On Inspiration

Posted September 9, 2014 By John C Wright

I am asked a rather difficult question. It is not difficult because it is unclear, but, rather, it is difficult because so many modern assumptions about the nature of mind and body are unexamined, and, upon examination, are unsound.

A reader with the addictive yet intellectual name of Concept Junkie asks:

Are you suggesting the mechanisms of unconscious mental processes are not, or cannot be the source of these inspirations? Must such an inspiration (and yes, I suppose that term needs to be defined if we are going down this route) necessarily come from the action of an outside entity (such as an angel, or the Lord Himself)?

I’m just trying to understand what you have against the idea that we don’t have a perfect understanding or control of our thoughts and memories and that they can behave in a way in which they seem to have a life of their own, or that they somehow work without our direct and explicit supervision. It seems to me that such a flawed mastery and understanding of one’s own mental processes is wholly consistent with a fallen nature.

When I eat something, I have only a vague idea of how the food is digested, broken down, absorbed, and utilized by my body, but that doesn’t mean there is there is a “secret mind” in my gut turning Slim Jims and milkshakes into bone and muscle (and fat, lots of fat).

Similarly, there are some human minds that can perform feats of memory or skill that are far beyond the norm, and these symptoms often correlate with some form of dysfunction or even injury. If you read the story of the guy who had a brain injury and suddenly manifested an impressive level of musical ability that he had heretofore never displayed (and I’m afraid I don’t recall the details of the story), does that mean the man is now possessed of some foreign intelligence that is giving him this talent, or that whatever trauma caused the neural networks and other structures in the brain to reorganize allowed processes of which he is not consciously aware to work, or work better to allow him to perform these feats?

I’m just trying to understand how you see this kind of inspiration, the inspiration that allows someone to solve a problem when he “stops” thinking about it, or allows him wake up with a unique melody or story idea in his head or any of the other ways that our minds surprise us.

My remarks:

I am not suggesting the mechanisms of unconscious mental processes are not, or cannot be the source of these inspirations?

I am stating as a conclusion of a line of reasoning at the mechanism of unconscious mental processes, assuming such a thing exists at all, are not and cannot be the source of these inspirations.

This is for the same reason that I do not think a bunny or a dog could write a sonnet.
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Hannah Wallen on Social Justice War Games

Posted September 8, 2014 By John C Wright

An analysis of Gamergate, described in terms of the economics of social ladder climbing.

Short answer: the shrieking of the pseudo-feminists and pseudo-Marxists and pseudo-whinebabies is due to an attempt by the journalists and other social justice warriors, nerds high on the social ladder, to gain or retain their alleged social pecking order rank by demeaning the gamer nerds, accusing them of witchcraft, and throwing them to the witchhunters.

Here is the link.

http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2014/09/07/gamergate-journalism-as-a-social-justice-war-game/

Her words:

The only people who are equipped to fight off that rushing tide of manipulation and control are those for whom potential social rejection doesn’t constitute a threat.

That, gamers, is why gamergate is not about any one of the damseling drama queens receiving the coverage in gaming media that is now spilling over into other news sources. It not about the media themselves, either, or the companies supporting the industry.

It’s about us.

We’re not under attack because we owe anyone anything we have refused to give, or because we’ve done anything we shouldn’t have done. We’re under attack because we’re one of the last shields that human individuality in western society has.

It’s absolutely vital that gamers continue to reject the shaming and demands being launched at us by elitist social engineers in journalism. We’re the line they can’t be allowed to cross, the last bastion of intellectual freedom. Out of everyone, we have the one factor that can stop them from owning the social landscape of the western world. Out of everyone, we have the power of immunity to their weapon of choice. We have the ability to turn that very same weapon around and use it against them by not only refusing to adopt their narrative, but making our rejection of it hurt them financially.

This is how we’re going to hold the line and begin pushing back. It’s going to be ridiculously ugly. The beast that is social justice elitism is not going to go peacefully, nor is it going to change its tactics. We’re going to see that  monstrous, flailing attempt to shame us into compliance continue. We’re going to see the accusations and whining, damseling and demonization all accelerate as the elites try to smash the resistance without understanding why it exists. And then hopefully we’ll see like-minded individuals joining the ranks of resistance as they realize they don’t have to be adopt the victim narrative to be part of a community. If we can achieve just that one thing by standing our ground and defending our territory, we can push that bullying force out, take our community back, and get back to gaming in peace.

 

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More on my favorite topic: ME!!!

Posted September 8, 2014 By John C Wright

A reader on Vox Populi passed along a rather nice compliment and a rather tentative speculation. I wanted to boast about the compliment like a vain schoolgirl wearing too much makeup, and then set the speculation to rest:

My daughters played basketball and when they were winning they would not shave their legs or wash their game socks. I know disgusting. However, these girls believed that following those habits led to winning.

John Wright has been told by many people that his writing is amazing, wonderful, and awe inspiring. Readers have told him that his books have brought actual dreams and nightmares and others tell him that they cannot quit thinking about a particular story or character. Others compare it to a religious experience in that they can see the hand of God at work (even when he was an atheist). In every case John Wright has minimized his own contribution. He credits his ‘muses’ which is fine. But however he works his magic, he denies he is anything special.

