Helping People

I basically listen to sad stories forty hours a week. I’m a professional sad-story listener. I’ve spoken with so many people who have been struck by lightning, it’s not even a significant event anymore.

This is one of the saddest I’ve ever heard.

CLICK HERE, PLEASE

There’s more to the story than is put forth in that link. The dad is out of work because he’s injured. The mom is just getting over cancer. The family’s budget is super strained to say the least. And now, at their most financially vulnerable spot, they found out their son has a rare heart condition… and they can’t afford treatment.

This family is the friend of a friend, so I can vouch that the story is legitimate. I don’t know them, and they didn’t ask for help, but it’s the worthiest cause I’ve heard of in a while. If you have anything to spare, please consider giving something.

In fact, if you give something, leave a comment and let me know how much. If we can give collectively more than $300 (I’ll count the $50 I’m giving so that leaves $250 for you guys) I’ll write and post a story about anything you want (you can vote in your comment if you give, and yes, I’ll do family stories too if you want).

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Data is the Deity of Science

In the face of repeated failure, keeping oneself both sensible and hopeful is a difficult task. Perhaps even the most difficult of all tasks. Yet we accomplish nothing without trying, and to truly try we must keep our head raised and our senses free from numbness. We have to stare at the data without flinching.

For those of you who don’t follow science the way I do, a device that seemingly produces thrust without propellant has been created. It’s called the EM Drive and right now it’s being tested at a NASA affiliated lab. You haven’t heard of it because nothing has been officially published in the US. If you want more background info, this is the best breakdown of what’s going on that I’ve seen so far.

If the thrust results hold up, which is a BIG if, the EM Drive is perhaps the most important technological innovation since the wheel. I understand all of this is a bit dense, so if you’re not sure what I mean by a propellantless thruster: Imagine a rocket that doesn’t have a bunch of flames coming out the bottom. Imagine at the time of launch, the rocket just sort of rises into the air and you could stand right underneath it without being burned alive. The EM Drive is doing that on a much smaller scale, but if you know anything about physics then you are no less troubled by the drive being tiny than you would be by standing under an enormous rocket without being burned alive.

Yet the EM Drive seems to do this, in at least all of the tests performed to date, far enough above error as to warrant a double-take. The EM Drive emits nothing, pushes on nothing, and still seems to move ever so slightly. At first glance, it’s absurd.

For such a device to operate it would have to either violate our current understanding of General Relativity or the Conservation of Energy. Or potentially both. However, the EM Drive seems to be producing thrust without propellant even with multiple builds at different labs. At scales above error.

Sadly, this is likely a deep non-obvious error in the experiment.

However, the results are not definitely erroneous and that’s what I want to speak about. I see a lot of people jumping up to declare the EM Drive is bunk, which again honestly, it probably is, based on nothing but a history of disappointment with false discoveries. That is not how science works. Science is built on data. Data is the only deity in science.

To reiterate: Multiple labs have built an EM Drive and produced thrust. They weren’t sharing the same drive. They all built their own and the drives seem to follow the same formula for thrust output. No one really seems to know why it works, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t.

A few points:

1. I have no clue how the EM Drive works if it works

2. So far as I can tell, everyone who claims to know how it works is making wild guesses

3. If something works, it works even if you don’t understand it

4. Data is the Deity of Science. Theory is only the Prophet of Data.

I’ve seen some people online whose argument is “if there is no theory that’s consistent with current theory, then it never happened!” That’s not a scientific argument. That’s a dogmatic argument. And that’s the argument I want to address. I also want to reorient a couple of examples I’m seeing brought up in these discussions.

The scientific community has had a couple of really great showings of the scientific method in action recently, that some people are very ignorantly interpreting as failures.

1. Someone recently thought they observed neutrinos moving faster than light, only for the discovery really to be that their instruments had a jiggly cable.

2. Several years back someone said they produced a cold fusion reaction, which turned out to not be true. It was an experimental error.

A lot of people regard these showings as embarrassments. However, these are actually perfect examples of science in action. The whole point of science is that you let the universe be the judge of what’s true and what isn’t. You don’t trust someone because of who they are, or what job they have, or where they live. You trust someone because they’ve performed an experiment and when you perform the same experiment, you come up with the same results. That’s it. You let the fabric of the universe, the one thing above manipulation by humankind, falsify or confirm your results.

You also get to change an experiment and see if you can’t poke holes in the method and overturn existing theory. Right now, the EM Drive is being scaled up to see if the researchers can get some cleaner data and rule out other sources of error. If the drive still seems to work, it will be confirmed by Glenn and JPL.

And this is all as it’s supposed to be, science in action. Following the data, wherever it leads you. No matter what.

And yes, it will probably fail. It probably is an error. But you keep trying until you’re sure. You keep tinkering. You keep checking the data. That’s how things get better.

in which I read “Unbroken” and take stock

Being happy is lovely.

… but not very good for my productivity, apparently.

I drove about twenty hours over the last three days so I could snuggle. They were some great snuggles. The best. My life, my actual life that I live, is going better than it maybe ever has. I’m content and natural and don’t feel like I have to scream at the top of my lungs at anyone about how “happy” I am. It’s working.

Not so with my writing life, these last few weeks. I admit I got no writing done during that entire snuggly-wuggly time. But I’m working on it.

Soon, I will be perfect in all ways!

Or human and healthy, rather. I think that’s a better goal. Being human is sustainable.

And if a bear can fight in WWII, I can be happy and human and productive.

