Monday, September 28, 2009

Advice from C. L. Moore, Read What You Enjoy Most; and Some Rambling

A few months ago, I started reading, rather determinedly, science fiction novels and short stories. It had been years since I'd 'really read' something. I'd been reading every day, often voraciously: but it was technical manuals, articles and posts online, statistical tables: that sort of thing.

I'd been concerned - or maybe it was worried - that I might have lost the knack for sticking with a longish work of fiction. Practically all that I'd been reading since around the eighties had been excerpts from non-fiction works, data tables, and what I found online.

The closest I'd come to reading fiction was the occasional op-ed piece.

No great surprise: All I needed to do was pick up a 'real book' and start reading.

I've been reading - and occasionally studying - stories and novels by Charles Sheffield, Poul Anderson, C. L. Moore, and others. Right now I'm getting started on something by Frederick Pohl.

Part of my reason for re-starting my habit of reading fiction is that I've also revived my ambition to write stories. I figured that reading what established authors have published might help - and I was pretty sure that reviewing the stories that excited my imagination decades ago couldn't hurt what I was doing now.

It's nice to get confirmation that I (probably) wasn't completely on the wrong track:
"...First, you have to read a great deal of the works you enjoy most. Much of it will be useless. But the trustworthy unconscious can be relied on to make lots of unseen notes, just in case...."

From Afterword: Footnote to "Shambleau"...and Others, C. L. Moore, from "The Best of C. L. Moore" C. L. Moore, Lester Del Rey editor (1975).
"Shambleau" and "Black Thirst" reminded me of a number of promising approaches to speculative fiction. One phrase in particular struck me as being suitable as a sort of introduction: "...There were races before man..." (p. 44, "Black Thirst" in "The Best of C. L. Moore")

I know: H. P. Lovecraft and a gaggle of more-or-less talented authors have arguably mined out the Cthulhu mythos and its near cousins. On the other hand, I think there are stories to write that take into account the scale of the universe - in time and space.

If we found ruins of a civilization that were a million years old: we'd have missed them by a short tick of the cosmic clock.

And, although I think the crawling horrors of the hack-work Lovecraft-inspired story miss the mark for plausibility: I somewhat doubt that encountering people whose history includes recordings of what made the Chicxulub crater about 65,000,000 years ago would be quite like the climactic scene of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Off on a Tangent: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

My reaction to Spielberg's UFO movie may not be typical.

My take on the show is that it's essentially a religious movie, built around the beliefs of a sort of cargo cult that was perhaps more common in the fifties through seventies than it is now.
What Were Those Aliens Really Doing?
With a little editing, "Close Encounters" could be made into a taut suspense/horror movie.

I mean to say: here a bunch of people with scarily powerful technologies have been systematically kidnapping people and stealing property on a grand scale for the last several generations.

Now, 'out of the blue,' they make a point of returning some of the stolen property - in highly inappropriate places (an ocean liner - on land?!)

Then after what the human welcoming committee think are the aliens' kidnap victims come lurching out of the mothership, walking like B-movie automatons, some of the presumably best and brightest of Earth march smartly into the great big mothership: AND NOBODY SEES ANYTHING ODD ABOUT IT?!
1 We never see the faces of those - things - stumping out of the mothership clearly - although apparently their physical appearance is apparently close to that of people snatched decades back.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Come Sail Away - The Universe is Full of Wonders

As I said in yesterday's post, people haven't changed all that much in the last several thousand years - including our capacity for pursuing dreams and recognizing wonders.

The song "Come Sail Away," performed by Styx in - 1977, I think - appealed to me then, and still does. Particularly the sections starting at 2:26, 4:23.

"STYX come sail away- lyrics"

aquwaman2021, YouTube (October 15, 2007)
video, 5:50

Naturally, being a bit on the geeky side, two lines that particularly appealed to me were
"...We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies

Singing, come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads....

