Archive for August, 2015

In 1950 physicist Enrico Fermi asked the now-famous and largely rhetorical question: “Where is everybody?” Meaning that since the Universe is so old and so vast that somewhere somebody should have already been tooling around the place checking on the neighbors. But why haven’t we seen them? His question became known as the Fermi Paradox, and scientists have since been trying to offer some explanations in answer to his question.

One of the more popular ideas – and the one that makes the most sense to me – is called The Great Filter. It boils down to the supposition that the vast majority of possible intelligent life forms all come to the same specific point in their evolution, and fail miserably to get past it. Tim Urban of WaitButWhy has a lovely explanation of both the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter here. Our arrogance argues that we’ve already passed the Great Filter because we’re just so special, and therefore will be the first über-race in the galaxy. I’m in the camp that thinks we’ve a long ways to go before hitting that barrier, and will be just one amongst millions that will vanish unnoticed because we can’t seem to get our heads out of our asses.

Yes, we’re idiots. We spend our days fighting over petty bullshit instead of working in unison toward the greater good. Islamic fundamentalists are destroying the world’s history (“An Ancient Temple in Palmyra Is Destroyed”), Christian fundamentalists want to rid the world of gays (“Lawyer In California Proposes Killing Gays…”), whites still think blacks aren’t equal (“AP poll: U.S. majority have prejudice against blacks”), and men continue to treat women like property (“Woman: Person or Property?”). This all leads me to also support one of the other theories of why we haven’t been noticeably visited (George Dvorsky has collected some of the more interesting ones here): we’ve been quarantined.

Yep, we HAVE been visited, and found to be so immensely corrosive and dangerous, they cordoned us off and set up warning buoys: DO NOT ENTER – DESTRUCTIVE STUPIDITY AHEAD.

We have seven billion people on this rock, and the technology and economies to feed and house every one of them, and yet we refuse because of some perverted notion about US versus THEM that really just boils down to selfishness. Why should the Haves help the Have Nots when the latter are just lazy moochers and not contributing anything to the greater good? That’s what we all want to think, right? But how are we to learn who can contribute when we deny them the opportunity to even try?

And the real problem with that US versus THEM thinking, is that our technology and economies can also fuel the ultimate destruction of our entire species. Don’t like THEM? Bomb the hell out of THEM. Or maybe a designer virus that will wipe out their food supply. Or we can poison their children into sterility. Or just shut off their water and watch them dry up and blow away.

US might think they can get away with doing that kind of stuff to THEM, but it’s never so simple. This planet is one giant bio-organism: US and THEM are merely pieces of the whole, so anything unleashed against one will eventually swing back and kick the other in the balls. And don’t bother wearing a cup; Karma’s got a mean backhand.

This is why we can’t have nice things. Like membership in a galactic federation of planets. Or peace on Earth. We’re all a bunch of backwoods Idjuts who can’t see past our own noses. If the Milky Way Galaxy was a city, and Earth was a house, we’re the ignorant hillbillies living in the sticks.

you-are-herePicture from: http://pics-about.space/you-are-here-milky-way-galaxy?p=3#

Off the beaten path, neighbors more than a stone’s throw away, and no fenced yards, Earth is to interstellar travel what Chernobyl is to vacation resorts. Add the fact we’re one phone call away from nuclear winter, it’s no wonder we haven’t been included on the intergalactic invitation list.

One of my greatest worries since we’ve started our forays into space is what we will do if we actually discover life elsewhere. Human history isn’t particularly supportive of an egalitarian approach. We stomp our way into new lands, force the indigenous life to comport to our will, and rape it all for everything we can get. Not exactly a friendly introduction. And since we can’t even get along with ourselves, how are we supposed to get along with aliens?

We humans think we are the pinnacles of evolution, but we’ve only been around in our current form for about 200,000 years. The dinosaurs existed for millions of years before they were snuffed out, with amphibians and insects lopping about the planet millions more. Our existence is but a drop in the bucket by comparison. Maybe that just means we need a few million more years of incubation before we’ll really figure things out. Sure is a long time to wait when the answers seem so obvious.

