Celebrating “Forbidden Thoughts”

forbidden-thoughtsIn my vast and disorganized collection of science fiction & fantasy books, I have a lot of stuff from the ‘good old days’ when speculative fiction was exciting, including one volume of early Hugo award winners. Some of the more current SF & fantasy books just seem dull and predictable, and the politically correct propaganda it contains is so inferior to Nazi and Soviet propaganda that even it doesn’t arouse my interest.

And then comes Forbidden Thoughts, edited by Jason Rennie and Ben Zwycky, forward by Milo Yiannopolos (flamboyantly Gay conservative activist— or maybe he’s more libertarian. But all the right (Left) people are rioting to keep him from speaking in public). On the back cover it says ‘You are not allowed to read this book. Don’t even think about reading this book. In fact, just forget about thinking all together.’  And it delivers on its promise to skew the Sacred Cows of our day in the many short stories, one poem, and a few non-fiction essays in the book.

My favorite is the short story ‘World Ablaze’ by Jane Lebak, about a nun trying to live her vows in a world where that, and Christianity in general, seem to be illegal.  Other stories come from Sarah A. Hoyt, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Vox Day, John C. Wright, Chrome Oxide, Brad R. Torgersen, and Nick Cole. The poem at the beginning is by Ben Zwycky— I have a book of his poetry and like it.

Now, I found out about many of the authors in the book through a Facebook group, Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And since I myself am a conservative with libertarian tendencies, you might assume that all the ‘forbidden’ stories in the book line up with my own personal beliefs. But a wide variety of ‘forbidden thoughts’ are included in the book, some of which I strongly disagree with— though that seems to be the point. But I was able to enjoy the book as a whole since even the stories that bother me are daring and exciting, and make me wish I could write like these authors do.

So this book is the main thing I am celebrating today— along with the idea that there is still room in SF and fantasy for exciting, idea-driving fiction.


Worldbuilding series

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Recently I read a book (Ebook) called ‘Storyworld First, by Jill Williamson. It’s about creating science fiction and fantasy worlds and I think it’s quite useful. Jill Williamson is a Christian author writing for the Evangelical fiction market and I really loved her dystopian series ‘The Safe Lands.’

Now, I have been considering for some time writing a series of articles on this blog about aspects of worldbuilding, and this book inspired me to take the idea more seriously. The first article I have in mind is about storybuilding as you go along, as happens in long-running open-ended series such as Darkover, Pern, Valdemar and others. Others will follow, especially if the series of article proves to be of interest to readers.


Chicken #221 Update

0303171014My frostbitten-feet chicken #221 continues to survive, though he’s lost one foot to frostbite and the remaining foot looks dead and useless. I’m not so sure why I’m so set on keeping him alive, since he’s an older male Araucana and my only other Araucana chicken is a hen just as old as he is, who isn’t a very good egg layer. Though she’s very good at escaping the pen she lives in. I rather doubt that #221 is going to be able to breed the hen in his condition, and I’m not so sure I want to keep on with the breed at this point. But as long as #221 seems happy enough, I suppose I will keep tending him. He really enjoys it when I put mealworms on top of the chicken food in his dish. And he gets around his little cage pretty well. I may even give him a name before long.


This has been a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html

Celebrate blog hop

Space Colonization in Silverberg’s The Seed of Earth

SeedofEarthSpace colonization. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit because of my current work-in-progress. And reading some novels that cover the topic.

The back cover of Robert Silverberg‘s The Seed of Earth puts it like this:

“The leaders of Earth intend to spread Mankind throughout the universe, until every habitable planet boasts a human civilization. 60 colony ships leave Earth every day on a one-way trip to the stars. Each ship carries 100 draftees. 6000 a day. 48,000 a week. Two and one half million every year. If your number comes up, one of them is YOU.”

And the story covers the selection of several people to be unwilling colonists, and their adventures on their new world.

Some key concepts from the book that I noticed:

The selection of colonists by means of a military style draft. Since the novel was written in 62, a great many of the male readers had experienced being drafted into military service. But the colonization selection process was quite harsh. Married couples were split, parents were divided from their children forever.

Motivation for the colonization is based on ‘Population Bomb’ fears. [‘The Population Bomb‘ was a 1968 book which claimed that most of those reading the book would soon die due to famines caused by ‘overpopulation’. ]  While the numbers of people sent off Earth was not enough to ease population fears, the fact that those who remained, subject to the draft, delayed childbearing since if a couple were childless, if one were drafted the other could volunteer, and they could go off to the new planet together.