A Science Fiction Song? Hardly

These comments or observations about "Come Sail Away" are, I think, sensible:
"Come Sail Away is about reaching for your dreams (not about UFOs and alien encounters). The angels and the aliens are figurative voices encouraging you to "come sail away" to wherever your dreams would take you."
"The Grand Illusion / Come Sail Away"
Unofficial Styx Lyrics Archive
And touching:
"When I was in 7th grade, my best guy-friend Jacob used to sing this song constantly...he died that November in an ATV accident and this song was played at his funeral...It brings me to tears everytime I hear has so much meaning to me because of him, and I think of him everytime i listen to it..I'll always love this song because of him
"[offtopic] I miss you Jake... Nov. 9, 1990-Nov. 29, 2003"
kimberloo, comment on "Styx - Come Sail Away Lyrics" LetsSingIt

Given a Choice, I'll Pick a Sense of Wonder Over Mutant Frogs

The Wildly-optimistic Utopias of early-20th-century science fiction were fun, but I don't see me trying to write something like that. On the other hand, I do hope to capture some of the sense of wonder I experience when learning more about this creation we're in.

As someone in the Babylon 5 said: "I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the Universe."

Related posts: Background:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Kids These Days' - Rambling on About Human Nature

You've read about them, maybe you actually know one: a grumbling old coot who is convinced that society, humanity, and the world is going to Hell in a handbasket because kids just aren't the way they were when he (or she) was young.

Customs, fashions and technology have changed in America, at least, since the days of my youth. My childhood was in the "happy days" of the fifties and I spent my teens in the sixties. I'm still impressed at how many high school kids drive cars today.

On the other hand, I don't know that the basic human model is all that different.

Human Nature and People - Not Necessarily the Same Thing

I just got through reading Poul Anderson's "Harvest of Stars" (1994). Someone called it "ambitious" - and I'll let the literary criticism go at that.

As a sort of sub-plot, Anderson tells what happened to humanity back on Earth. The story is spread across several chapters, in a series of relatively short messages sent from Earth to people who got out of the Solar system while the getting was good.

Over the course of several centuries, with the help of artificial intelligences, humanity developed a Utopian society: rational; ordered; placing few demands on the individual while maximizing opportunities for self-fulfillment.

The last few messages were sent by the artificial intelligences. Earth was doing fine, they said: the ecology was in great shape, now that the human population was tiny and shrinking. Not to worry, though. They'd made sure that a full record of humanity would be preserved, in case the species died on them.

Then they stopped sending messages.

That Just Ain't Human!

In Poul Anderson's story, human nature didn't change. The people who wound up running Earth weren't human - apart from an avatar they built, once, to communicate with the escapees. If they didn't 'act human,' it should be no surprise.

The human people 'back home' were acting in a rather familiar way, though.
Been There, Done That
About 28 centuries ago, Homer1 composed two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Ulysses runs into people whose lifestyle is a whole lot like the contentedly dying remnant of humanity Anderson described:
"...we reached the land of the Lotus-eater, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. ... I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened...."
(The Lotus-Eaters / Book IX of Homer's Odyssey)
It's not all that implausible that, in a rather small, well-managed society, everybody would be like Homer's Lotos-eater.

I don't think it would be a good idea - but it's a plausible.

Certainly good enough for a story.

'Kids These Days'

You've probably already run into these observations about contemporary youth:

"Our youth now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when others enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers."

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint"

The first is attributed to Socrates, who lived in the 5th Century BC. The second is a translation of words attributed to Hesiod, who lived about three hundred years before that, right around Homer's time.

Over two dozen centuries later, there isn't much left of ancient Greece: But Homer's poems are still known, translated into languages which didn't exist when the blind poet wove the tale of Apollo and Agamemnon, Aphrodite and Helen, Athena and Odysseus.

Quite a lot has changed since Odysseus took the long way home. But I think the underlying drives, desires, strengths and weaknesses of humanity haven't.

Related posts:
1 The ancient Greeks thought Homer composed the Iliad and the Odyssey. More recently, some professors decided that one guy couldn't have put together poems like that - or if he did, it wasn't Homer.

Granted, the ancient Greeks were shaky on just where Homer was born, and other details.

On the other hand, they were a whole lot closer to the origins than the guys with letters after their names.

One of my favorite quips about the 'who really composed the Odyssey' is: ' they decided that Homer didn't make them up: it was another Greek named Homer.'

Privacy Policy

Nothing spooky here.

These days it's important to have a "privacy policy" available: so here's mine.

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