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Where ever you are, whenever you can, exercise your rights, what ever they may be. Educate yourselves on the issues and the candidates, make the choice that works for you, then voice that opinion in the approved methods. Vote faithfully, lose gracefully, protest peacefully. It’s only an ugly media-frenzied shit-storm of hatred if WE allow it. So let’s not.

Here’s my early choice for US President – Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. To my ears he’s the only one that makes sense AND speaks honestly, with a long public record of consistency in his politics. Please go check him out for yourself.


Photo provided by BernieSanders.com.

Official website: https://berniesanders.com/.

And to my followers outside the US: please pray for us. It’s going to be a rough 18 months…



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“…escape velocity is the speed at which the sum of an object’s kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy is equal to zero.”


All of us space geeks out here have a rudimentary understanding of the terms telemetry, trajectory, and escape velocity. Normally these terms are applied to things like space ships, satellites, and missiles. Today I’m going to show you how they apply to humans.

You’re probably thinking, “Crap, she’s on another of her weird tangents,” and you’d be right. But you don’t come here looking for normal, and you also get what you paid for. So there.

These terms are actually pretty relevant to humans in this age of electronic blitzkrieg. Telemetry is what social media gives us in the form of likes/dislikes, tweets/re-tweets, comments/followers, and a variety of other indicators of just how funny/relevant/popular we aren’t. Trajectory is the path of our life, whether we fly to the top of the bestseller list, or we just end up asking someone if they want fries with that. We achieve escape velocity when our dogged work over the ages finally starts showing some positive results, despite our basic lack of self confidence and general hate of anything resembling daylight.

Artisans of all flavors live for telemetry. While every artisan must demonstrate proficiency in the basic skills of their chosen field to an objective standard, art with a capital “A” is largely a subjective thing. I can acknowledge John Steinbeck as one of the great writers of the 20th century because I understand the building blocks of good writing (objective). But I don’t read his works because I don’t find them interesting (subjective). Sales and reviews and recommendations are parts of a writer’s telemetry. Feed back in any form becomes almost like a drug: positive numbers give you a high, and negative numbers send you crashing into the depths. But we need both to keep improving and moving forward.

For most artisans, the trajectory of their careers is often barely a suggestion of a path. The vast majority toil away in obscurity, lucky to achieve any sort of recognition from anyone besides their (widely acknowledged) crazy aunt. Some may make it into the lower tiers of their chosen vocation: their Impressionist oil paintings grace the local courthouse; they play their music in a niche club that offers line dancing on Tuesdays and electro-pop on Thursdays; they head a column in an e-zine that specializes in New Age poetry. It’s not the headlining they dreamed of, but they’re still working at what they love, so it’s okay. Occasionally a shooting star manages to rocket to the top, appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rave reviews, and we all sigh in day-dreaming jealousy. The irony is, most “overnight” success stories are actually decades long in the making. Everybody slogs through the crazy aunt and electro-pop stages at some point in their careers. It’s called paying your dues.

When you start to achieve some success in your chosen field (whatever your definition of success may be), you’ve reached escape velocity. For a writer that means making that first sale. Some of you might be thinking that’s an awfully low bar, but without that FIRST sale you will never have a second or a third or a forth. Doesn’t matter what that first sale is, it just became the cornerstone for the rest of your career. The day may come when you look back and wonder how the hell that rickety thing is keeping up the rest of your McMansion, but it signifies the beginning so it’s gold-plated and diamond encrusted as far as you’re concerned.

I’m still waiting for my cornerstone. What limited telemetry I have indicates I’m decent at this thing called writing. My last two rejections even included personal, albeit short, notes. Not in-depth enough to actually help figure out why they hadn’t bought the submission, but enough to let me know it was close and keep me encouraged. That makes my trajectory still largely a straight line barely above ground level. And with all the bullshit eye stuff this last year (and ongoing – more surgery scheduled for October), my velocity would make a banana slug seem positively speedy by comparison. So the only escape I’ll be getting anytime soon involves binge watching stuff on Hulu, or killing things in my computer games.