Forced marriage is a part of the colonization scenario. Shortly after landing, the men pick out wives. The chosen women can refuse— until you get down to the last woman and the last man, I presume. No one seems worried about the fact if the whole colony marries on the same day, there might be a large number of pregnancies in the very early phases of colonization. Whereas if they waited for colonists to couple up, some might remain unmarried a few years, and the women of those couples can continue to work while the new mothers will be busy tending their babies.

Colonies are ‘sink or swim’ propositions. They have some modern tools and weapons, but replacing them, or getting more for new generations, is not a given. Mass colonization is an expensive enough proposition. Sending resupply ships to bring new tools, weapons and other items is another vast expense. The book does not state whether the colonists can expect this sort of help. There certainly is no constantly-available authority from Earth to guide the new colony.

The selection of colonists is wholly at random. The colonists drafted may have skills useful for a colony, or may be only useful as unskilled labor. There is no rule that states that each group must have a doctor or a biologist or a carpenter or a gunsmith.

Religious faith doesn’t seem to play a part. If Catholic priests are drafted there is nothing in the book to suggest that they will be permitted to remain unmarried. And there seems to be the expectation that all of the married draftees will abandon their Earthside marriages and take up new marriages on their colony. No provision is made for Catholic draftees to try to get annulments of their marriages. And since the colonists are selected at random there is every chance that there will not be enough religious believers from any one religion or denomination to create a functional congregation and pass down the faith. Now, this is very much in accord with the ideas of many sci-fi writers that religion will fade away just as Marx predicted. But real history shows us that when colonies have been made in the past, a common religion seems to have been useful.

The Seed of Earth is, of course, rather an old book. The short story on which the novel was based came out in 1957, the year before I was born. And the novel came out when I was four. But in a way, that’s what makes the book so educational for science fiction writers today. We don’t live in the world of 1957 or 1962. The presuppositions of that era have been replaced by new ones. And so we notice Silverberg’s presuppositions and can question them.

So— what if you were constructing a novel in which space colonization played a part? Where would your colonists come from? Would they be volunteers, draftees or a mix? How much support from Earth would they expect?

And one question that really intrigues me— what would happen if a colonization program got started in an era when people feared the Earth was facing increasing ‘overpopulation’, and then it was discovered that the reality was that Earth was, if anything, threatened by ‘underpopulation’ and the challenges of an aging population? What might that do to half-started colonies somewhere when the reason for the colonization program went away?

What if homeschooling were the only option for everyone?

For quite a number of years I have heard of Christian parents who have been homeschooling because they felt the US public schools were just too hostile to their faith to trust with their children. Private Christian schools, including the systems of such schools run by the Catholic and Lutheran churches, were once an alternative. But the government is increasingly going after such schools when they fire teachers for doing things that violate the faith they are supposed to be teaching, such as getting pregnant out of wedlock or having a same-sex ‘wedding’. Few parents want to pay up for Christian schooling if their kids are going to be taught by the gay atheist teacher the government forced them to hire instead of by a faithful Christian.

But lately I have been wondering: what if homeschooling were the only option left for ALL parents? What if for all reasons ALL the schools had to close? Lately there have been some terrorists threats against school systems in the US. What terrorist attacks— or ordinary criminal shootings/bombings— became a common thing in schools? Or what if there were global epidemics which made gathering children into increasingly large consolidated schools a bad idea?

I think the homeschooling movement has shown us that even homeschooling moms who don’t have teaching degrees or any sort of four-year college degree at all can not only teach their kids, they can do so well enough that their children are ahead of those educated in government schools. But the current pool of homeschooling mothers is a selected group when compared to all American mothers. These mothers might not have college degrees (though many do) but overwhelmingly, they read.

You see, our population can roughly be divided into two groups— those who read and those who don’t. I’m not talking about literacy here. I’m talking about the fact that some people turn to books and other written materials as a source of information and some don’t. In fact, some non-readers say they haven’t read a book since they left school. Others may use certain reference books related to their job, but won’t sit down and read anything even to better their place at work.

I don’t look down on these non-readers. Perhaps their life experience has taught them that asking other people is the best way to gain information, and I myself just turn to books in that situation because of my poor social skills. But when it comes to the idea of a future need for universal homeschooling, the non-reader moms have a problem. Most homeschooling moms today got started by reading books about homeschooling. They then read up on different curricula they might use. The non-reading mom is likely to feel overwhelmed by having to go through that.