I’m focusing on “rebuilding” and “expanding” the parts of my brain that can sit down and dash off a few thousand words without thinking about “what does it all mean?” until an appropriate amount of time later. I’ve got several irons in the fire. That commercial fantasy novel is eluding me and I know I need to sneak some more action into it somehow. On a structural level. Several shorts show promise.

Which leads me to confront a great fear, which I think lays at the heart of my lack of productivity in recent years:

NEVER THE SAME

You ever hear about something bad happening to someone and people comment that they “were never the same” after it happened?

Mostly what people mean when they say they “were never the same” is that the person who was hurt never healed all the way and was never quite able to trust again, never quite opened back up to living their life fully and completely. I’ve seen it happen to people. Some private deep down wound sticks inside of a person and that precious, irreplaceable light in their eyes dims just a bit. The corners of their bright white smile slump down into a dead frown. Dancing steps lose rhythm and become aimless shuffles.

Everything fades into the gray.

How can a bird jump up to fly, spread its wings without fear, and sing its songbird trill when it has fallen hard enough to know know that the ground gets farther away the higher you go and that the stones below are hard and unforgiving?

And it’s the courage to face that thought, that I think I presently lack.

So often “I try” and wonder “Did I give it my all?” Did I really push out everything I have into that effort to flap my wings? Did I flap like I wasn’t afraid to hit the ground? Did I cry out my songbird trill without fear of predators? Or did I just do enough to tell myself I tried so I wouldn’t have to feel like such a coward?

I worry that I am that man who was “never the same again” and that’s why the things I write don’t resonate the way they used to. Can’t really try the same way. Can’t really push as hard as I did before. Fear holds it all back. And it shows in everything I do.

Of course the answer is obvious:

The only way forward is to accept the ground, know it has its place, and fly anyway. Accept failure as inevitable. Feel the full hurt of the fall until it is gone and becomes wisdom. Then fly again for the sake of flying. Fly because you love it without letting the ground have any place other than that distant memory giving soul to your song.

So I’m going to focus more on that in therapy since everything else seems to be going well.

Bit by bit, folks.

Bit by bit.

UNBROKEN

As weird as my life has been, I’m aware that quite a few people have it much worse. Such stories always help me to soldier on. One such person was Louis Zamperini. If you’ve seen the film “Unbroken” you probably know a little bit about his life. I listened to the audiobook while driving, and holy shit is that way better. It almost made twenty hours of driving not seem long enough (failing to do so only because the audiobook clocks in at about eleven hours.)

This guy was smoking and drinking before he was ten years. Then, right out of high school, he was an Olympic Athlete, probably would have been the first person in history to beat or break the 4 minute mile, only WWII broke out. So ol’ Louie joined the Army Air Corps where he had so many near misses with his plane just about getting shot out of the sky (including over five-hundred bullet holes in the fuselage after one mission) and otherwise just crashing into the ocean due to mechanical failure that if those were the only thing that happened to him they would be a book by themselves.

After his first plane gets totally FUBAR’ed, he gets in a second barely-airworthy plane to go try and rescue some people. So this new hunk of junk plane crashes for no good reason right smack dab in the trade currents of the Pacific. Louie survives the crash in a raft for forty-seven days (another record), drinking rain water, strangling an albatross, punching a shark in the nose while dodging bullets from a Japanese Zero that wants to shoot him out of the ocean, killing and eating two sharks….

AND THEN WASHES ASHORE IN JAPANESE CONTROLLED TERRITORY!!!

Whereupon he is beaten (some people were nice to him for a little bit at first, because holy shit he punched a shark in the face) starved some more and then has to perform all kinds of slave labor for about two years. He gets beriberi at one point, which is a form of malnutrition so messed up if someone touches you it leaves a handprint for several hours.

During his stay, he gets singled out by a guy who will later be one of the top 40 Japanese war criminals to get the shit kicked out of him every day. And he just takes it. He held a sixty pound beam over his head for thirty minutes when he was barely a skeleton just to be a fucking man and stare the asshole piece of shit who is torturing him in the eye and declare that he hasn’t been broken yet.

After the war is over, Louie comes home and has a bit of a rough time for a while. To put this in perspective, Louie’s rough times with PTSD for fighting sharks, getting tortured and starved, lasted less time than me fully recovering from my bullshit breakdown a few years ago, which I’m still not 100% from.

Oh, and then? He FORGIVES all the people who beat the shit out of him and tortured him. Including the war criminal asshole, who stayed an asshole until the day he died! I still haven’t 100% forgiven my sister for shit she did to me when she wasn’t even ten years old!

Man, puts stuff in perspective.

Louie has passed away now, but I don’t know that the world can ever forget a story like that.

Anyway, I’m going to try harder. Really try. Maybe I’ll punch a shark or two in the face while I’m at it.

And the Spam was No More

Hey All,

Just got back from a road trip (saw the gf) and was made aware there was some spam on the site. I think it’s because I was using an older version of wordpress. I just took care of it (I hope) and sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused anyone.

Thanks,

Andrew

Cats are the Tumbleweeds of Houses

My girlfriend has just gone back home after visiting for several days.

Now that she is gone, I have to accept that cats are like the tumbleweeds of houses. They shuffle blindly through the spaces where other things used to be, moved by tiny unknowable forces. The movable grave-makers of faded happiness. My snuggle wuggle bears can no longer snuggle wuggle the most essential bear inside of me.

Like Hades in the Underworld, I must count the days until my Persephone returns to be bubbly and happy and chirpy in the face of my bleak and brooding, self-absorbed nihilism.

