The will to work the struggle of America

If ever anyone asks me what it means to salute the Stars and Stripes, this piece (starring actor Geoffrey Lewis) is how I respond.

Because It’s not about Republican or Democrat; these things are not America. It’s also not about a specific physical location; the American Experiment raises its banner in every part of the globe. Nor is it about conservatives or liberals, libertarians or progressives; these are merely labels for ideologies that morph over time, until they are almost unrecognizeable from one era to the next.

It’s about a single idea: that people are created free. And that this freedom is worth both blood and treasure; the necessary investments to ensure that liberty is not extinguished from the face of the earth.

“The will to work the struggle of America,” indeed.

Sweating. Pushing. Bleeding. Dust on our brows. Two steps forward, one step back. Warts and all.

Do you need your friends and relatives to be perfect, in order to love them?

No. You love them because they’re worth it.

That’s exactly how I feel about the United States.

Tyranny of the Safe

We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. — George Orwell

Here is a quick but very good piece. Read it, then come back here.

We must not allow ourselves to become a Tyranny of the Safe. You can have intellectual latitude, or you can have intellectual comfort. But you cannot have both. Larry Niven was 110% correct: there are minds which think as well as yours, just differently. Silence the other minds, and you will ultimately find you have silenced yourself. Because any rules you install today, are guaranteed to be abused by your opponents tomorrow. The mob you join in — to metaphorically encircle and burn the homes of the “wrong” people — will encircle and burn your home eventually. Commanded reverence — for an institution, an idea, or a demographic — begets simmering contempt. And the harder you push and punish, the more you use threats and pressure, the more obvious it is that your concepts cannot endure objective criticism.

This is no laughing matter. If we snuff out the Enlightenment, for the sake of protecting ourselves from hard truths, it might be a very costly fight — to right the foundering ship.

In the United States specifically, generations of men and women have sacrificed greatly so that our core liberties are protected. Vast sums of blood and treasure have been expended so that freedom remains the singular telos of the American enterprise. It’s not been a perfectly-steered course. Plenty of mistakes and unfortunate blunders along the way. I suspect we’re witnessing another series of such blunders in our present era — when too many children of comfort and ease, manufacture for themselves the “right” to never be exposed to anything which might upset them emotionally. Tolerance is therefore made to mock itself. Manners and decorum are twisted into one-way cudgels of conformity. A secular church of restricted words and concepts — replete with saints, sinners, a doctrine, an identitarian moral heirarchy, and an Inquisition — is attempting to establish itself in our hearts.

You know my answer to all of that.

Stay irreverent, my friends.

Emmanuel Goldstein is leaving the building

Approximately 20 years ago, my wife decided to run for school office at the little 2-year college where we were enrolled as students. Despite pulling a full class load and working full time — we both were — she was motivated to try to get involved in student politics, because she was sick and tired of how the bookstore was being run. Long story short: my wife won the office, and she did get the bookstore fixed. Some people still remember her for that, many years later. But the most remarkable thing to me was that my wife had haters. People who detested her. And these weren’t just a few people. These were a committed, organized set of really nasty haters from a satellite campus. Totally vindictive. They worked very hard to be complete dicks to her. She only wanted to help make a difference — which she did — but it didn’t stop people from reviling her.

Near as I can tell — even all these years later — these individuals felt like she had cut in on their turf. These were people who had previously regarded student politics as their arena, and when she sort of swept into things — an outsider on a mission — this really, really hacked some guys off. She hadn’t asked for the right permission. Or maybe she hadn’t kissed the right rings? Anyway, she left office when it was done, and while she was rightly proud of having made a difference, both of us remarked on how crazy it was that a student office job could garner so much political bile and rancor. This wasn’t even municipal stuff. Nor state government. It was a 2-year college. Maybe a few thousand people in the whole place, tops. But you’d think her name was Obama or Bush for how she got some people riled up!

I find myself remembering that episode of our lives together, as I slowly take off my Sad Puppies 3 sportcoat and hang it up in the closet.

Now, I can never retire from Sad Puppies in the public eye because the dedicated opponents of Sad Puppies won’t let me. But my period of active pugilism in what has been an eye-opening Hugo award season, is concluded. They might still kick at the dog, but can you really kick a mutt whose collar has been left empty on the chain?

I wanted to make some notes on this, just because I’ve got some observations about the whole thing. From the inside looking out. These are not pro or con Sad Puppies arguments. These aren’t about the Hugos. These are notes on the experience I’ve been through. One I volunteered for gladly.

1) It was surprising just how much like the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington the whole affair turned out to be. If you’re not familiar with the movie, watch it this week. It’s one of Jimmy Stewart’s more remarkable performances. I won’t spoil the outcome of the film for you, but I experienced some identifiable parallels to events that take place in the story.

2) No matter how much of a Nice Guy you actually are, or think you are — your friends swear by it, your family swears by it — once you step into the political arena, your opponents are going to tar and feather you. The stakes could be so low, they don’t exist. Small ball. The Hugos certainly qualify as small ball. Much smaller than a student body office. But if the people who’re opposing you believe you’re threatening their turf or their control or their egos or maybe they simply think your taste in ties sucks, they’re going to pull out all the stops to make sure the world knows what a cretin you are. My wife experienced the same thing. Now we have another experience shared in common.

3) Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and everything is a potential source for controversy, either real or invented. Which demonstrated to me exactly why real politicians never, ever apologize for anything. They don’t dare. You apologize for something — even a minor slip — and you’re toast. The opposition will swoop in and use your apology as an admission of guilt! You are every bit as terrible as they’ve been saying you are! This demoralizes your supporters, and gives the opposition free ammunition. You wind up finding yourself caught between trying to navigate as an ordinary person who enjoys the benefit of the doubt, and a political player who will never, ever be given the benefit of the doubt. I always wondered why no politician is eager to “be the bigger man” in our national U.S. elections. Like we always want them to be. And this is why. I found it both enlightening, and incredibly disheartening. No wonder national politics is a joke. The forces compelling our real politicians, are a thousand times more powerful than anything I dealt with. And they have party people pushing them hard.

4) The media — and the counter-media — see you as fodder for advancing their narratives. I’ve been talking to reporters and media people of various types for seven months. I was only ever interesting to anybody because I could help them tell the story they wanted to tell. Not the story I wanted to tell. The story I wanted to tell usually wound up on the cutting room floor. Now, in some cases — especially with the conservative counter-media — I didn’t mind too much. I agreed with what they were saying in most instances, and I was thankful for the coverage that helped me more than it hurt me. Because the negative coverage was plentiful, and too often I found myself offering the opposition-friendly press a pint of myself, for them to merely use a few drops; and then only if they felt it spun the way they wanted it too. Which was always against me and what I was fighting for.

5) To that end, the opposition-friendly media will lie about you. Now, I’ve seen this done to professional politicians and political people hundreds of times, on all sides, but you never quite get the full monty until you become the object of the lies. It’s a dizzying thing to discover yourself having become the object of provably false claims, but the era of the internet has allowed untruths to spread like kudzu. And you all know how hard it is to get rid of kudzu. Plant a cutting in May, and the shit has taken over your whole street by September. I am thankful for those few media voices who tried to set the record straight. But my faith in the media overall, is gone. And I don’t see it ever coming back. All I can think now is, “Good gravy, how much more terrible would it have gotten if I’d actually been campaigning for something of real importance?”

6) Not everyone who claims to be a friend, is a friend, and not everyone who seems like they might be an opponent, is an opponent. All the “fluff” friendships will dissolve on you, the instant the water gets hot. People hate being connected to people who are being made the object of anything controversial, because the controversy will spill over onto them; or they will disagree with your stances and use the controversy as an escape hatch to depart the relationship. Meanwhile, some “friends” use you for what they believe to be gains in their own arena of interest, which you may or may not have the same feeling for. As with the press, some people truly do have ulterior motives. I’ve said it several times — people are hard. Relationships are hard. People you thought were solid, turn. People you never intended to be drawn in, get drawn in anyway. People who seemed fine with being drawn in, decide its too uncomfortable, and bail out. Then turn. Of all the experiences I’ve had during Sad Puppies, this is the one that taught me the most about who I am, and who other people are. I consider myself wiser for the fact. Definitely there were some fuckups in here — both ways. And I am sad to have watched some relationships die. But I am also happy for some unexpected relationships which have also blossomed in seemingly the most uncompromising soil.

7) The point for some people, is to merely make you so frustrated or angry, that you say or do something rash, and then they’ve got you. I consider this to be an Alinsky Rule, from the “Rules for Radicals” playbook. But it’s a bipartisan practice. Push the other guy until he’s steamed, watch him do or say something dumb, and then ride out the event for all its worth. Milk it for damage! Of course, this is doubly true for anyone you’re in league with — even if you have little or nothing to do with the individual. If people believe you’re the same, then in their minds, you are the same. Protesting merely convinces them you’re trying to cover up. Again, more shades of Alinsky tactics. Of all the things I experienced, this is the one that really got me angry on numerous occasions. Because it was like drowning in quicksand. The more you thrash, the more you sink. And as noted above, apologies just make it worse, because apologies are instantly exploited for maximum damage. Which means “being the better man” is like drowning for the sake of decency.

8) Everybody is an armchair quarterback and everybody knows how you should be doing it better. Yup. Plenty of that to go around, especially since I — as the novice pol — was learning by doing. Frankly, I am surprised things didn’t go completely off the rails at any number of junctures. I am fortunate that the solid friends I do have, were there for me. I am also fortunate to have enjoyed some benefit of the doubt from the Honest Opposition, who were not committed to total personal destruction. Maybe those who paid attention can learn from my blunders? They will have to divine what they believe those blunders were. I know the mistakes I think I made, and the mistakes I think I made, aren’t always the mistakes other people think I made. And of course, the committed trolls think everything I do and say is always a mistake. See again: never being able to say you’re sorry.

9) Speaking of the trolls, there is no tactic too low that people who believe you must be finished at all costs, won’t stoop to it. Yup, saw plenty of this too. It didn’t matter that we’re only talking about a cashless prize with dwindling value in the marketplace. This was the Hugos! This was bloodsport! For those who regarded it as bloodsport, it became a take-no-prisoners affair. Which merely exacerbated many of the prior facets of the experience, especially the straining and breaking of friendships, trying to figure out how to navigate a world where there is no benefit of the doubt, and also trying to stay focused on your actual principled goals, while the trolls hurl red herring after red herring.