Perhaps he’s like my daughters when they were on a winning streak (one lasted all season and the girls extended it to next years softball. ugh!), if he acknowledges the praise it’ll somehow effect his writing for the worst.

Just pure speculation Mr Wright. I am not saying you’re not telling the truth about the muses and all just saying that there might be a little ‘knock on wood’ in there too. I would never try to offend my favorite living author.

Now I am going back to my goat milk and honey cake plan to attract the magic writing elves on secret Catholic days.

The comment was found in a long dead thread, but, alas, we egotistical writers are attracted like flies to corpses when their names are mentioned.

My comment: Thanks. And Let me clear up one notion right here and now.

Please do not speculate that I have even the slightest superstitious impulse in me. The only people who are less superstitious than fanatical atheists (who do not believe in any supernatural powers) are fanatical Christians (who do not believe in any supernatural powers aside from the Omnipotent, and are strictly forbidden in any case to evoke them).

No, sir, take me at my word. I am being utterly honest with you. I know about my writing the one thing my readers do not know. I know how much is perspiration and how much is inspiration.

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Heinlein was a Fascist?

Posted September 7, 2014 By John C Wright
This essay was written and appeared in this space four years ago, but I thought I would reprint it now:

I just finished rereading Robert A. Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS, and I was left with an odd question lingering. Blazoned on the cover of my paperback edition boast the words “controversial best seller!” Why is this book controversial?

Science Fiction is something like a game or thought-experiment played with the reader: the author invents a counterfactual premise but uses the props and setting of the real universe to make the counterfactual seem as likely as possible. The game is to draw out the real world consequences of the non-real premise. If there actually were invisible men, so asks H.G. Wells, would they not have to walk among us nude? Not for the science fiction writer is the magical invisibility that turns your clothing transparent but not what you pick up in your hand.

In the case of STARSHIP TROOPERS, the speculation is about futuristic infantry. What happens when the advances in technology give a single trooper the firepower of a modern platoon, or even a battalion? If a footsoldier totes a tactical atom bomb in his backpack launcher, what kind of trooper, and what kind of warfare, would it have to be? What are the social implications? Who could be trusted with such firepower?

There is a second speculation: what if the franchise of the vote was limited to veterans? What kind of society would emerge?
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Three Views of the Elf-road: By Dawn, by Dark, by Day

Posted September 4, 2014 By John C Wright

Here is a comment by Astro Sorcerer I wanted to share:

 

Science fiction and fantastic all involve wonder.

It strikes me that there are three ways that characters interact with that wonder.

One way is with yearning for that wonder, seeking to find it. This is indeed that of Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and also the mission of the Enterprise. The goal is of the character is to seek and find wonder and the strange and exciting.

The second way is a character recoiling from a horror, or fleeing a fantastic horror or fate. Much of Stephen King’s brillantly developed characters deal with this: they never wanted to face what they are facing, but must confront it. Greek myth also has this: heroes who were not seeking the supernatural horror inflicted on their lives. The heroes of Terminator and Aliens likewise must deal with fantastic horror.

The third way is a character who deals with the amazing and fantastic in an everyday, workmanlike sense. Harry Dresden is a great example of this, as is Dr. Who. Owin Pitt transforms form the second to the third. To them, the fantastic is the mundane, but still the artist brings a sense of wonder as they deal with it.

With multiple characters, it is possible to have characters deal with the same fantastic event in different ways: wonder, horror, just day at work.

My comment: Bravo! This is an insightful and a clever analysis. Needless to say I agree.

Allow me to add, that each method requires a different tactic to win reader sympathy.

The first (those who long for adventure) speaks to the reader’s longing, which one assumes any reader of SFF has in plenty. In this case the author should harp on the glamor and mystery and even the nostalgia of high adventure.

Call this the rosy dawn view, when the road to elfland is still softly seen with dewy flowers.

The second speaks to common fears of the uncanny, which even an atheist walking through a moonlit graveyard understands, but also speaks to common fears of being unable to match the task hard fate imposes. Here the author must play up the terror and greatness of what the hero faces, the grotesqueness of it, the danger, as well as cast a longing eye toward the comforts of home.

Call this the midnight view, when the wayfarer casts many a glance back along the road as he walks.

The third speaks to the everyday workingman, which every man who works understands, and in this case the author should play up the skill and hard labor involved, the learning needed to measure up to the task, the toughness or wit of the hero in action, but should also treat the matter with ironic nonchalance, as if he’d seen such things before. Readers understand cool and they like skilful masters at their craft, whether that be time travel or monster hunting (or both).

Call this the noontime view, where the wayfarer is seen whistling, his lunchbucket on shoulder and eyes on the sky, skipping stepping over pitfalls and crushing scorpions without a downward glance, because he knows were they lurk.

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I Wanted a Roc’s Egg

Posted September 3, 2014 By John C Wright

My wife and I were discussing how to make characters appealing to readers, especially to science fiction readers. My theory is that science fiction readers are a special breed who are seeking something invisible to mainstream readers, something not found close to home, not found within the Fields We Know, perhaps not found on Earth at all.