So I’ll hang out on idle for a while working on my targeting system, as the cameras in this rocket are upgraded. Then I’ll get the engines throttled up again. I don’t have to break any speed records, I just have to outlast the pull of that gravity well known as self-doubt. It’s a rough ride, but I’m built for that.

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Let me set the scene for you: amazingly hot woman meets equally hot man. They have some light banter, make fun of something they see to establish a mutual bond, and lock eyes in some sort of meaningful and suggestive way. Next scene they’re slamming through a door, pulling clothes off willy-nilly, chewing on each other’s face, knocking over stuff as they grapple their way through the room, until he finally picks her up in a mad embrace and they collapse on the bed in moaning ecstasy.

The above is supposed to be the epitome of a passionate love scene. If you’ve watched movies or television, you’ve seen a version of this thing probably too many times to count. When you get to my age, it’s been about a billion times. I didn’t get it when I was younger, and these days all I’m thinking about is the thousands of dollars in damages, dental work and cleaning bills that would likely be the result of such a scene in real life (like in this Zoosk commercial here). Given my lack of grace and agility, trying something like this would just send my husband and me to the hospital.

So I don’t get why versions of this scene are so ubiquitous in visual fiction. If that’s how real people do things, then I’ve long been left out of the loop. The fact that the only man who’s ever been able to pick me up and carry me for any length of time is the blonde at the other computer may also have something to do with it. But that’s a minor detail. The point is, why is this scene so common?

My answer is laziness. Over-used tropes like this one – along with evil overlords raping the innocent, bad boys with hearts of gold, and vengeful women spurned by a lover – all exist because lazy people are filling space without any thought as to what they’re really trying to say. They equate sex with love, evil acts with evil hearts, virtuous deeds with repentance, and violation as motivation. But one of the first things I learned about writing is never put something in the story that doesn’t add to it. Every scene – every WORD – has to be there for a reason. And that reason shouldn’t be obvious.

Let’s go back to that love scene. Apply the standard journalistic questions of “who,” “what,” “where,” when,” “why” and “how.” Tear it apart and look at the core and challenge yourself:

  • Who does it involve/affect – The most likely answer is one or more of your main characters. But don’t just look at your primaries. This kind of thing has ripples that wash over other characters you may not have even thought about.
  • What are we going to learn about the characters – These kinds of scenes can show vulnerabilities or quirks or revelations about your characters that could come into play later.
  • Where does this take place – It doesn’t always have to be the bedroom. Or the backseat of a ’68 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Or Kansas. Give your characters someplace that makes sense for them and the story, but also adds to them both also.
  • When should it begin and end – If you’re writing erotica, we want the whole shebang, just ‘cause that’s what’s called for. But it becomes a tougher question when dealing with other types of fiction. I go back to #2 – what will we learn? Give us only as much as you need to make your point. Our imaginations will happily fill in the rest.
  • Why is it needed (AKA: why should we care) – Okay, sometimes a little titillation (pun intended) is a good thing. But most of the time I want to know why it’s important that I read through all those euphemisms for penis. Does the straight-laced teacher have a tramp stamp? Are we seeing the vulnerable side of our badass hero? Give me something I can’t get anywhere else in your story.
  • How does this affect the story – Every action has a reaction, and there are consequences in every relationship. Whether it’s a one-night stand or an episode with a long-term couple, it needs to offer something besides just sex.

The point of my ramblings is to never take anything for granted in your writing. Your characters can’t be two-dimensional, your story can’t be predictable, and your prose can’t be boring. Never take the easy way out. The job of a writer is to entertain, and that entertainment comes from evoking emotions – any emotions. Anger is just as valid as happiness. I want to skid into the end of a story feeling like I just survived the zombie apocalypse, not like I just did another load of laundry.

So the next time you see one of those door-slamming, clothes-ripping, face-chewing love scenes ask yourself how you would do it differently and why. Passion isn’t always loud and desperate, and sex isn’t always perfectly executed. Real life is awkward and tender and silly and funny and clumsy and graceful. Give your characters that kind of depth and you give your readers a reason to come back.

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