things (like the racism and the hawkishness and the vitriol) and misunderstood others (like, apparently, how being President works, or anything about actual domestic or international policy). Now the idea is going sour. His polling numbers have plunged into the basement, his unfavorable rating is headed up into untrod territory for a presidential candidate, and the party he think has to fall in line behind him is getting alarmed as they realize the only ones behind Trump are the half of the Caucasian male GOP and 10% or less of any other demographic including undecided voters.
So the next step, after things go sour enough to penetrate Trump’s hair-helmet combover-weave-whateverthefuckthatis and skull and ego, is that he’ll flake on this grand adventure just like all the others. He’ll make up a few dozen excuses as to how it’s really a victory and he lost nothing doing it and in fact he’s ended up richer (though he’s “ended up richer” from a couple of dozen failures and somehow he doesn’t seem any richer than when his inheritance was new, but nevermind that) and it all proves that he’s a genius who is totally the best at everything kind of like the magic Kim dynasty of North Korea that Trump has expressed admiration of.
I think he’ll flake totally and quit in a snit and the excuses and defenses and “I’m a genius and my quitting proves it”s are going to fly. And he’ll do it before the formal vote of the general election proves how generally disliked and distrusted he really is.
So stay tuned. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But if I am, it’ll be in the particulars. People will go to the moon, and Trump will fail, quit, and make excuses.