So an appealing character, according this particular method of approach (there are many other methods) is to give the hero that same homesickness for the unknown realms and higher stars which many a science fiction reader knows so well.

I notice that there are many characters with this particular trait: Frodo Baggins wishes his comfortable life were interrupted with adventure, and this mood comes upon him strongly in autumnal months. Luke Skywalker mocks his planet as being the world farthest from any bright center of the universe there might be. Harry Potter suffers with Oliver Tristian levels of abuse before discovering he is  a wizard, and that the world of muggles is not his home. Belle from the Disney musical BEAUTY AND THE BEAST yearns for so much more than “they have planned”, and Jasmine from ALADDIN has the same yearning. Kip from HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL opens his story with the arresting and simple line: he wants to go to the moon.

One of the best expressions of this homesickness for somewhither comes from the pen of Robert Heinlein, put in the mouth of Oscar Gordon, the hero of GLORY ROAD, and Heinlein’s homage to the swashbuckler genre. (And my thanks to Mary for reminding me of this quote http://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/09/03/the-redheaded-step-genre/#comment-197627)

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My latest is up at Every Joe:http://www.everyjoe.com/2014/09/03/lifestyle/perfect-world-utopias-golden-age-science-fiction/

 

The modern science fiction writers are the heirs to those ancient philosophers sadly because mainstream writers, while believing themselves technically more proficient in the story telling art, in fact are less proficient in the exercise of the imagination, which is the more fundamental of the two skills. In a word, the modern mainstream is not imaginative enough to write of a world other than his own, much less one better than his own due to some philosophical or technological improvement of the condition of mankind.

As a thought experiment, we are asking which utopia would be best to dwell in and raise a family, presumably in freedom comfort not less than what an average American currently enjoys. The Republic of Plato and the Utopia of Thomas More were briefly described, and rejected on the grounds that neither comfort nor freedom were available in these imaginary commonwealths, nor could any responsible father condemn his children to live as cattle.

The ancient philosophers were not penning science fiction, that is, not even trying to propose a speculation, realistic or not, of what life in a better world would be like. They were describing (with what degree of sarcasm scholars to this day debate in doubt) the situation best suited for the government of men. Both Socrates the pagan sage and Thomas More the Christian saint saw man as a creature wretched due to vice and sin, and saw the instrument of the State is needed to chastise, correct and inspire the beast within us to domestication and obedience: hence their utopians were both as disciplined as a military camp, or a Spartan city.

Now we turn to the three generations that followed the birth of American science fiction, which, for convenience, I shall call the Golden Age, the New Wave, and the Crazy Years. For better or worse, the view of mankind changed dramatically. The ancients saw nature, including human nature, as fixed, and saw the main effort of man to be a struggle for virtue, particularly the virtues needed to domesticate our crooked inner natures and unwholesome desires. Since the Victorian Age, an age of naivety, the modern has seen nature, particularly human nature, as subject to a gradual but benevolent evolution, and hence the main effort of man to be a struggle to study, outwit, domesticate and command nature, either by technology or improvements in the social order.

With the view of man evolved to an evolutionary view, hence the prescription of in what form of commonwealth men should best live changed as well.

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Hoyt and the Redheaded Step Genre

Posted September 3, 2014 By John C Wright

Sarah Hoyt has a simply excellent meditation on her blog about her early love of science fiction (where I notice she is a fan of all the authors I love) about the narrowness of her teachers, and about the bitter and boring and petty narrowness of those who confuse ‘serious literature’ with good and deep and thoughtful literature.

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/09/03/the-redheaded-step-genre/

She is in rare form, and this column should be the rallying cry of all of you who love science fiction and who do not love the locusts coming to eat up the fruit of our imaginations ,nor the harpies coming to befoul our feasts.

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ONE BRIGHT STAR TO GUIDE THEM

Posted September 2, 2014 By John C Wright

This is a decades-old dream come true. It is unseemly for a writer to praise his own work, but, honestly, of all I have written this is the one novella I most wish I could have read, if a time machine lending library were available, when I was a youth.

For sale now. Here is the announcement  from my publisher:

One Bright Star To Guide Them

At long last, we are very pleased to announce the publication of ONE BRIGHT STAR TO GUIDE THEM by John C. Wright. It is a beautiful novella in which Mr. Wright once more proves himself to be the Master of the Final Word; in all my reading I have yet to discover an author who is more accomplished at writing elegant, perfectly-fitting endings that leave the reader in breathless awe. The novella is available in Kindle format for $2.99 at Amazon and in DRM-free EPUB format at Castalia House.

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Science Fiction now a Hate Crime

Posted September 2, 2014 By John C Wright

From the pen of Jerry Pournelle:

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/incarcerated-for-writing-a-science-fiction-novel/

Rage and grief prevent me from making any comment.

*

UPDATE: A reader named Vespers reports it may be a false alarm, thank God: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-teacher-was-not-placed-on-leave-over-books-authorities-say-20140902-story.html

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