Category Archives: Language and Usage

The Broken Hero

Heroes is as heroes does … and sometimes as they does not!

According To Hoyt

Years ago, in a science fiction short story, I came across this expression that just fit my feelings. “Born owing money.”

I think from the way it was employed in the story that it was supposed to mean “from a poor family” but that’s not how I felt it. For me, from as far back as I can remember, I had this feeling I must justify my existence.

As the half (one half the family) unwanted child who then proceeded to near-bankrupt her family because she had every-possible-illness and some that technically, logically, should be impossible, this is perhaps understandable.

I was if not born broken, born to be broken. From the moment I remember I’ve been running so hard because I know what’s behind me: me. I know all my tendency to sloth and to malingering. I know the crazy depressive spins. And I know the malice and spitefulness…

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Story-Time, and the Tradition of the Insta-Filk

I am, among other things, a filker.  (Think folk-singer with the parody bit stuck on “on”, or look it up — with the quick alternative definition being an album title associated with Leslie Fish, Folk Songs For Folk Who Haven’t Been Born Yet.)  Sometimes, an existing song begs for new words.  SCREAMS for them, at least inside my head. Within the filk community there’s a name for these first fruits of the filk process, composed on the spur of the moment:  insta-filk. Now, “pure” instafilk typically happens in the first (very) short while after the inspiration is received or experienced.  What follows below is an example of another type, in that I had heard the original song years ago, and the original parody http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbT5FFgmvuo&list=PL5DFA46EF9A9CC56B&feature=share&index=20 more than once recently.  The Muses kick us in our butts when and how THEY choose to, however…  Note, also, that instafilk may not be a  100% match to the tune or scansion of the original.  Sorry, by part and parcel of the form consider most instafilk as “Work In Progress”.   nearlyInstaFilk: Story-time TTTO (very roughly) “The Ballad of Canton” cf. _Firefly_, wherein Jayne discovers himself proclaimed a Hero… see also “The Man They Call Joss”, as performed by The Bedlam Bards NewWords: Kihe Blackeagle

Bucks! Fools see only those bucks!

The fandoms of skiffy and high fantasy Number now quite some millions, but fools only see Division and doubting and pocketbooks deep While deriding the fanboys upon where they sleep.

We are here for the story, heros and villains too We will stay for good stories, so now OUT with “grey goo” Remember you hosers with those purse-strings pulled tight What one opening new “Star Wars” pulls in in one night.

Now is it still worthwhile ’cause of label’s bright shine? Only with story will they hold onto my dime. Say what you will, sirs, yet harken to me: Put back stories in movies or watch our feet flee.

Bad Language

Sarah Hoyt was born and raised in Portugal, and now lives in the USA — and makes a living from writing *in English*. Her thoughts upon the nature and history of language as it has evolved among humans (specifically Homo sapiens sapiens) AND why the “universal translator” is a Bad Idea are well worth consideration by ANYONE who must deal with differences in the way we communicate with one another.

And that means Every. Single. One. of us who use the Internet, or make a meaningful living from the exchange of goods, services — and words.

According To Hoyt

Come closer. Yes, you. Come here. Listen to me. Do you hear what I’m saying? Do you understand it?

I bet you don’t, or not quite as I mean it.

Look, a recent alleged science fiction read had nanocites that adapted people to speak a universal language.

Why is it that languages get no respect when it comes to world building and future projection? Oh, it’s not a science in the sense it’s not predictive. (No, I don’t even care if some colleges consider them almost a science – mine did) but it’s a science in the sense of analysis collection and observation.

Is it because we don’t have math? (We do, you know? It’s just weird and done with different symbols.) Or is it because to paraphrase Pride and Prejudice “Any savage can talk?”

I do understand the unique difficulties of writing future language or past language for that…

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My Name Is Inigo Montoya!

Straight re-blog. Warts and all, I *like* Heinlein.

“Specialization is for insects.”