10) Doing this “part time” is not recommended. I have three careers. I did not realize in January I would be embarking upon a fourth career that would actually endanger the others; both literally and figuratively. But once I stuck my hand in the air and volunteered, I was in for a penny, in for a pound, and I am not the kind of guy who quits just because things get hard. In fact, you might say I am the kind of guy who thinks, if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. And running Sad Puppies 3 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life! It’s also one of the things that’s taught me the most about myself — Brad, the guy inside — and what I really believe, what I really stand for, and what I am able to stand up under, when things get uncomfortable. To include all my own mistakes.

11) Nothing worth doing, is ever done without a toll. I’ve paid out a lot in this thing. My friends — the real friends, who have been my shoulders of support in this — know the gritty details. My only recommendation for anyone looking at this and moving forward on their own potentially political road, is to be sure you understand clearly what your principles are when you start out. Because there will come many instances when you are bleeding and people are turning on you all over the place, and you are wondering why, and you will need to remind yourself of the “what” — the reason for the whole damned thing in the first place — and you will need to be sure. If you can’t be sure, you’re going to be paying out for nothing. I would not recommend paying this kind of toll for nothing.

12) You can’t control the fact that you have enemies, you can only try to make sure that they are the right enemies for the right reasons. I remember when my wife came home, bewildered, that afternoon when she first realized just how bad the opponents on campus had gotten. She couldn’t understand it. She wasn’t a threat to them at all. Or so she thought. But it didn’t matter how much she tried to mend fences or make offerings of olive branches, the enemy hated her guts. All she could do was push forward and focus on why she’d gotten into student office to begin with, and she succeeded handsomely. I do hope that of the committed enemies I’ve made — the men and women who now make it their business to spite me personally — that the dividing line between them and me, is values. It’s pretty evident that a wide gulf seperates me from the opposition; on perceived objectives. There was an Honest Opposition, because not everyone on the opposition side became an actual enemy. Only some did. And of those who did, I think it’s because my values so utterly clashed with the values of my enemies (and vice versa) that the matter was irreconcilable.

Nothing more need be said

From first-time Worldcon attendee Michael A. Rothman, who brought his boys along to see what Worldcon and “Fandom” was all about.

See his original Facebook comment here.

I took my kids to WorldCon to expose them to Fandom and I’ve consciously shielded them from any of the politics of the kerfuffle associated with the literary “sides” that were in play.

When we attended, we had good seats and they were excited to see if some of their choices would make it.

Let’s just say that my boys ended up being exposed to some of their categories being utterly eradicated from eligibility due to this thing that I’d shielded them from.

They couldn’t understand why their short story choice evaporated into something called “NO AWARD.”

As I briefly explained, the audience was cheering because of that decision and the MC made a point of saying that cheering was appropriate and boos were not.

My kids were shocked.

Shocked not by not winning but by having an entire category’s rug being pulled out from under it and then having all the adults (many of which were old enough to be their grandparents) cheering for something my kids looked at as an unfair tragedy.

I’ll admit to having feared this outcome – yet this was my children’s introduction to Fandom.

We are driving home and they are of the opinion that they aren’t particularly interested in this “Fandom” thing.

I find that a great shame – and I blame not the people who established the ballots to vote for (for my kids enjoyed a great deal of what they read on the ballots), but as my kids noted – they blame the ones who made them feel “like the rug was pulled out from under me.”

I’d offered Fandom my boys – my boys now reject them.

And yes, the picture below is just before us walking to the Hugo ceremonies. They’re excited about it all. I just find it a pity that they didn’t feel anything other than bewilderment and bitterness toward the people in the auditorium after the ceremonies.

Science fiction’s so-called True Fandom throws women under the bus

Toni Weisskopf got 1,216 first-line #1 votes. Arguably the most of any editor in the history of the Hugo awards.

Sheila Gilbert got 754 first-line #1 votes. Again, second only to Toni, arguably the most of any editor in the history of the Hugo awards.

By contrast, Patrick-Nielsen Hayden won a Best Editor Hugo in 2010, with just 140 first-line #1 votes.

2011 saw Lou Anders take a trophy with 207 first-line #1 votes.

2013 gave yet another trophy to Patrick Nieslen-Hayden with 209 first-line #1 votes.

Now, because of the way the Australian ballot works, the person with the most first-line #1 votes is not always the winner. But that’s usually the way to bet. Whoever gets the most first-line #1 votes is almost always the winner.

Except for this year.

I would like this noted somewhere that a biased media hack or a vengeful troll can’t blot it out: 2,500 people from science fiction’s so-called True Fandom throws women under the bus.

Toni and Sheila are the two most-voted editors in the history of their category. Nobody has ever gotten 1,200+ and 700+ Best Editor votes, respectively. Not for short form. Not for long form. That’s historic. A win for women! Right? Wait, no. Its not. True Fandom ruined it with NO AWARD. Yup. The tolerant and inclusive True Fandom. The people who want science fiction to be a safe place for women. Until True Fandom throws those women under the bus.