Wonderful woman, is what I’m saying.

*****

As a lot of you know, I am a giant nerd and my name should probably be Dorkus McGillicutty O’Nerdilly. Those of you who started reading me because of all the weird stories I’d tell about my family probably also know that my goal has always been to write SFF.

Consequently, I’ve always read a lot of SFF books.

Since I don’t want to discuss the unbelievable absurd bullshit my family gets up to anymore, I need a way to attract outside people who like to read. I’m also a weird guy with a weird outlook and the weird way I see things is something people like about me. I also want to be positive about the world. Reviews seem like a good way to capitalize on those things, that also makes the world a better place.

I see wins all the way around

There’s no point being alive if you can’t be sincere. If you can’t be you, YOU can’t have ANYTHING. So I’m only going to review the books I love, with the format of explaining the overall idea of how I feel the book/author fits into society and why I like that and then I’ll go on to examine the book itself. I think a good review should leave you feeling like you saw the world in a different way, and I want to do that.

If I plug an author you have my unreserved endorsement of their work. You can even yell at me if you hate it. I’m still hammering out a lot of the kinks in that format as to what is appropriate to comment on and what isn’t (I think I skirted the line a few times in the last one for example) but I’ll work it out.

Next three in the hopper are Joe Abercrombie (which I’m having trouble with because I like Joe personally even though I don’t really know him), Mary Robinette Kowal (which I’m having trouble writing and not talking about politics when what I WANT to talk about is appearance vs reality, but maybe I need to talk about both?) and Will Wight which I’m not actually having that much trouble with but I just need to read his latest books so I can be more informed.

I’m on goodreads as aapeterson by the way.

Please add me as a friend.

*****

Glorious human being ShawShaw took the time to draw me this picture for my birthday, featuring my two greatest enemies:

the mountain lion

The magical mountain lion of my social anxiety and Yellowtail Wine (which is another name for poison). Internet friends are great and ShawShaw has been with me forever. I hereby name her my brother.

Trends and Time

In February of 2013, I walked into the local animal shelter, stated that I would like a cat, and when asked which cat I specified that I would like “whichever one they were going to kill next.” After paying $5, I took home a Tortoise Shell female and named her “Cathulu, the Dread Undreamer of Destiny.”

Cathulu hated everything.

And this was understandable.

In her less than one year of life, seven months had been spent in a cage. She had a scar on her face from when some wicked person, presumably in the first five months of her life, had kicked her head in. Sort of a Harry Potter mark, if you will. She also did not want to be held, spoken to, or so much as seen.

As slighted as I felt in having rescued a cat from cat hell and discovering it did not somehow magically love me right away, I persisted in treating her kindly. Cat treats. Soft words. Slow movements. You’ve got to be kind, even without any visible sign of progress. Kindness is something you do for kindness’ sake. But, inside Cathulu, progress was being made. I was building trust.

Eight months in, I discovered that I could pet her and she wouldn’t run away. One pat only, if I was very quiet and respectful and didn’t try to move too quickly. I kept treating her kindly, kept petting her, kept saying good things to her and then about a year in I was laying on the couch and she jumped up on my stomach and fell asleep as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Which says something profound about trends and time being the most powerful mixture in the universe.

I suppose you could say, if you were to dig for psychological reasons, I got Cathulu as a proof of concept for myself. I’m not overly fond of crowds, become incredibly stressed if I have to leave my home more than once a day, or partake in any activity where I do not have a full understanding of exactly what will occur and when it will occur. And this is because, metaphorically, someone once kicked in my head when I was young and then I spent most of my life after that in a cage.

Except I’m a human being and I know if there’s something off with me that I’m supposed to go get it fixed. And I’m lucky enough that I CAN go get it fixed. So I paid a beautiful Asian woman $100 every week to tap my knees and make me talk about every embarrassing, humiliating awful thing that has ever happened to me. And also did everything she told me to do, no matter how much it grated against my nature.

This is called therapy.

Imagine you’re stuck in Shawshank Prison. You’ve got a rock hammer, a poster of Rita Hayworth and a lot of time. So much time that you’ll never get out. The first thing you think when you start is how goddamn hopeless it all is. There’s just no goddamn way you can dig through all that concrete. Not with a tiny fucking rock hammer. But you’ve got time. And you’ve got a routine. And you just keep doing it.

Hey Presto, one day you’ve beaten the wall, have got a workable tunnel, and the next task is crawling through a river of shit so you can come out clean on the other side.

It’s all trends and time.

Do you know how stupid it feels to talk about your mother being mean to you and trying to deep in your soul believe that it will help you somehow? Because it feels very stupid and very naive to think it makes a difference and it feels more like if you’re chipping anything of that rock away, all you’re really taking out of the cell is dust. Except you do it over and over again. And that big imponderable boulder of darkness inside of you was only ever really bits of compressed dust to begin with. So you talk about your dad not knowing how to say the things you needed to hear. And you talk about how embarrassing it is to have any kind of affectionate thought given the kind of life you’ve led.

And you just do it over and over again.

And again.

And when you really don’t want to do it ever again, you do it again.

And a few thousand times after that.

Because you can’t spend your whole life cooped up in your house being afraid of things. You can’t just let yourself sit in the cell and stare at the wall, if you’ve got a little tiny rock hammer. Lots of people don’t even have a rock hammer. But you do. So you’ve got to try. You’ve got to tunnel.

Trends and time.

All of this is a roundabout way to say, I have a girlfriend now.