According To Hoyt

*So, yes, this is a SORTA blast from the past post — but it’s one that wasn’t published here, but at The Lensman’s Children as a guest post in October 2010.  I apologize for doing a repeat post of sorts, but Through Fire has FINALLY started coming together and I’m up to my eyeballs in it.  And then again, I started feeling I needed to do a post on what Heinlein meant to me, because some people are talking a lot of insanity about the poor man, who is not alive to defend himself.  But there’s really nothing I want to say about Heinlein which I didn’t say in this essay.  And so here it is.  A reprint and not a reprint, and some of you might have missed it, so…

UPDATE: since this was written in those days of halcyon sanity four years ago, I feel compelled to clarify…

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On the Fringes of The Fringe

Humanity is fickle, wayward, self-serving.  It is also “best” when it is vibrantly alive, growing, positive.

I stumbled across a formal statement of optimism to guide my writing this week.  “The Human Wave of Science Fiction” (re-blogged yesterday – the original blog entry by Sarah Hoyt is nearly two years old, relevant as ever, and well worth gaining a new round of “eyes” PLUS continuing commentary).  I’m not only on-board with the concepts, I’m reviewing my overall writing output from the last four decades (oh, yes, I have been writing since I was in high school, even before it was “cool”).  I’ve been surfing the Human Wave since before it was formally described, with very few exceptions released to the attention of anyone else.

The choices made have put me in the position of being even more on the fringe of The Fringe than I had fully realized before.

Out here on the fringe of The Fringe, life can be hard and the challenges border upon the overwhelming BUT that does not mean that we humans are going to curl up and lie down to quietly accept the worst.  There is far too much of the BEST yet ahead of us.  Out here, we may not be on the edge of the world, quite, but we can see it from here.  On the better days, we can even see beyond the edge and speculate just what those visions may bring for our future.

The past of humanity has given us tools.  How we apply those tools to create our futures says a great deal about us as a species.  How WE apply the tools our tools create on our individual scale can make or break our individual destinies.  Those applications can also influence the efforts of others around us.

Small-scale case in point:  Internet “cute” animal videos and the directly-related Stupid Human Trick accounts.  I can choose to ignore both categories — they will still be there, and people will still seek them out, create new examples, and make themselves some tinier bit happy.  I can share the links or direct copies to a carefully selected circle of friends and acquaintances, with or maybe without additional commentary.  I can comment on their existence WITHOUT actually linking or forwarding (hello?  doing so Right Now).

I can and have done all of those things in some measure even without the Interwebz to use as a tool, since well back in school (early book report on a Walter Farley title, If I Recall Correctly – IIRC).

As long as I refrain from obsessing on the darn things, I enjoy them well enough.  Both categories bring a smile, a laugh, an outrage, or perhaps some moment of contemplation from time to time.  Stupid Human Trick examples occasionally reinforce thoughts that the gene pool needs more bleach, but can also lead me to think seriously about the role of common sense, reconsider safety factors, or ponder the possible when creating the next “impossible” obstacle for the characters in my fiction.  My Curmudgeon-in-Training status also needs occasional weed-and-feed, of course…

Ten thousand.  A recurring figure in my thoughts over the years has been the consideration of that figure in various combinations and as applied to planning an assortment of story concepts.  Right now, expressed as dollars, a figure not immediately obtainable.  Expressed as mileage, more than I have driven an automobile in the last year AND approximately how far I would like to journey on my next “real” vacation.  Stated as a target, the number of book copies under my name where I will perhaps completely believe that I have “made it” as an author.  (Hey, I have a start already … hmmm, where did I stash that last statement from www.lulu.com?)

I’m pretty certain where I first derived the number from.  Ten thousand adult humans of child-rearing age has been at one time or another used as the “minimum” human population to sustain a colony without further contact by the originating civilization, given certain other factors.  No, I can’t be certain where I first found the concept.  Probably a good bet to blame Robert A. Heinlein or some other of his contemporaries.  Could have as easily been something out of Shute’s thoroughly NON-HumanWave novel (and movie adaptation) ON THE BEACH.