Mark it in your minds, friends. Remember it. Know the truth of it. The people who parade their inclusiveness and their tolerance, threw THE MOST-TANGIBLY-SUPPORTED EDITORS IN THE HISTORY OF THE HUGO AWARDS, under the bus. By 2,500 people. To make a point. Women who have given decades to the business, got thrown beneath the wheels because people wanted to be right more than they love this field.

Deserving women. Under the bus. By True Fandom. The defenders of Hugo awards purity. Paragons of tolerance. Brave defenders of diversity. They threw women. Under the bus. Wheels. Under. By Trufen.

They cheered when it happened. They CHEERED when Toni and Sheila went beneath the bus.

Not that this is new. Remember what they did to Jean Rabe? I do.

Women. Under. Bus.

A democracy is only as good as its numbers

Michael Rapoport — from the Wall Street Journal — contacted me to ask me if I would be willing to offer any immediate thoughts on the results of the 2015 Hugo awards, which are being given out in Spokane tomorrow. Because I don’t know how much of anything I say to the media will ever actually make it to print, I wanted to put here what I essentially told Michael:

I am 10 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast. I am also working 12-hour afternoon-through-evening duty shifts. the Hugos will be announced when I am off-duty, and asleep in my trailer. I won’t know the results until long after the fact.

Because people will be gloating and/or gnashing their teeth (alternately) I’ve not been much inclined to make any after-the-fact statements. My “job” with this thing, finished the minute the door shut on the voting.

But I want to re-emphasize something I told WIRED magazine’s Amy Wallace: it doesn’t necessarily matter who wins or loses a Hugo award this year, as much as it matters that participation keeps increasing.

This year there were a record number of memberships, and a record number of ballots cast. This is very, very good. A democracy (any democracy) is only as worthwhile as those who keep their end up by actively participating. Past Hugo voting has tended to be remarkably anemic. Sad Puppies has changed this significantly — for two years running. If the participation (beyond 2015) declines, the Hugos are diminished. If participation grows, the Hugos mean more. That’s the real bottom line (in my book) and it goes way beyond which “side” can construct victory narratives.

So, that’s my statement.

Speaking personally, I am definitely rooting for people to take home trophies. Especially some of my professional associates who have labored long and hard in this industry for many, many years, and who finally got their shot at the award because more fans decided to put their money where their mouths were. I can’t guarantee any of those pros will win. But then, that’s been part of what makes this year so interesting: all bets are off. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. It’s a huge point of speculation.

Not knowing what will happen, is also very healthy in a democracy. It encourages people to keep having their say, because they believe their voices will count.

I’d like to think this will become a feature of the Hugos — the unknown! — for years to come. Hidden Gems feature: The Chaplain’s War

My BAEN BOOKS novel The Chaplain’s War is now on sale through’s Hidden Gem’s weekly feature. Ordinarily $24.95, the book is on sale through August 6 for one astoundingly low price. Click below to get your audiobook copy while this special lasts. It’s a steal!

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Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of the book:

• • •

I was putting fresh oil into clay lamps at the altar when the mantis glided into my foyer. The creature stopped for a moment, his antennae dancing in the air, sensing the few parishioners who sat on my roughly-hewn stone pews. I hadn’t seen a mantis in a long time—the aliens didn’t bother with humans much, now that we were shut safely behind their Wall. Like all the rest of his kind, this mantis’s lower thorax was submerged into the biomechanical “saddle” of his floating mobility disc. Only, this one’s disc didn’t appear to have any apertures for weapons—a true rarity on Purgatory.

Every human head in the building turned towards the visitor, each set of human eyes smoldering with a familiar, tired hate.

“I would speak to the Holy Man,” said the mantis through the speaker box on its disc. Its fearsome, segmented beak had not moved. The disc and all the machines within it were controlled directly by the alien’s brain.

When nobody got up to leave, the mantis began floating up my chapel’s central aisle, the mantis’s disc making a gentle humming sound. “Alone,” said the visitor, his vocoded voice approximating a commanding human tone.

Heads and eyes turned to me. I looked at the mantis, considered my options, then bowed to my flock, who reluctantly began to leave—each worshipper collecting handfuls of beads, crosses, stars, serviceman’s bibles, and various other religious items. They exited without saying a word. What else could they do? The mantes ruled Purgatory as surely as Lucifer ruled Hell.

I waited at the altar.

“You are the religious officer?” said the mantis.

“The Chaplain is dead. I am—was—his assistant.”

“We must speak, you and I.”

Again, I noted the mantis’s lack of armament.

“What can I do for you?” I said.

“I wish to understand this entity you call God.”

I stared at the alien, not quite sure if I should take him seriously.

“To understand God,” I said slowly, “is a skill that requires ongoing mastery.”

“Which is why the other humans come here, to this structure. To learn from you.”

I blushed slightly. In the year since I’d built the chapel—some two years after our failed invasion and subsequent capture—I’d not given so much as a single sermon. Preaching wasn’t my thing. I built the chapel because the Chaplain told me to before he died, and because it seemed obvious that many humans on Purgatory—men and women who had landed here, fought, been stranded and eventually imprisoned—needed it. With the fleets from Sol departed, and our homes many thousands of light-years away, there wasn’t much left for some of us to turn to—except Him.

“I don’t teach,” I said, measuring my words against the quiet fear in my heart, “but I do provide a space for those who come to listen.”
“You are being deliberately cryptic,” the mantis accused.