What could be done in a time of universal homeschooling for those mothers? One answer is one I’ve seen advertised on local television. You see, though I live in upper Michigan, all my local TV channels are based in Wisconsin. And the Wisconsin public schools advertise they have free online schooling for K-12, with genuine unionized public school teachers on the other end of the line. That bit kind of appalls me, I must say. But if children were no longer safe in schools— well, setting up the poor kids with internet access is cheaper than running school systems. Perhaps they would have online videos to walk the mothers though what they would have to do to get their kids going with a day of doing their online schooling.

People who don’t know homeschooling often think that homeschool kids don’t get ‘socialized’. They don’t get ‘socialized’ into school culture, that’s for sure. But the typical school socializations— thirty kids sitting passively while one teacher directs a communal ‘conversation’ that covers the key points of the classroom lesson— when do adults ever do that in real life? Most of the things we learn about social interactions in school are things we have to unlearn when we leave school. Some we even have to drop when we get to college.

A science fiction book I once read had a future in which children got their real education from computers for reasons of efficiency. But since the author believed that homeschooling was weird and would make children odd, she adds the idea that the children had to go to ‘Homeroom’ in a physical school. No education took place there, but the children did their little projects about Washington’s birthday (or whatever the powers-that-be though was good indoctrination) and dicked around for a while.

That author (Suzette Haden Elgin) was wrong about homeschooling making kids weird. Perhaps the mistake came in the fact that the homeschooling families she knew about were Christians and she thought that was weird and perhaps socially dangerous. But her idea of an education-free classroom kind of predicts what is going on in public school classrooms today, when education has to make way to a lot of indoctrination programs— some with quite laudable motives such as the anti-drug and ant-bullying campaigns, others more questionable. If the time of universal homeschooling is one in which some remnants of democracy and religious freedom are left, the government may have to put up with allowing alternate online schooling, either religious or just alternative. A ‘Homeroom’ class to get the kids ‘educated’ to the politically correct points of view might be tempting in spite of the cost.

But if the reason for universal homeschooling was based on the idea that schools were no longer safe, many of the traditional ways that homeschool kids socialize beyond their family group might also be unsafe. What if we envisioned a world in which families no longer took their children to church, but watched services at home? Perhaps priests and pastors would go from home to home among their parishioners, holding small communion services for the family and perhaps some of their neighbors.

That would make children different in that they would be robbed of the chance to be among larger groups of people. Perhaps many kids would have excellent social skills with one or two other people, but be totally lost if for some reason they were placed in a meeting with 12 other people. There might even be some good effects as a generation would grow up who never interacted with a ‘group’ but only as individuals in groups of two or three. That might lead to less categorization of people— less saying Muslims are all like this and Southern Baptists are all like that.

To me, a person who experienced a lot of bullying in school— sometimes by teachers— an age of universal homeschooling has some attractions. But what of a more dystopian future in which not only schools as we know them are gone, but also the internet and such luxuries as electricity? Think zombie apocalypse here. The mother who did not have the skill set to easily slip into homeschooling would just have to do the best she could for her kids. Mothers with low information levels or low IQ might barely manage to teach their children to read and do a little basic arithmetic. A mother who was addicted to drugs or alcohol might not even bother with teaching her kids.

But in a situation that dire, book learning might not be as important as other skills. Kids might clamor to get apprenticeships with a local guy would knew how to put up fences or plow fields or milk cows by hand or make cheese and butter. Real world skills— however they might be despised in our culture— are basic to human survival and in a dire situation are more useful than having a Master’s degree in women’s studies or philosophy.

Creating Religions for Science Fiction Worldbuilding

popepicardScience fiction is mostly set in future worlds, but we cannot know the future in advance. To create a credible future world, you have to be able to build on what has happened in the past to see what might happen in the future.

Science fiction authors tend to do this faithfully as regards things like future technology and weapons. But when it comes to religion, they tend to let their personal prejudices run wild. All the ‘good’ or notable people share the author’s ideas about religion, and the ‘bad’ people have religious ideas that the author doesn’t like. They don’t take the time to be serious futurists when it comes to the topic of faith.

In Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series, none of the religions we know today seem to exist— not even modern atheism. They have been replaced by a group of nontheistic religions that people seem to adhere to as if they were Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism. In other words, the people seem to attend their nontheistic churches and follow those churches’ codes of conduct. The one exception is the bad religion, the Miznarii. That seems to be theistic, at least in the mind of the one believer important enough to briefly serve as a viewpoint character. And they seem to generate acts of terrorism.