Without regard to the actual source, the figure of 10,000 has become part and parcel of the poems and stories that I have and continue to create.  Applying it to these current thoughts, out here on The Fringe trying to keep ten thousand of anything can be a challenge.  As of last night’s 10PM news local news broadcast, 10,000 rounds of .22 ammunition might just be worth their weight in gold to the right buyer (empty shelves in the local big-box retail outlets).  In a mega-disaster scenario, that same amount — gold or ammo — might become a death sentence OR it could be the seed of salvation for a person, a family, a community struggling to survive.

I prefer to explore the potential of the seeds and grow the community.

Humanity as a collective entity is straining at the boundaries of this birth-place.  A few of us have managed to step outside the boundaries for a few moments, only to return because of limitations and frailties.  Frailty of physical survival, first-generation equipment, national economics and resolve all contributed to our failure — so far — to follow through on the promises our fiction had provided.

We never completely abandoned our collective dreams, however, at least not out here on The Fringe.  We still write our stories, our poetry, our songs.  We share what we write with others, of our own and our future generations.  We struggle on, doing what we can to keep the fires burning even while the barbarians outside the gates of our sanctuaries seek to deny us fuel to burn or the energy to tend the lamps and braziers.

We also cheer every time a new player succeeds in joining the growing “club” of those with proven equipment for reaching orbit, or surviving extended periods of time in isolation, or even getting us one step closer to making impossible technology an everyday tool.  Consider 3D printing for a moment:  mayhap still primitive, but the process sure looks a  LOT  like Star Trek — and similar other SF thinking — predicted the possible, with “the replicator”.  Still in early prototype testing for something like pizza in space, specialty companies are already applying 3D print tech to produce chocolate confections practically impossible to create using older (manual) methods.

Ten thousand.  Expressed as hours, using the currently-“standard” 40-hour working week, that’s right at five YEARS on-the-job for most workers.  (Two-and-a-half for crazy writer-types on a mission…)  All too many of the best and brightest currently working have no way to be certain they will even have the same employer in five years.  It is a dead-even bet at best that they will not have the same duties and expectations within their job as they do today, with the primary exclusion of those on the more “menial” end of the scale (and even the janitor and waitstaff are finding the technology explosion changing the way they work).

A common employment interview question these past twenty years or so has been “Where do you see yourself in our company in five years?”  There are suggested ways to answer the question provided by employment counselors.  I submit that most of those ways no longer have relevancy to the real world.  I would like to propose a Human Wave answer:

I don’t know, but I intend to make the most of whatever I’m given to do in the course of that time.  I have the skills and experience the company is looking for now.  I have the will and the knowledge to build upon those and build toward that future, and the flexibility to adapt when the tools and expectations change.

Don’t know about all of you who may read these words, but I will close today’s examination with a request.  Go find a copy of the last Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.  Doesn’t matter if you have never read one before, and I don’t care if you don’t like comics.  The words are what matter most on this one.  I’ll expand by at least partial paraphrase.  It is a great big UNIVERSE out there.

Watterson got it right.

“Let’s go exploring!”

The Semantics of Naming Genres For Books (and other things)

A Curmudgeon-In-Training Rant: cf. http://curtisagency.com/blog/about#comment-9784

INCOMPLETE / WORK-IN-PROGRESS

OK, so Richard J. Wilson asked on a publisher’s WordPress-maintained blog (and had received no visible response after MONTHS…):

Can someone please define these terms: “commercial” fiction; “mainstream” fiction; “upscale” fiction; “literary” fiction; “steam punk” fiction. Thank you!

 My immediate reply said in part:

The first four genre-indicators you list are essentially variations upon the same theme, and may apply at one point or another in the lifespan of any given book with equal degree of squishiness / accuracy (or failure to achieve direct semantic meaning when examined in isolation).  The first three in particular are more-or-less semantically null: a book falls into those because the publisher or a critic says that it does.  “Literary” is a bit more of a stretch, and often indicates something with a high degree of acceptance by critics and perhaps academia, but often lacks true market penetration with the majority of readers (at least within the year or two after initial release).  _Valley of the Dolls_ might be one example of a novel spanning all four categories within my lifetime (and I’m still short of six full decades as I write this).