She’s watching me write this. I feel very calm and like I don’t have to put on a big performance to look like someone else. I can just be me and that’s fine. I don’t think I would have ever realistically believed such a thing to be possible even a few months ago. But it is. It’s happening.

I can’t say it enough, so I’ll say it again: Trends and time.

Keep digging.

The world, huh?

*****

Just before turning 30, I took my brother and his friends out to dinner and realized how very not a kid I am anymore. Mostly because I am now at the age where when I take other people out to eat for my birthday and it’s not weird anymore, whereas it was quite weird when I did this at twelve. I also couldn’t remember one of his friend’s names so I ended up just calling him “Kid” on the several occasions he required a gentle reminder about using cell phones at dinner.

I always “get it together” for kids, so it was a nice evening out despite them all ordering appetizers and desserts and running up a huge bill. Think all the dwarves in the Hobbit eating up Bilbo Baggins’ House, except at Red Robin. Teenage Boys, man. They’re like a plague of locusts. Especially at Red Robin, where everything is way more expensive than its taste justifies.

I suppose if I’m old enough to name random children “Kid” then I’m old enough to pay for their food without complaint. Especially with all the cane-raising I did about cell phones at the table. Another senior moment came when I found out there’s now a game called “Chopsticks” where you do math at other people’s fingers. Not quite sure I understood all the rules, but it was another subtle reminder that the world is slowly but surely moving on and “Kids these days” are finding their own things to like.

I also went to visit my little brother and sister for Easter, with the girlfriend in tow. It was the most wholesome family experience I’ve ever had. We played Apples to Apples. We ate food and no one argued. I took all the kids out to see Cinderella. The whole “setting appropriate boundaries” about how I react to family drama has really paid off.

I have become my grandfather. The badass one. Who wore plaid and always had money and good advice. And who was never without a pocket knife and a handkerchief and a comb.

I remember when I first really started to examine codependent relationships and thought “Well, if you subtract that, then there’s really no human interaction left.” I don’t feel that way anymore.

It’s not your job to do anything other than live your life and do the things you can do, while still living your life, that make the world a better place.

*****

My girlfriend is super bubbly, happy, nice and empathetic. It’s like having a constant IV drip to counteract my relentless self-loathing, natural depression and disgust with humanity. She even volunteers at animal shelters and is uncomfortable with all the nice things I’m writing about her right now. Because she’s nice.

The world, huh?

She also makes good salads, banana bread and will cuddle with me through the entire run time of “Attack on Titan” and laugh at my complaints about how all the dialogue consists of the characters screaming overwrought monologues about cowardice in Japanese. Because they do. That is the entire fucking show. Really. Watch it. That’s all that happens.

I feel like I instinctively understand all parts of the Japanese language concerning cowardice, the burden of command and the examination of existential horror. And that if you asked me to speak it I would just be able to spout it off without realizing I’m speaking another language.

If it matters, my girlfriend is also pretty and thinks I look like an older version of one of the members of One Direction. I have no idea how this happened. It is completely new to me.

Maybe it pays to have that whole tortured artist thing going for me?

I feel very content. And happy.

Trends and time, folks.

One day you’ll be a cat that can jump up into someone’s lap.

I am 30

I’ve been writing on the internet for a while.

Today, I am thirty.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve gone from being a twenty-one year old kid, alone and laughing in his college apartment and writing autobiographical stories about his family… to being a thirty year old man brooding alone in his house and muttering at half-finished fiction stories. Also, from having an audience in the tens of thousands to an audience of tens. That’s probably because I’ve gone from writing stories that “sparked” to writing stories that are “competent.”

Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me.

Still trying to find a battery, like I had in the old days. I’ll swim through an ocean of vomit, diarrhea and broken glass to get a power source. Trying to feel around my head and find something that puts fire between the words. Haven’t found it yet, but I plan to keep looking. I’ll know when it works again. My battery is probably being funny. I can still disrupt a whole room being funny, anyway. I’d like to be funny AND serious though, which is pretty hard and will take a lot of work on my part.

If you didn’t see it yesterday, all my Family Stories are Free on Amazon. Download as you like. It’s my gift to you.

Thanks.

Family Stories Free on Amazon

Team,

All my family stories, from back when I was funny, are free on Amazon right now. No kindle required, all you have to have is an Amazon account. You can read it on your computer, just like back in the old days… when I was funny.

Dunce Upon A Time: The Complete BC Woods Non-Fiction

Did I mention I used to be funny?

Tomorrow I turn 30, so today I’m going to contemplate the universe and eternity. Also, all stories I can find about animals who have accomplished more with their lives than I have.

Remember when I was Funny?

THE WORLD, HUH?

Yesterday, I went to the coffee shop to sit in the corner for reasons of getting used to being in public, but mostly to feel different from everyone else and reinforce my arrogant and pompous sense of self-loathing. And then work myself up to a full fit of hating myself for hating myself, which I consider to be the most philosophically pure form of hating myself. And then to ponder how ridiculous that is, and why can’t I just stop doing it?

I ordered a caramel slushie (which is called a blended latte, but I’m white trash enough that I don’t stand on ceremony) and forgot to get a straw. So, as I was drinking my caramel slushie, thinking how deep and dark and profound I am, all of it came rushing toward my face in an avalanche and got all over my nose and eyes.

I had to do one of those super undignified snort-blinks like a horse does when it’s trying to clear its nostrils after dipping into a trough.