“I mean no offense,” I continued, hating the servile tinge in my own voice as I spoke to the beast, “it’s just that I was never trained as an instructor of worship. Like I said when you asked, I am only the assistant.”

“Then what do the humans here listen to, precisely?”

“The spirit,” I said.

The mantis’s beak yawned wide, its serrated tractor teeth vibrating with visible annoyance. I stared into that mouth of death—remembering how many troops had been slaughtered in jaws like those—and felt myself go cold. The Chaplain had often called the mantes soulless. At the time—before the landing—I’d thought he was speaking metaphorically. But looking at the monster in front of me I remembered the Chaplain’s declaration, and found it apt.

“Spirit,” said the mantis. “Twice before has my kind encountered this perplexing concept.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Two other sapients, one of them avian and the other amphibian.”

Other aliens . . . besides the mantes? “And what could they tell you about God?”

“Gods,” my visitor corrected me. “We destroyed both species before we could collect much data on their beliefs.”

“Destroyed,” I said, hoping the alien’s ears couldn’t detect the shaking dread in my voice.

“Yes. Hundreds of your years ago, during the Great Nest’s Third Expansion into the galaxy. We thought ourselves alone, then. We had no experience with alternative intelligence. The homeworld of the avians and the homeworld of the amphibians were pleasing to the Patriarchal Quorum, so those worlds were annexed, cleansed of competitive life forms, and have since become major population centers for my people.”

I took in this information as best as I could, unsure if any human ears had ever heard anything like it. I thought of the Military Intelligence guys—all dead—who would have given their years’ pay to gain the kind of information I had just gained, standing here in the drafty, ramshackle confines of my makeshift church.

I experienced a sudden leap of intuition.

“You’re not a soldier,” I said.

The mantis’s beak snapped shut.

“Certainly not.”

“What are you then, a scientist?”

The mantis seemed to contemplate this word—however it had translated for the alien’s mind—and he waved a spiked forelimb in my direction.

“The best human term is professor. I research and I teach.”

“I see,” I said, suddenly fascinated to be meeting the first mantis I’d ever seen who was not, explicitly, trained to kill. “So you’re here to research human religion.”

“Not just human religion,” said the mantis, hovering closer. “I want to know about this . . . this spirit that you speak of. Is it God?”

“I guess so, but also kind of not. The spirit is . . . what you feel inside you when you know God is paying attention.”

It was a clumsy explanation, one the Chaplain would have—no doubt—chastised me for. I’d never been much good at putting these kinds of concepts into words that helped me understand, much less helped other people understand too. And trying to explain God and the spirit to this insect felt a lot like explaining the beauty of orchestral music to a lawnmower.

The professor’s two serrated forelimbs stroked the front of his disc thoughtfully.

“What do the mantes believe?” I asked.

The professor’s forelimbs froze. “Nothing,” he said.


“We detect neither a spirit nor a God,” said the professor, who made a second jaw-gaped show of annoyance. “The avians and the amphibians, they each built palaces to their Gods. Whole continents and oceans mobilized in warfare, to determine which God was superior. Before we came and wiped them all out, down to the last chick and tadpole. Now, their flying Gods and their swimming Gods are recorded in the Quorum Archive, and I am left to wander here—to this desert of a planet—to quiz you, who are not even trained to give me the answers I seek.”

The professor’s body language showed that his annoyance verged on anger, and I felt myself pressing my calves and the backs of my thighs into the altar, ready for the lightning blow that would sever a carotid or split my stomach open. I’d seen so many die that way, their attackers reveling in the carnage. However technologically advanced the mantes were, they still retained a degree of predatory-hindbrain joy while engaged in combat.
Noticing my alarm, the professor floated backwards half a meter.

“Forgive me,” said the alien. “I came here today seeking answers from what I had hoped would be a somewhat reliable source. It is not your fault that the eldest of the Quorum destroy things before they can learn from them. My time with you is finite, and I am impatient to learn as much as possible before the end.”
“You have to leave . . . ?” I said, half-questioning.

The professor didn’t say anything for several seconds, letting the silence speak for him. My shoulders and back caved, if only a little.
“How many of the rest of us will die?” I asked, swallowing hard.

“All,” said the professor.

“All?” I said, at once sure of the answer, but still needing to ask again anyway.

“Yes, all,” said the professor. “When I got word that the Quorum had ordered this colony cleansed of competitive life forms—prior to the dispatching of the Fourth Expansion towards your other worlds—I knew that I had a very narrow window. I must study this faith that inhabits you humans. Before it is too late.”

“We’re no threat to you now,” I heard myself say with hollow shock, “all of us on Purgatory, we’ve all been disarmed and you’ve made it plain that we can’t hurt you. The Wall sees to that.”

“I will return tomorrow, to study your other visitors in their worship,” said the alien as his disc spun on its vertical axis, and he began to hover towards the exit.

“We’re not a threat—!”

But my shouting was for naught. The professor was gone.

• • •

The (star!) road ahead

Yup, still deployed. Will be through Spring next year. Yup, still largely off the social media radar as a result. Just occasionally popping my head up now and again, with decreasing frequency. Which is a blessing in disguise, because it forces me to work on things that are both more important and more pressing, than who is shouting at who on the intarwebz.

