July 12th, 2012


[links] Link salad, like the mouse police, never sleeps

Life Interrupting Art — Donnie Reynolds with some more commentary on the documentary filming process with me.

McMillian Sand Filtration Plant - decommissioned — Some lovely urban archaeology in the Washington, DC area. (Thanks to Dad.)

1970s fashion — Those were the days.

Mating with the wrong species: plastics make it possible — I've been on dates like that.

Varieties of Lewdness, 1795 — Um, wow? (Via a mailing list I'm on.)

3 waves from Siberia populated Americas

A striking experiment shows how you can run on quicksandExperiment hints that our models of non-Newtonian fluids are badly off-target.

Faster Than Light — Why physics is hard.

Beirutopia: Could Lebanon's capital become a garden city? — (Via [info]threeoutside

Exxon CEO admits climate change is real but says we’ll be able to roll with it — But, but, liberal conspiracy! (And no, Eric, I'm not ignoring your last email.)

Flaccid ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ fizzles for fathersSlacktivist Fred Clark is delightfully snarky about the latest emissions from the morally bankrupt Catholic hierarchy.

Even in worst-case scenario, conservatives look beyond 'Obamacare' — In other words, no matter what, the GOP is still throwing the underinsured, the uninsured and the high risk under the bus. How terribly Calvinistic of them.

The cruel myth of voter fraudTo understand the cruel calculus of voter ID laws, voter purges and other election law mutations one political party has turned into an obsession (second only to their fever for passing laws designed to corner women into giving birth) you have to understand what these laws would actually prevent, if they worked as advertised.

The Role of Government — A critique of American views of government.

Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close — Confidential to GOP in America: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

?otD: Is your tail balancing at half mast?

Writing time yesterday: 2.25 hours (1.25 hours on Going to Extremes outline, 1.0 hours on workshop crit)
Body movement: 60 minute suburban walk
Hours slept: 6.25 (fitful)
Weight: n/a
Currently reading: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie


[process] Believing one impossible thing before breakfast

I'm working on critiques for an upcoming workshop at which I am pro'ing. A couple of times in the course of reading these manuscripts I've been moved to make an observation that I've heard before in genre fiction circles, but honestly don't recall the source of. Basically, this:
When writing SF/F, you get one impossible thing for free. Everything else you have to earn.

Put another way, you can't make everything up. Generally speaking, stories have to have enough grounding in the naturalistic world for the reader to relate to them. (There are of course always brilliant exceptions to this and every other rule of writing, but they're damned tough to pull off.) Likewise, if you're going to ask the reader to swallow something huge and improbable, a bunch of sweet reason can help it go down.

It's clear enough this rule isn't literally true. Plenty of science fiction comes with FTL travel, strong AI and teleporters all at the same time, for example. But in a sense, those are all one thing. Say, the starship Enterprise.

But if you want the full starship package and vampires for the crew, you'd better make me believe in what you're doing. Because I can buy the starship thing. That's one of our tropes, what Gardner Dozois calls "the furniture of science fiction". And I can buy the vampire thing if you're writing urban fantasy or horror.

But vampires in space is a real (if interesting) stretch. I mean, what about that whole sunlight thing? (And for that matter, what happens to werewolves who go on a lunar expedition?) Vampires on a starship... Now you've added too many impossible things. Unless of course you've earned it within the story through world building or character or plot.

The other end of this phenomenon is what John Scalzi calls "The Flying Snowman", where the impossibilities are all being accepted until the suspension of disbelief is shattered by something that goes too far over the top. I believe this is just the same principle written from the opposite direction.

So, yeah. You get one impossible thing for free. That comes on credit from me, the reader. Everything after that had better make sense, at least within the internal consistency of the story being told.