For a moment, it was like I was standing outside myself watching it all happen. Big Shrek-looking guy in a corner with caramel slushie all over his face. I couldn’t help but giggle uncontrollably for a bit as I wiped it off my face. I think that’s my favorite thing about the world. The little reminders that I’m just human and the world isn’t there to reinforce an internal narrative I have about what a melancholy misanthrope I am.

The world, huh?

I’ve had some pretty good laughs lately at my own expense. Seems likely to continue into the future. Feels good in a good way. The Wojtek tattoo seems to be doing a pretty good job of reminding me not to be so damn sullen.

YOGA NIDRA

I’m always kind of embarrassed when something new-agey works on me. But I have trouble staying asleep. Left to my own devices, I just get up after about three or four hours and stare at the ceiling for a bit. I also, generally, don’t dream. If I do, it tends to be a fucked up night terror dream.

Until I discovered the magic of Yoga Nidra.

Yoga Nidra is basically an app you can download (or find on youtube) where someone speaks to you in a super soothing voice like they’re trying to calm down a startled horse (lots of horse analogies today) and guides you through a “Sleep Meditation.”

They basically get you into a position where no part of your body is making contact with another part, have you shift your focus around to different parts of your body as you relax each bit and usually I fall asleep about six minutes in and stay asleep for a good seven hours. I also have crazy, erratic normal person dreams that I can never remember upon waking.

Almost as though I am a regular human being who is subject to the exact same rules as other human beings.

Anyhow, if you  have trouble falling asleep and getting good sleep, and don’t want to screw around with medication, I highly recommended Yoga Nidra.

I’M SEEING SOMEONE, ISN’T THAT WEIRD?

It is. But also normal. I also feel normal about it. Which is the weirdest thing.

The world, huh?

TIDE WORLD SHORT STORY SNEAK PEEK

Still a first draft. Working on this one and two others slowly. Going to focus on quality. Hope you enjoy the preview.

It was the work of Sue’s life keeping her boys from getting kilt.

This work began, most mornings, with breakfast. As her pack of varmits would sooner pull ore from the mountain till they dropped dead than think to pull food from the supply wagon, it was up to Sue to feed ’em and keep ’em alive. That morning, she poured out seven flapjacks on a giant iron skillet next to seven thick slices of bacon, one for each of her sons.

With just her and so many mouths to feed you couldn’t make too much at once. Skillets only got so big. As it was, they’d get two more of each after the morning chastisements and prayers, but they always needed some incentive to wake up first. Especially this morning.

Sue snorted and used her spatula to flip the flapjacks. Little varmits had been giving her nothing but sass since bringing back victuals from the Barony Mining Town the other day. She shook her head and muttered to herself. Put a man in a Barony Mining Town and he got all kinds of hog wild ideas on how to get hisself kilt.

In nothing but a pair of long red underwear, Sue turned one way, then the other, cracking her back and watching the sun rise over distant purple peaks. Lit the sky on fire with all sorts of oranges and reds and golds. The world hadn’t been so kind to Sue as to leave much poetry in her, but there weren’t many sights more pretty than the Haredo Mountains at Sunrise. Gave herself a minute to stare and smile but no longer than that. Couldn’t let flapjacks burn on account of being slack-jawed and sentimental. Not when there was work to be done.

Pursing her lips, Sue let loose a whistle loud enough to call down an avalanche in winter. This done, she hit the inside of a triangle with the spatula. Lastly, she coughed and spit her morning tobacco into her cuspadora with a loud metallic ting.

“Come on boys, up and to it! Spun Fire ain’t gonna dig itself!”

Silence answered from their tents.

“Consarn it! I told you Grag, I don’t mind if you been at the drink. You’re grown, but when you drag all your brothers into it, that’s when you raise my ire.”

There was no answer, not even the usual half a cuss from Grag.

Muttering under her breath, Sue put three more thick cuts of bacon on the skillet. There’d been near two hours of chastisement last night. Then an hour of prayers. Varmits had probably been up half the night gossiping. Some damn fool sailors from Omverness had found their way out to her mountain and filled her varmits’ heads full of all kinds of nonsense about revolution.

Well, spit on that and she did. There was another loud metallic ting. She had too many years keeping her boys alive to see them kilt in some war.

“All right boys, that’s enough. Come on out. We’ll talk peace over breakfast.”

They’d all gone to bed angry. Sue had never seen her Grag so furious, what with saying he was over forty years old and a widower and could make choices for himself as if he had the sense the Fathers gave a pig. But still… the way he’d looked at her, he might as well have buried a pick in her old heart. All of them had looked at her that same way, staring at her like it was her fault they couldn’t get on a crew anywhere else. Like it was her fault she was Handsome Sue Stover and her name was known all over the mountains for putting an end fourteen men in mining duels. As if she hadn’t given all that up. As if she hadn’t spent her whole life regretting it, and had fourteen children to replace every man kilt.

Times past, Sue wouldn’t have slept a wink so she could keep an eye on them. But she’d been tired. So very tired. Thinking of all those dead men always made her tired and it seemed mining was getting harder every year. But they’d promised her. She’d made all of them promise they’d tell her if they got any damn fool notion to leave. So she’d felt safe to sleep. Safe to run away from the eyes of all those dead men she’d kilt.

And when you got to be Sue’s age, life couldn’t change that much in one night… could it?

Sue frowned and watched the bacon sizzle. Much longer and it would burn. The boys never came for the first whistle or the first triangle but usually the smell of bacon got them up and moving by now.

As though in a dream, Sue hit the triangle with the spatula again. Loud. Thunderous loud. Loud enough to wake the dead.