The cosmetic revamp continues. I will keep fiddling with things, as connectivity and time permit. Until I settle on something that feels right. It’s been my habit to re-do my web look annually, but as one reviewer noted, we’re also dealing with “branding” issues, and this includes the artwork for my covers. So, it’s a slow process. Thanks again to everybody for the ongoing feedback. Especially since I switched my WordPress theme from Twenty Ten, to Twenty Eleven. Similar, but also different.

During the “remodel” I’ve been thinking back to when I first set up this blog. 2009 isn’t so far away. And yet, 2009 also seems like an eternity ago. Seven years (on the internet) is practically an epoch! My very first post was regarding my initial Finalist story, with the L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. I hadn’t published a single professional word at that point. Being a first-time Finalist was as close as I’d ever come to scoring. Wow. That was exciting! After so many years of rejection letters and disappointment, I was within striking distance.

Which meant being double-plus crushed a few months later, when I found out that my novelette “Outbound” didn’t make it. Damn, was that ever a bummer. The toughest rejection I ever got in my whole life. I sat at the kitchen table and sort of stared off into space, thinking, this is the best thing I’ve ever written to date, and I know it, and it couldn’t even win in a contest where the competition is with other aspiring writers!

How was I ever going to cut it in the big leagues?

Thankfully, I got my answer in January 2010. Analog magazine said, “Yes, we want this,” just 60 days after Writers of the Future told me I’d won, for a different story.

“Outbound” ran in September 2010. It was a hit with readers, none of whom knew me from Adam at that point. I’ve since had a few other hits with Analog. Enough to establish myself as one of that venerable magazine’s top new names, for the new century.

I’m immensely proud of that. More than I can sufficiently say. Because Analog is the cauldron of creation where so many amazing and spectacular names in this field, have first come forth. To include personal heroes like Orson Scott Card. As well as current top professionals like George R. R. Martin. Analog has been home to Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Robert A. Heinlein. Also: Lois McMaster Bujold, Vernor Vinge, Robert J. Sawyer, Frank Herbert, and so many others. In fact, the wikipedia entry lists several dozen notable names of both past and present. I am humbled enormously to see my name tucked away to the side, on that roster. And immensely gratified.

Of course, my track record with Analog (as well as Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show) got me the attention of Toni Weisskopf, at Baen Books. Who would eventually publish my “fix up” book, The Chaplain’s War, which was assmebled and expanded from the bones of two stories which had appeared in Analog.

To frame all of this so that you can understand, it’s a bit like being Charlie from Willy Wonka. One day I am an often-rejected, some would even say failed writer, who’s never managed to do much of anything worthwhile despite years and years of fruitless effort, and the next . . . it’s golden ticket time! Holy crap, sometimes dreams really do come true!

Now, of course, there is the question: what next? What about the seven years ahead? What’s happening between now, and 2022?

I can tell you that Baen has contracted me for the first book in what I am calling my Star-Wheeled trilogy. The launch novel, A Star-Wheeled Sky, is in a seperate universe from the Chaplain’s stories, and focuses on a future human civilization which finds itself at a critical juncture. Restricted for many hundreds of years to a relatively small region of the galaxy, there is finally the potential for first contact with an actual living alien race of unknown origin or power. The various nations of human space will each be in a mad rush to exploit this discovery. They’ve been at war with each other for a long time, dividing and re-dividing the limited worlds of humanity during a slow spiral toward civilizational cataclysm. All three books deal with this initial premise, and I’ve been writing portions of them for months. The first draft of the first book is a bit overdue, so I am going to be focusing entirely on that for the next month, to be sure Toni gets it well before Labor Day. Then? Completion of the remaining two.

Assuming all goes well with the Star-Wheeled books, I will try my hand at alternative history epic fantasy, with a trilogy I am planning (and which Baen has shown a lot of interest in) called Norse America. The setup is like this. The pantheons of the various peoples of Earth are real. Magic is also real, albeit dangerous and not necessarily well understood. The Viking settlers who’ve established themselves in Vinland around the year 1000 find themselves being pushed out by a relentless march of Frost Giants, coming down from the arctic. Retreat to Iceland has been made impossible. Leif Erikson and his heirs — along with perhaps a thousand Viking warriors — must flee to the Chesapeake Bay, where they encounter the remnants of the mound-building civilizations who have been pushed out of the Ohio region by a terrible threat coming up from the Southwest. The gods of the mound-builders and the Norse gods of the refugee Vikings know this is the time for a last-ditch alliance, through their respective peoples. Blood and traditions mingle. But the threat from the Southwest only grows stronger. The Frost Giants are still coming. And the shamans tell of visions of a third, perhaps still greater danger: men in boats from across the ocean, which has remained closed to Viking longships because of sea monsters and cursed storms. The invaders are seeking treasure as well as glory. It’s conquistador muskets against Ulfberht swords! Political alliances being forged, tested, and shattered. Family dynasties born, destroyed, and born again. The one god comes to drive out the many gods. And the chosen sons and daughters of a hybrid nation will rise to claim their destiny, as defenders of their civilization — or see it all burn in bitter defeat.

So, those are the major projects. I’d say they will keep me busy until mid 2017, at least?