Steampunk is actually the most descriptive out of the five, and also perhaps simultaneously restrictive and free-wheeling.  The most simplistic definition of steampunk is as a subgenre of science fiction (and fantasy) where technology has advanced or otherwise exists in combinations not seen in the “real” world.  From TV and film, approachable examples can be “Wild Wild West”, “Briscoe County Junior”, and “Back to the Future III”.  In books and derived works, the ancestors of steampunk include Captain Nemo (Jules Verne), the Traveller (H.G. Wells “Time Machine”), and Anthony “Buck” Rogers (Nowlan – yes, a novel came before the film serials, comic strips, and more recent TV series).

So here, in an initial form, is the Curmudgeon-In-Training’s long-form response defining some uses of “genre” in categorizing literary works:

Ground rules up front – what follows is MY opinion.  That opinion is based upon more than a half-century as a reader, and may in some ways contradict your own.  Almost certainly things I opine here will be at odds with one publisher, or academic, or critic, or any other individual who reads.  However, my blog = my rules.  (Grumpiness number one established.  Yay.)

OK, with that basic precept / (hopeful) understanding established, here’s the next biggie:  as long as my stories are getting sold, I don’t give much of a rat’s behind what some scholar in academia or critic hiding behind their position’s title might say, at least as far as I am accorded the right of defense AND (gosh-darn-it-all-to-heck) real and intelligent debate upon our differences.

Going for the third leg of the tripod:  genre definitions inherently begin with a value judgment as to the veracity of the work being defined by the genre. Is it a work of fiction? Is it a poetic examination? Is it NON-fiction? (Yes, there are cross-overs and cross-pollinations and cross-ups out there in the wilds of the “real” world. Live with them. I will attempt to recognize them in the chart/outline when we get there, but remember always that I never claim this to be THE definitive work on this subject. It will go further than the most simplistic basics, however.)

Batter up!  OK, yet, mixed metaphor alert should also be issued.  If I am going to batter at the gates of the literary castles out there, I’m bringing siege equipment to bear upon the task, including shovels to clear away the batter. (Some research may be needed on your part to follow portions of the preceding sentence — have fun storming the castle!…)

Definitions Before Definitions:  Topicality versus “True” Genre

Publishers have traditionally (mis-)used genre to such an extent that the term is indeed rather fuzzy around the edges.  My working Rule of Thumb is to differentiate Genre from Topic.  Genre is hereby decreed to cover a range of topics that have some (RATIONAL) commonality.  Sub-genre is often determined as restrictive to a narrow range of topics.

By way of example, consider the Fiction:Young Adult genre.  One traditional sub-genre of Young Adult popular in my own youth  was Animal Stories, which were further distinguished by topic as Horse Stories, Dog Stories, and the like.  In more recent years, a substantial subgenre of Fiction:Mystery has grown up around Cat Mysteries.

Generally recognized sub-genre in Fiction:Romance may be complicated about as far as any other of the top-tier genre can be.  Consider for the moment a romance set on an alien planet among the survivors of a crashed starship, who have the uncomfortable additional complication of developing psychic abilities due to contamination of the water supply.  Is it Science Fiction, Paranormal, Survival, or Eco-Disaster – or simply Romance in a strange setting?  Pity the traditional publishing assistant trying to market this one!

Genre:  The Essential short-List

  • Fiction
  • NON-Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Games/Simulations AKA Participative / Interactive Entertainment

That’s it.  Oh, you wanted more?  Therein lieth the rub.  You get as much out as you put in, and in this case that REALLY requires some skull-sweat on both our parts.

Also, here is as good a place as any to handle “and other things” from the title of this blog entry. “Media” has become another of those over-used conflated words that it really does yield results for us to peel back a few layers from every now and then. Every form of information presentation in a recorded and reproducible form goes into making up “THE MEDIA” — at least when it comes time to try and define genre. Whether a given tale is being related by written words or full-immersion VR, the story will at some point be categorized as existing within the context of one or more genre. I can read an adaptation of any entry in the Indiana Jones movie franchise or I can watch the films. I can do the opposite with Harry Potter, where the books existed first and independently of the cinematic productions. Likewise for The Avengers, or Superman, or One Piece (the last is anime-related, just in case your personal viewing habits aren’t the same as mine).