“Boys?” she hollered.

Any minute now they’d come growling and cussing out of their tents. She fanned the air over the skillet toward the tents and waited. She waited. And waited.

There was no answer save the soft bray of Temptation, her mule and confidant, as he rose from his sleeping place at the entrance of the mine shaft and sauntered over to her. Numbly, Sue shoved a plate of bacon and flapjacks in front of the hungry animal. The only sound in the camp was the donkey jawing on bacon.

A dread rose up in Sue’s belly, like the touch of firedamp on her stomach way down in the deeps of the earth. Like the premonition of an explosion or a cave-in. Like the knockers knocking out a warning of dead miners on the mountain.

She shot a panicked look far off into the distance to the Barony Mining Town down the the mountain. She thought of the sailors come from Omverness. Thought of their talk of war.

They’d never. Not her varmits. Not to their old mam.

“Grag? Lil’ Joad? Clem? Rumber? Nedbert? Big Upple? Gregorianus?”

The names rose in volume as Sue went from tent to tent, throwing the flaps open and tossing blankets. There wasn’t a child to be found. Every tent was as empty of life as the deepest mine seam.

At last, in Grag’s tent, she found what she’d feared. A crumpled little note written on the back of a Pillar Company Catalog: “Mam- Went Ofta Joyn the Wor! Luv, thu boyz”

It had finally happened.

Her boys had run off to get kilt.

Larry Correia and the Ecosystem of Ideas

sullivan

image from Hard Magic (The Grimnoir Chronicles)
*
Ideas are funny. They’re also weird and serious and by definition anything else that a person can imagine. But perhaps the funniest thing about ideas is how they jumble together in our brains so that we’ve got Sports and Dinosaurs and Outer Space all sitting there next to each other.

Doesn’t seem to be possible, does it?

Yet right behind our eyes we have mathematics and art, reason and insanity, rapt attention and insufferable boredom. Now consider this: As human brains are the only place where ideas are known to live, and the very largest human heads only have a circumference of about three feet, the two most diametrically opposed thoughts you can conceive have never physically been more than about a foot apart.

Ideas are “just there” without any concern for the appropriateness of their juxtaposition with other ideas. Go generate two random Wikipedia articles and marvel that the same type of creature wrote both of them. While this is mysterious and wonderful and poetic it also causes most of the friction in the world.

That’s part of why I’m writing this. Perhaps the biggest part. We’ll get to the rest in a bit, but we’ve got some more work to do first. Right now, we’re going to get through one of the most abstract but on-point segues ever made.

In some way that no one really understands, ideas all connect to and imply the existence of each other. Ideas even lead us to discover other ideas that no one ever had before we decided to follow the first idea. What this means is that even though no one understands why, parallel lines and transversals imply geometry. Geometry implies architecture which implies buildings which implies both people without buildings as well as universities. In turn, this implies some of the people without buildings will eventually show up at the university.

This leads me to a story, its moral, and a review of several books.

Like most colleges, mine had its fair share of indigent individuals adding flavor to society. Several of them frequented the campus itself. As a group, they could best be described as “professorial.” Their clothes tended to not be very nice, while also having once been very nice. This was because, in their own way, I believe they were showing deep respect for the university. And though their jackets and slacks had fallen into a state disrepair this is also true of most professors. Most importantly, they carried themselves with the worldly air that only comes from long and considered thought.

For whatever reason they were exclusively male and tended to arrive, as a department, a little before noon. Once in position, they would set up stalls made of shopping carts covered in:

-Nevada and Oklahoma shaped pieces of cardboard, painstakingly filled-in with illegible squiggles from mostly dried-up markers. I believe these were meant to be proofs.

-Magazine clippings that seemed to have gone through a development process of being dunked in a mud puddle and left for several years to dry in the sun. The remaining image was, at best, subliminal.

-A few photos so unrelated to one another I believe they must have been taken out of a dozen different family vacation albums that had been thrown in the garbage.

Thus styled, the department engaged in their unpaid occupation which was to educate the students of my college about things which didn’t exist.

Chiefly:

-Hillary Clinton is a 7th level Illuminatus Warlock

Which in turn implies:

-Hillary Clinton

-The Illuminatus

-The Existence of Magic

-The Existence of a Magical Rank System with at least Seven Levels

-That Women can be Warlocks Too

There were other areas of study. I believe Lizard Men at the Center of the Earth may have been discussed for a quarter. Numerous Shadow Governments were examined and discussed. Numerous Cryptozoids were ruminated upon and theorized. The Federal Reserve being well… the Federal Reserve was a yearly and particularly troubling favorite because of how little needed to be embellished.

If I’d stayed longer than I did, I’d no doubt have a doctorate in dozens of conspiracy theories.

Point is, if you shove enough ideas into a person’s head the ideas start to crystallize into a miniature model of the universe. Like a snowflake, no two quite the same. That’s what makes us people. It’s what separates us from the animals. And that universe of connections can look like almost anything. Anything at all. The same ideas can connect in infinite ways.

Now, a moral and then we’ll get to the book review.

One of the more mathematically inclined of the indigent professors displayed his research on a bright orange flagger jacket and yelled with his abdomen, that if you:

Take the square root of STD’s, raise this to the power of the FBI, then divide the result by the CIA and perform several other operations with other government acronyms that it all meant “Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior Get Saved Now Factorial Factorial Factorial.”

Most people walked by and chuckled.