In the real world, people who have theistic beliefs go t their churches (or temples, mosques) and follow the religious codes that go with the religions because they believe God or the gods want them to do this and to live this way. People who have accepted the dogma that there is no God and therefore no God-imposed moral absolutes don’t tend to found ‘churches’ that preach about atheism and attend ‘church’ once a week. Why should they? Atheism is a minimalist faith and can generate no pressure to create religious institutions or impose atheist absolutes. Organizing atheists isn’t like herding cats, it’s like herding microscopic organisms that cannot perceive you.

A futurist who wants to create one or more nontheistic religions that function like the theistic faiths we have today needs to do some development, and explain how that could happen when it hasn’t happened yet for the plain reason that nontheistic religions just don’t generate an imperative for that sort of thing. We have to figure out a reason why these particular nontheistic people felt the need for an organized nontheism and a shared philosophy and/or moral code. Perhaps it might be an outgrowth of New Age type meditation or positive-attitude classes or seminars. Perhaps some dictatorial force wanted his people sorted out into religions with weekly religious service attendance to keep them in line.

Using history is a great tool for the futurist, but you must be aware that our culture has little sense of history and loves to change the history to fit current ideology without worrying about documenting the new version of history. Currently, Jews and Muslims don’t get along and Christians tend to really like Jews. But there was a time that Christians disdained Jews as Christ-rejecters and Muslim rulers were welcoming to their Jewish subjects. Which history will you base your future versions of these faiths upon? If you just project today’s attitudes into the far future, your fiction may start to look dated pretty quick when things change.

One important rule for the futurist: don’t make all your changes to history ones that you like. If you are a well-informed, university-educated Christian who dissents from evolutionary theory, and you create fictional worlds where the scientific establishment has fully accepted your ideas, you are creating a fantasy future where things go the way YOU want. How about a future where one has to accept evolution and reject God in order to continue in school beyond third grade? Plenty of conflict for the Christian author to work with there. Or one in which Darwinism is rejected because some scientifically advanced alien race condemns it as ‘magical thinking’ and has their own, better theory— that they believe humans are too stupid to understand.

Secularists do a similar thing when they create futures in which all the religions that annoy them are extinct, or practiced only by the uneducated or by the bad guys. In the real world we often have to work together with people who have different ideas than we do, and fight against bad guys who are secularists-like-us or Christians-like-us.

So if you want realism in the religions of your future world, make sure there are both ‘good’ changes and ‘bad’ ones. Most of us would agree that slavery is bad and genocide is bad. What about if some religion in your world— perhaps your main character’s religion— accepts slavery or even genocide as OK in certain circumstances? What if the only religion speaking out against the evil is one that you, the author, have little use for?

One worldbuilding trick is to project a current day religious group into a future situation and see how or if they would change. For example, the Amish. In a spacefaring culture bent on colonizing new worlds, would the Amish have to change, adopting more technology into their lives? Or would they be so valued for their ability to do low-tech farming that they would be pressured NOT to change? (In my current WIP, I have some Amish sisters who lose their family farm in an attack, and then take up farming in a Fleet starship.)

Or how about the atheists? I mean real, thoughtful people who happen to believe that the evidence is against God existing, not those rude children who troll around on the internet. How would they cope with an alien race that insisted that it was easy to prove the existence of a God— or an atheist alien race that insisted that Terran atheists must kill all who disagree with them to achieve a ‘pure’ world?

A final factor to consider: how important is the religion factor to your worldbuilding? In adventure-based science fiction, religion may just be a bit of ‘set-decoration’ in the background of your space-war or quest story. In a more philosophical work, it may need more development. And if the religious/spiritual side of life— or the war against religion— is center stage, you will have a lot of work ahead of you.


Have you done your writing today? Maybe you should get started. Right now.

E-Books or Realbooks for a Space Colony

colonizationHTImagine you were planning on leaving your safe happy homeworld and going to found a new space colony. Do you ever think about things like that? I like to, and I like to read books about it as well. (The book cover illustrates one of the books in Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar/Colonization series which has the twist that the colonizers are aliens and the world colonized is Earth.)

But think for a moment about what it would be like to go to a new space colony that would be spending its first 50-100 years under harsh, primitive conditions. No aid packages from back home on Earth except for the occasional bit of emergency medical supplies. No new people until the 250 colonists start having babies. How would you keep your culture and your literate traditions alive in such a circumstance?

Let’s set these groundrules: there are strict weight limits to what your colony can have in the way of the one form of entertainment you can have: books. Either you can have a community library of 500 real, paper books, or you can have 5 e-readers with 600 e-books on each (the same 600), and the means to recharge those e-readers.