Of course, that’s not everything. I’ve also got some collaborations in the works — for both stories, as well as books — in addition to new manuscripts and story ideas I want to pitch at Analog, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and other venues. Including a planned Monster Hunter International story which I’ve already agreed to do for a book being put together by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Larry Correia.

Which doesn’t mention the extant stories soon to hit print! Including a story for an anthology inspired by the songs of the prog rock band, RUSH, being assembled and edited by Kevin J. Anderson.

So, that’s all of this year, all of next, and much of the following year. Beyond that? I want to get back to my nascent Emancipated Worlds project, which has been in stasis since 2011. I’ve got ideas for an additional space opera type trilogy, as well as an original swords-and-magic fantasy trilogy, plus the brewing seeds of at least two or three dozen other items which may evolve into either novelettes, novellas, or full-blown books. Including sequels to popular stories like “Outbound” and “Ray of Light.”

If the time between 1993 and 2009 was a desert, the time since has been a green field of trees, fruit, and honey. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do things with my imagination which I only dreamed about 20 years ago, when I was still trying to get my feet under me — as an aspiring writer. The long proto-professional drought (seventeen years?) taught me to appreciate the good stuff, when it finally came. I don’t think I’d have the right perspective, had publication and success come quickly or easily.

I had to work for the shit. You know?

But it’s been worth it. And in many ways, I feel like I am just getting started!

I want to borrow something Geoffrey Lewis said so well, when asked (in story form) what the most pleasurable experience in his life has been.

What’s the best book or story I’ve ever done?

“The best one, is the next one.”

Love one another, it’s the only way: Part 2

As noted last time, I am mostly out of the loop while overseas. Honestly, it’s a remarkable thing to be witnessing the American news cycle from a distance. Kinda surreal, to tell the truth. I don’t feel quite so immersed in the never-ending shouting, like I do when I am at home. And that’s been a relief.

Still, some things penetrate. And because the news of the past week is germane to a prior discussion, I wanted to put a few thoughts out there.

(NOTE: These are my opinions, just for me; take ’em or leave ’em. Others will have their own. I am not sure mine matter all that much, in the grand scheme of things. But here goes . . .)

If the base fear of religious conservatives is that gays and lesbians are “destroying” marriage, how can gays and lesbians destroy a thing which America’s straight couples have been actively destroying for a century?

Think about it. And let’s be brutally honest.

Rampant divorce.
Rampant infidelity.
Rampant abuse of spouses and children.

I don’t think those are the legacy of a people who collectively believe marriage to be sacred.

If I feel anything on the issue of marriage, I feel that marriage (by Americans) has been thrown into the mud and trampled upon. We did that. All of us. And now that gays and lesbians have picked it up out of the mud and said, “We would like to have this wonderful thing,” religious conservatives want to snatch it away and yell, “You can’t have that, it’s our most favorite thing ever!”

Oh really? Then why have we been treating marriage like garbage for so many decades? Because we have. As a society. With our collective actions, we decided marriage wasn’t important anymore. Long, long before the issue of gay marriage got to the Supreme Court.

And now that marriage is important to somebody — gays and lesbians — we try to keep it away from them?

I can’t wrap my brain around that. Too much cognitive dissonance.

The Supreme Court has swept away an inequality. Well, and good. I’ve thought this outcome inevitable for probably ten years now. Just because of the trajectory of the legal wrangling.

Does that mean I, as a person of conservative religious belief, have to cheer and applaud a thing which my religious doctrine says is wrong? Nope. But then, not every wrong thing in the world has to be barred legally. Like I’ve said before, freedom of choice is a bedrock principle of my LDS faith. And while I am not an authority — nor do I claim any ability to speak for any Mormon other than me — I do think choice is a huge part of these very divisive and contested political fights over the rights of other people.

Because the choices other people make, sometimes offend us terribly.

This past week, it seems to me that the Supreme Court decided in favor of more rights. More freedom. More choice.

I think that’s the way it should be. Even if my church doctrine believes also that the exercising of these freedoms (gay marriage) is against the plan of God.

Again, not every wrong thing must be legally barred. There are some pretty nasty guys over in Syria and Iraq right now who think every wrong thing (by their lights) should not only be legally barred, but people found violating the law should be burned, drowned, beheaded, and worse. In their desire to do a right thing (again, by their lights) they have fostered and fomented evil the likes of which we — as Americans — can barely imagine. Barbarity and bloodshed and the iron fist of true tyranny. That’s not what God wants. That’s not why Christ said what He said in His ministry on this Earth, and it’s not what the Atonement is about either.

The men of the so-called Caliphate have arrogated to themselves the seat of holy judgment. And they inflict heinousness in God’s name.

The men and women of the United States Supreme Court might also be accused of arrogating to themselves the seat of judgment, but in this particular instance, they have come down on the side of liberty.

I want to think that liberty — our ability to choose — is still the most important thing that sets America and Americans apart, from other nations and peoples in the world. Even if that liberty makes us highly uncomfortable, or we believe this liberty permits wrong-doing in the eyes of the Lord. We crossed the bridge of pluralism when the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution of the United States, were forged. It’s not been an error-free path. Nor was the creation of the nation error-free. We almost destroyed ourselves in a Civil War that ultimately corrected the most egregious error. And the echoes of that error haunt our society up to the very minute.