But if you looked very closely at the back of the flagger-jacket you could make out a spot where, quite separate from everything else, had been written that “2+2=4″ inside a protective black box.

The moral being, there’s always some sense in everyone no matter how opaque their worldview might seem and that “2+2=4″ is true no matter how many times you’ve tried to find the factorial of a messiah.

*****

My favorite thing in life is reading. I like to look into other people’s heads and see how their ideas are crystallized. I like to feel things I’ve never felt, think things I never would have thought, and mostly I like to know that the world is bigger than me and there’s more of it than I can ever see or understand.

The more I know I don’t know, the more I know is left to discover.

I also like reading because we’re all a mosaic of ideas and books capture that mosaic better than just about anything else. Books even let you take some of those ideas and patterns for yourself. After all, ideas are the one thing you can take from someone else that they’ll still have after you’ve gone. When someone writes a book, what they’re really welcoming you to do is ingest their ideas. They’re offering, freely, a bite of their imagination. What fools we would be not to partake.

Which brings me, finally, to author and internet lightning-rod Larry Correia.

If this has seemed random, meandering or unfocused it’s because I wanted to say only what I mean to say and as little else as possible. That requires context and apparently about a thousand words of anecdote and musing on epistemology. But I’ve found I can’t discuss Larry Correia without discussing Larry Correia’s ideas and by extension my ideas about ideas.

I’ll bring it all together, I promise.

Larry is a science-fiction and fantasy writer. He writes what I can only describe as “fun Fun Books.” Meaning fun books which are also in some kind of Fun subgenre that hasn’t yet been fully explored or defined. Every word Larry Correia puts down is done in service of a mission, executed with military precision, to give his readers as much fun as humanly possible. Every writer has a primary gift and Correia’s is to make you feel what it was like to be an invincible teenager again.

Right out of the gate, if you pick up a Larry Correia novel it’s like someone unscrewed the top of your skull and dunked your brain in Joy Juice. He takes everything from 80’s Horror Movies to Noir Detective Novels and supercharges them with excitement, youth and vitality. His novels in the The Monster Hunter and Grimnoir universes read like ace novelizations of big budget Hollywood Summer Blockbusters you saw when you were young and the world was new and shiny. The stories set entertainment as the highest value and deliver it consistently.

Larry has a new fantasy book out in e-ARC that’s sort of Middle-East/Asian/Indian setting with a story that feels like 70’s and 80’s sword and sorcery. I read it within two days of its release and enjoyed it immensely. As it’s an ARC it’s probably not the best place for a new reader to start, but it’s Correia having fun in a whole new genre. I look forward to its continuation.

Why does the hero have to fight a creature that gets more skilled every time he beats it? Because it’s awesome. Why is the magical heart that endows everyone with super powers running out of magic? Because it gives the hero something to think about. That’s all the explanation that’s needed or asked for. Larry reveals exactly as much as he needs to and no more. The consistency of tone, the movement of focus as well as the button-tight plotting transforms these unexplained events into virtues for Correia rather than leaving them as lazy omissions. A writer comes into their own when the things they’re not doing work for them as well as the things they are doing and Correia has had that from page one.

Correia is a modern Robert E Howard, churning out pulp at a prolific rate with skill and care and concerned chiefly, in all ways, and I can’t stress this enough, with the enjoyment of his readers. Correia does this with a masterful skill and ingenuity. If you’re looking for a page-turner, you’d be well-served by starting with Hard Magic: The Grimnoir Chronicles.

I had never heard of Larry Correia when I picked up his book. I just needed a distraction and I’ll read the Dictionary if it’s handy. I picked up Larry’s work with the understanding that it had a lot of “guns” in it, which I don’t know much about, although the “gun” thing sounded like a thing people say when they can’t think up something more meaningful. In any case, I bought it and I found a lot more than just talk about guns. I found adventure and stoic heroes and, well, everything I said up above. I read the first three Monster Hunter novels in as many days.

I set the books down and thought “This is going to be like where I read Fantasy novels in high school in my small town and thought I was the only person who had ever read the Wheel of Time.” I figured there’d be several thousand reviews. When I looked on-line to find more of Correia’s works, I did find some talk of how good Larry’s books were, and he is doing really well financially, but what I mostly found on blogs was talk about Larry Correia… being Larry Correia.

Which brings me back to ideas, and tying this all together.

We’re almost done. I promise. There’s just this last bit.

The community of science-fiction and fantasy writers is going through something of an ideological revolution. Although, from what I gather, this revolution has been going on in different forms for about the last seventy years, since the founding of the community. Whatever the cause, political ideas are everywhere in science fiction and fantasy.

Honestly? I find it all a bit tiresome.

Not because I don’t think those kinds of ideas are important, but just because authors tend to be very good at authoring and less good at talking about politics. Also, as someone who has seen his fair share of human horror I get somewhat annoyed when people run up to me in assumed postures of indignance and/or excited tones and say what basically amounts to “It’s so easy for you to stand there when XYZ hasn’t happened to you!” about things which have actually happened to me.

Not that I then use this as a reason to take away another person’s context, as I think we can all agree that would also be really annoying. It just makes me sigh and rub my eyes a bit and count to a number until I can remember to ask “What’s going on now?”

That’s probably indicative of my annoyance with United States politics in general, of which the SFF upheaval is in many ways but a microcosm, but I find it no less frustrating for being smaller in scale.