To maintain our rationality, and occasionally to challenge it, humans tend to categorize the disparate elements of the world we live in as we build up our cognitive understanding of that world. This happens on both individual and group levels, At the least, perhaps at the best, the practice tends to improve not only understanding but the communication of our individual understanding to others we come in contact with. Categorization reduced to memes begets genre. Or such is MY understanding.

Genre Within Super-Categories

I like outlines when dealing with multiple levels of description.  Blame my high school teachers who taught me how to use The Outline as a tool and not something to be feared.  Therefore, we are going to extend the definitions above as bullets-in-outline warrant doing so.  (I’ll keep these as visually consistent as I can, within the limitations of the HTML implementation I’m using to generate this blogpost.)

  • Semantic-Null Market Definition (Publishers / Critics) Gradations

See above, in my initial response to Richard.   “commercial”, “mainstream”, “upscale”, “literary” and – sometimes – “non-genre” all tend to blend in and out, mutable marketing terms in the main.  “Literary” is perhaps the one item in the list that is most often MIS-used, particularly when applied to works that haven’t yet been released to the general reading public. In my most curmudgeonly moments, I would advocate reserving Fiction:Literary to works that have remained in print (or return to print regularly) for at least 25 years, or whose authors are deceased and still continue to be reprinted, and / or can truly be described as “timeless”. Note further that I am very well aware that this definition is in serious need of refinement for the new reality of electronically-published works.

  1. Fiction (general catch-all heading)
  2. Fiction:Children’s
  3. Topics and sub-topics within Children’s Fiction generally are over-shadowed by intended age of the reader and intent of the writer. Much that is written for children has a substantial educational purpose above and beyond entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but not all. Bless Dr. Seuss for now and forever! Theodore Geisl got it right, and brought back silly for the child in all of us…

  4. Fiction:Young Adult
  5. Fiction:Young Adult:By SubGenre/Topic
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Adventure
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Animal (may be better described as Animal-Centric: Lassie, Flicka, Black Beauty, Flipper, etc.)
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Teen Angst (High School / College Life)
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Mystery/Thriller (including series such as Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Rick Brandt, etc.)
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Vocational (a [dated] series example is Cherry Ames: [whatever] Nurse)
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Fantasy (e.g. Harry Potter, )
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Science Fiction ([dated] example Have Spacesuit, Will Travel)
    • Fiction:YoungAdult:Paranormal
  6. Fiction:Young Adult:Media-Driven
  7. Fiction:Science Fiction
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Space Opera
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Alternate Reality
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Apocalyptic
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Post-Apocalyptic
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Media-Driven
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Military
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Science Fantasy
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Slipstream
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Steampunk
    • Fiction:Science Fiction:Sociological/Political

    and so forth… Science Fiction as a genre has been under attack of one form or another since the genre was developed.  Often conflated with “pure” Fantasy even by the practitioners in the field, there has been some push from time to time to use “Speculative” fiction to describe the combination — a somewhat misleading term, as ALL fiction is in some fashion speculative.

  8. Fiction:Adventure AKA Men’s Adventure (significant subgenre by topic exist)
  9. Fiction:Mystery
  10. Fiction:Nautical
  11. Fiction:Nautical:Pre-Napoleonic
  12. Fiction:Nautical:Napoleonic
  13. Fiction:Nautical:Other Historical
  14. Fiction:Alternate History
  15. Fiction:Western (“Horse Opera”)
  16. Fiction:Romance
  17. Fiction:Horror
  18. Fiction:Fantasy
  19. Fiction:Thriller
  20. Fiction:Thriller:Techno-thriller
  21. NON-Fiction
  22. NON-Fiction:Journals, Memoirs,  and Auto-biography
  23. NON-Fiction:Biography
  24. NON-Fiction:Erotica
  25. NON-Fiction:History
  26. NON-Fiction:Science
  27. NON-Fiction:Religion
  28. NON-Fiction:Textbooks and Instructional Materials
  29. NON-Fiction:Commentary And Criticism
  30. Poetry
  31. Poetry:Lyrics
  32. Poetry:Epic
  33. Poetry:NonRhyming