Now, I believe another error has been corrected.

And again, neither you nor I nor any other religious conservative has to be thrilled about it. Compulsory celebration of sin — or the perceived expectation of same — is grating on many, and causing some very unhappy commentary. I get it. I really do. Nobody should be forced to violate his or her conscience by putting on a party hat for what we believe to be wrong.

But let’s not get wrapped up in negativity. Seriously. Not about this. Not about what the government says. The government’s job has been and always should be, to expand and defend liberty. The government just did its job. Believe it, or not.

Our job — all of us, and I am including progressive intellectuals too — is to find ways to be sowers of good seed among ourselves. To not be tempted into vindictiveness or hatred. To not inflict ourselves on each other, as a way to try to exorcise whatever negative feelings we have inside of us.

The most difficult part about being a religious conservative in a society which makes liberty paramount, is learning to get along with people who not only violate what religious conservatives see as God’s law, but getting along with people who think the law (and sometimes God with it) don’t even exist.

Likewise, the most difficult part about being a progressive intellectual in a society which makes liberty paramount, is learning to get along with people who not only don’t share the same standards and values, but who often think progressive standards and values are morally wrong, or lacking any moral fiber whatsoever.

That’s a mind-bending and difficult path. But that’s the spiral up. Blood, sweat, and tears. Not everyone is going to walk it. Many people will actively fight walking it — on both sides. But I think that’s the only choice that leads to net positive dividends for all concerned. One step at a time. The spiral up. And it starts at home. With our wives and our husbands, our children, our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and it moves outward from there. Neighbors. Coworkers. Friends. People we meet in our daily business. The lives we can touch in small ways, with quiet acts of charity, kindness, and mercy.

Not the blaring “Look at me! Look at me!” self-referential, vain pablum of social media.

I’m talking about the concrete, real-world stuff that nobody will see or notice: except those who experience the connectedness of a kind act, done out of kindness, with no expectation of recompense.

As I have loved you, love one another. That’s the Christ-like ideal. I think we express it best by tending to the gardens in our own back yards. And I don’t mean literal gardens. I mean spiritual and emotional gardens. Many of which are neglected and overgrown with the weeds of bitterness, rancor, resentment, and worse. I’ve got a garden like that. And I suspect, so do many of the people reading this. We all have to be responsible for our own gardens. And I don’t say that because I think my garden is perfect. Nope. I go to church every Sunday — yes, even when I am thousands of miles away from home — to be reminded of the fact that my garden is choked with weeds. And that weeding is a never-ending chore that I can’t escape. At least not if I want to be serious about my beliefs as a Christian.

I think mindful gardening and diligent weeding are chores secular progressives can embrace too. Dare I even say that some of the most mindful and diligent gardeners I know, are secular? Or at least not of my particular faith tradition?

It’s tempting to look at people — the world around us — and throw up our hands, declaring, “It’s all gone to crap!” So much wrong. So many people who seem dead-set on doing wrong.

What we do next, is a matter of deliberate choice. For our own personal lives. How we respond to the wrong. Not only the wrong we see outside of ourselves, but the wrong inside of us too. Focusing forever on the wrong outside, and ignoring the wrong inside — or acting like it doesn’t exist — won’t combat the weeds. It will allow the weeds to completely take over. Weeding is about tending to ourselves, and our own sphere. The people we touch every day. The ones around us who actually matter. That’s where the energy can bring forth good fruit. That’s where the “win” is. Not what goes on somewhere else, or what’s said in the news cycle. You can’t fix or control that stuff. You, in your office or living room, have no power to “fix” at the macro scale. And you will exhaust yourself fretting over the macro.

But you do have the power to “fix” at the personal level. I think that’s what gets lost in the never-ending carnival of arguments. We ignore the personal level, obsess about the macro level, and nothing worthwhile gets done. The weeds win.

Go back to gardening in your own back yard — daily — and you get the good stuff. It might not seem like it has a macro impact. But if everybody is a back-yard gardener, and everybody works at it, there will be a macro effect. That’s something I’ve always taken away from my scripture reading and other spiritual pondering. The idea that each of us individually doing small works of kindness, love, and forgiveness, can add up to a huge net dividend for the society as a whole.

This includes marriage. Do we want to put our money where our mouths are? How much time and energy are we devoting to our families and our homes? Shouting about marriage in the macro sense, while neglecting or abusing marriage on a personal level, is pointless. We prove we care about marriage when we put our wives and our husbands and our children first. Not last. First. And again, it doesn’t matter what the government does (or doesn’t do) about it. This is between us, and the Lord. He will judge us. Not the government. Not society. Not activists. God. How willing would any of us be to go before God right this minute, and give an account of our stewardship of our relationships with our spouses and our families? How much gardening have we done in that respect? Are we prepared to get called on the carpet? Do our choices and our actions live up to our rhetoric, as “defenders” of the “sacred institution” of marriage? Have we made it sacred every day? Do we show our wives and our husbands and our families forgiveness, compassion, love, and support?

Because that’s where my mind goes. And I think I am way too occupied trying to tend to my own garden — Weeds! Damned weeds, everywhere! — to get overly concerned with peering over the fence at somebody else’s.