I feel like a person who likes coffee in a world where every coffee shop is a Starbucks running a year round #RaceTogether campaign. Except in this case everyone wants to yell at me about rape and make lots of insulting assumptions about my own personal history with sexual abuse. Just because I want to follow their twitter and know when their next book is out. It’s gotten to the point where I only follow about three authors on twitter, just so I can avoid getting bummed out eternally.

But ideas are important. Not every cause can have a Nelson Mandela. Ideas are the most important part about being human. And I’m not saying people should shut up just because I find them to be tiresome.

In the world we live in, Activism is the engine that drives improvement for social institutions. Activism is everywhere in science fiction and fantasy. And, again, that’s fine. I can’t say that enough because even though I’ve never been to a con, I guess there are a lot of really creepy dudes that show up there. And I guess there are also a lot of dudes who are really angry at someone they never had a chance to work things out with, and they take it out on women in the field online as well as in person. And that’s wrong.

No one should have to put up with creepy dudes. And I guess these creepy dudes need to be taken into a corner and chewed out and they’re not getting taken into a corner and chewed out. Or, I guess, bounced from wherever they’re being creepy at, or put in the back of a police car if they’re getting illegally super creepy.

That sounds like something that really important that needs to get done.

I’m pretty sure everyone agrees with that.

Larry Correia tends to pop up in the middle of these things, either dissenting with whatever happens to be the topic of the week even if he largely agrees with it, or getting selected as the face of evil. Except Larry Correia isn’t an evil person. What he is, is a dissenting loud person, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, or a WWE Wrestler giving the Pre-Match Smack Talk except on C-Span. But so far as I know, he’s never killed anybody, beaten anybody and all he’s hurt are feelings. While hurting feelings isn’t necessarily polite, it’s also not criminal or unforgivable.

It took me several months to figure out what I want to say here, because I found I can’t talk about Larry Correia and how good his books are without talking about his ideas. I also feel like I have to dance though a field of protective museum lasers to get at what I mean. Politics are Correia’s second career and difficult to overlook. Not talking about it felt false. Whether by choice or necessity, he’s pretty much the only sizable voice within the SFF community who openly has a different mosaic of idea-crystals than the other big players.

A lot of people don’t like Larry Correia because of his ideas.

Which is fine.

I don’t imagine Larry Correia particularly cares whether or not he’s liked by everyone. He’s got a mansion and a family. I’m not asking anyone to betray their beliefs. What I want to say about Larry Correia is that he’s necessary. He’s absolutely essential.

Ideas are meant to be an ecosystem. They’re meant to compete inside of our heads so we can find the best one. At its highest state, which it so rarely achieves, that’s what politics is for. And that means, even when it’s hurtful or perhaps especially then, there’s supposed to be somebody standing up in the middle of a group and saying “Nuh-uh!” to every idea presented, no matter how reasonable.

Larry Correia is the “Nuh-uh-er!” for the community of science fiction and fantasy.

That’s not meant to be dismissive. Nor was my story about the indigent professors meant as a direct analogy. Having someone there to say “Nuh-uh!” so you can feel properly challenged and check a box isn’t what I’m talking about. “Nuh-uh!” is your chance to take a gut-check and see if you’re right. “Nuh-uh!” is your chance to see if you’ve got it all wrong somehow. “Nuh-uh!” is there to keep you honest.

So far as I know, there has never been a political party which in hindsight had it all correct. There’s never been an individual politician who has not committed some transgression worthy of reprimand. We’re all human and we’re all flawed. As long as you’re not killing anybody or hurting anybody, there’s room for talk. So, I don’t know why the world always gets itself so hung up on “sides” especially “my side and “the other side” when it comes to ideas. The only side you should ever be on is the side of the idea that you personally think is right after you’ve had a chance to mull things over.

I don’t agree with a lot of what Larry has to say politically, but he is a fantastic author. He just is. He puts in the work and it shows in his books. Isn’t that amazing? Even if you disagree with him, or even especially then? Isn’t it awesome that a guy who says all these things you don’t agree with also has a square box on the back of his flagger jacket where he’s written “2+2=4?”

A while back, I did something I usually don’t do, because I consider it to be one of the most undignified things a person can do, which is I wrote a blog comment that wasn’t entirely 100% supportive. I know. I’m ashamed of myself too. I had a point though. A very important one about ideological purity tests and people turning a blind eye to things about their own “side” that they’d rather not have to see.

In retrospect, I could have written the same comment without naming the names I named. Except I got pissed and I put what was personal above what was important. I’m sorry for that. But I had a point. I did. I promise.

I don’t want to get too detailed because that’s not what this is about. I also don’t want to even risk starting an internet mob, as mobs are one thing I find truly disgusting about politics. The only ideas mobs have ever been about is feeling anonymous, mean and wrathful. And I know, deep at the center of my thought crystal, that people are meant to be seen, kind and merciful as they possibly can be.

Larry Correia amplified my comment. He made my “Nuh-uh!” matter. He helped me to be heard. In the Ecosystem of Ideas, he served his function.

If you’re reading this and you’ve ever run into Larry is a context where he’s been a dick to you, hey, I get it. He’s said a few things that have made me groan, though most people in SFF have. I’m not expecting you to love the guy. Just to know that he has a place. He’s supposed to exist. And I’m sure if you got him in a quiet human moment he probably doesn’t have fangs. That is something that tends to get lost in these idea revolutions. When you start putting people in a context and look at their entire shape pretty much everyone is human. We’re just meant to yell at each other sometimes. It makes me groan a lot, but I guess it’s the way the world works since it’s never been any different.

We’re done now. Thanks for sticking through that. I know it was a lot.