Let us also say that the paper books are designed to last 100 years at least, as are the e-readers and the recharger. How do you make your choice?

E-reader:

The advantage here is that you get 100 extra books. Pretty good if those are all the books you can read forever— more books is better. In addition, let us say the e-reader has the standard capacity to increase the text size. That will be of great help to aging colonists someday. With printed books, they will be restricted to any that are large print— and those large-print books might be too heavy for a frail elderly person.

Realbooks:

Forget the concern that realbooks look, feel or smell nicer. On a primitive colony that won’t make much difference. But imagine some stormy night when there is little to do besides read? With E-readers, five people at a time can read. With real books, all 250 initial colonists could read at the same time.

Now, of course, with e-readers you could have someone read aloud to others. Up to 5 someones, in fact. But while hearing books read is nice, it’s not the same as reading them yourself. It also doesn’t contribute too much to continuing a literate culture, any more than watching movies and television shows based on books turns us all into readers.

Each option has advantages and disadvantages, probably more than I’ve thought of. Can you think of any concerns I haven’t mentioned? What factors would you use to come up with a decision on which option your colony will go with?

And remember, whichever you choose, you and 249 other people will have to live with your choice for the rest of your life. So what do you choose?

Bonus question: if you got to pick 5 books for the colony, which would you pick? (If a good Bible translation is important to you, which Bible translation would you pick, in addition to those 5 books?)

My books would include Gone With The Wind, Lord of the Rings (1 volume edition), Jane Eyre, and World War Z, and my Bible translation pick would be a King James Version with ‘Apocrypha’ (unless they’ve come out with a King James Catholic Edition).

 

Was Spartacus a Thracian or a Thracian?

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Recently I was reading Colleen McCullough’s ‘Fortune’s Favorites’ from her series about ancient Rome. In the latter half of this long book, she retells the story of Spartacus, but with a different perspective. In particularly, she questions the common wisdom that Spartacus was born in Thrace.

Historical sources refer to Spartacus as a ‘Thracian gladiator’. But that phrase can have two meanings. It can mean that the gladiator known as Spartacus was a man born in Thrace. Or it can mean he was a gladiator who fought in the Thracian style— one of two combat styles used by gladiators in the era of the Roman republic.

McCullough, whose Roman series seems to be VERY well researched, presents Spartacus as a non-Thracian, a former Roman legionary who got in trouble with his superiors and was as punishment made a gladiator. In her fictional account, the new gladiator Spartacus (not his real name) was too aggressive with his trainers and ended up being sold to a more punitive gladiator school. Life was so horrible there that he and his comrades slew their tormentors and escaped— and without meaning to, accumulated a massive following of escaped slaves and others who looked to Spartacus to give them hope for a better life.

Spartacus is shown as acting not as a modern crusader to end slavery and oppression as he is sometimes portrayed, but as a man who acted as he did mainly in attempts to feed his followers and bring them to some place of safety.

The ending McCullough gives Spartacus, where both Spartacus and his wife possibly escaped the final battle to live peacefully in hiding, gives a rather hopeful note to the story.

Now, the source for the story of Spartacus as ethnic-Thracian does come from ancient Roman sources. But I wonder how much the ancient Romans knew about him? Surely there were no detailed records kept of the life history of every slave gladiator. And Spartacus was never captured alive and interrogated about such things as his life history. So that leaves the true story of Spartacus with a lot of mystery.

My Current Roman-History Phase

While Roman history is a Special Interest of mine, my current attempts to study it are actually part of worldbuilding, for a story-world I call Kirinia. Kirinia is a large division of a world called Erileth, which can be reached from our world through gateways. The tween-worlds gateways go to and from different time periods without necessary chronological agreement— so people from the Middle Ages can come through, build a society for a thousand years, and then a gateway can open up that leads to ancient Rome.

Which is the origin of Kirinia. A thousand years or more before the story begins, Koreans from the period of the late Middle Ages or so came over from our world to Erileth and build a society. Some of them settled in the land that would one day be Kirinia. As the story begins, the Korean-descended population has been devastated by a war, with only handfuls of refugee women left as survivors. A new gate opens up which connects to Earth in the era of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Roman legionaries go through the gate and start to transform an abandoned city into a Roman colony. Unknown to the Roman leaders, a number of Christians, with their presbyters and two bishops, have gone through the gate as well. And then, the gate closes. And the Romans meet the enemy that emptied the city….