Wednesday double-barreled book BOMB!

WEDNESDAY MORNING DOUBLE-BARREL BOOK BOMB! My friend and colleague Larry Correia has been kind enough to double-promote Tuesday’s releases of A STAR WHEELED SKY and Dan Willis’s IN PLAIN SIGHT. Please, please, please, share wide and far! Dan’s noir urban fantasy is only 99 cents on Kindle right now. It’s a steal! And there is a paperback to boot. (I have three paperbacks on order myself, in addition to the Kindle download.) I will vouch for Dan, as one of Utah’s veteran authors, and a great guy as a person. You cannot go wrong putting down dollars on both books for the holidays!

Dan Willis’s In Plain Sight for Amazon Kindle, or also Trade Paperback.

. . . “Here you are at last, dear boy,” Doctor Ignatius Bell said, shutting the flimsy paperback book he’d been reading. “I was beginning to think I’d have to send out a search party.”
     Alex laughed and sat down in the chair next to Bell, setting his hat on the ottoman.
      “Not to worry, Iggy,” Alex said with a grin. “I had to make a stop at the Mission.” Alex had dubbed Bell “Iggy” during their first year together and the name just stuck. Bell didn’t particularly like it, but he seemed to take it as a sign of affection from Alex, so he tolerated it.
      “Yes, your secretary informed me thus when I called.”
     There was a note of irritation in Iggy’s voice and Alex flinched.
      “I should have called,” he admitted, taking out another of Burt’s cigarettes and lighting it. “Did I ruin dinner?”
     Ever since Iggy let Alex run his own cases, Alex had been paying rent to bunk at the brownstone. Iggy hadn’t insisted, but Alex needed to pay his way. He did, however, let Iggy cook for the both of them. Iggy had learned to cook in the navy and it had become a serious hobby for him ever since.
      “I made a quiche,” Iggy said, puffing on his cigar. “It was delicate, light as air, and delicious.”
      “What’s a quiche?”
     Iggy sighed and put his hand to his forehead as if it suddenly hurt.
      “I think your fellow uncultured Americans would call it a bacon pie.”
     Alex perked up at that. He hadn’t eaten anything since the poached eggs Mary cooked him.
      “I left you some on the table under a cover,” Iggy said.
     Alex put his hands on the chair’s arms but before he could rise, Iggy spoke again.
      “How did it go today?” he said, opening his book again. “It must have gone well if you can afford cigarettes again.”
     Alex stifled a sigh and leaned back in his chair. Apparently Iggy wanted his pound of flesh for Alex’s lack of judgment. The Brits really loved their social rules.
      “Funny story about the cigarettes,” he said, then launched into a detailed description of his day. For the most part, Iggy just listened quietly, commenting when he wanted clarification on any certain point.
      “So,” he said when Alex finished. “Father Harry wants to see you in private on Saturday.” He puffed his cigar for a moment before adding, “Ominous.”
     Alex laughed. Father Harry was many things, but mysterious wasn’t one of them. The man was an open book.
      “He probably just wants me to do some rune work for him and doesn’t want to talk about it in front of the sisters. You know what a gossip Sister Gwen is.”
     Iggy nodded, staring into the fire.
      “I’m sure you’re right,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced. “In any case, I’ll wager you’re hungry.”
     Alex stood and picked up his hat.
      “Oh, Father Harry even paid me for my work.” Alex fished the five-dollar bill out of his pocket and held it up.
      “You should probably put that in the safe,” Iggy said before returning to his book.
     Turning toward the hearth, Alex approached the bookcase on the left. About six feet off the floor, just high enough that Alex had to reach up to get it, stood a thick book bound in green leather. Unlike the other books on the shelf, this one tried very hard not to be noticed. The rune that shielded it was so powerful that it bled over onto the books on either side, a volume of Shakespeare’s poetry on the right and a large, thin book bound in red leather on the left.
     Alex took down the green book and opened it. The center of each page had been painstakingly cut out with a razor blade, then painted with varnish to make them all one solid piece. From the outside, the book appeared perfectly normal, but once opened, it had a hollow well inside, large enough to hide three of Iggy’s pulp novels. Alex withdrew a small stack of cash held together by a paper clip. He added the fiver to it, then retuned the clip and re-shelved the book. This was Alex’s emergency stash, money that not even Leslie knew about. Any time he had off-the-books cash, it went into the safe. Iggy said it was an important habit to develop.
     Iggy had lived through the big war and several bank runs in his home country. Alex never doubted that the man mistrusted banks. He was also sure that Iggy had his own safe somewhere in the house, under the floorboards in his room, or maybe behind some loose bricks in the basement. It never tempted him. Alex made his own way in the world and he never took what wasn’t his just because he could. Still, the idea of it made him want to go looking, just to see if he could find his way through the runes that kept it hidden.
     Of course, it was more likely that it was here in the library, in a book or a series of them, just like Alex’s.
     Always hide things in plain sight, Iggy told him. No one thinks to look there; they always think you’re trying to be clever.
      “Good night, Iggy,” Alex said but the doctor had bent over his novel again and seemed oblivious.
     Alex ate his bacon pie in the kitchen. For something with a girly name like quiche, it was really quite good. After he finished, he washed his plate, fork, and glass in the sink, then set them aside to dry. He thought about opening his magic vault and replenishing his rune book, but he just didn’t have the energy. He was tired. He’d had a full day, but it wasn’t full the way he wanted it to be. The police job had started out great, but now Danny and Callahan would lie in wait and catch the murderers red-handed. It was open and shut with nothing more for him to do but pick up his check. Not that he minded that part, but he wanted to feel more useful. He wanted a case that would be hard to solve, one he could make his name with. If Leslie got him one more job finding a lost dog or a cheating husband, he’d pack it in and hawk Barrier Runes on rainy street corners.
     Not really, of course, but it had been a long day and Alex wanted to indulge in a few minutes of self-pity.

     His room was on the third floor, above Iggy’s. It was small and modest with just the bare essentials; a bed, a desk, a wing-back chair, a nightstand, and a dresser. A narrow door led to a tiny bathroom with a toilet, sink, and stand-up shower. A telephone and a bottle of bourbon with a glass stood on the nightstand, and Alex poured himself a slug, then stripped down. He hung up his jacket and threw his trousers over the back of the wing-back chair. His barrier rune only kept falling rain from hitting him. It did nothing about puddles, so his shoes were soaked. He’d have to oil the leather to keep it supple. He poured himself a second slug of the bourbon and set to work.
     When he finally got to bed, the clock on the nightstand read eleven twenty-five.
     It felt like Alex’s head had just hit the pillow when he was startled awake by the telephone. At whatever ungodly hour of the morning it was, the sound grated on his nerves like a rasp. He felt an instant headache form somewhere behind his left eye. Reaching out in the dark he managed to find the phone and fumbled the receiver to his ear.
      “Yeah?” he mumbled.
      “Alex?” a desperate voice came across the wire. He knew it sounded familiar, someone he knew, but his brain wasn’t fully awake yet. It was a woman, he recognized that, and she was just short of hysterical. “Alex!” the voice said again, more urgent than before. “Are you there?”
      “Sister Gwen?” he asked, the connections in his mind putting a name to the voice. “What’s—”
      “You have to come down to the Mission, Alex,” Sister Gwen said. Her usually calm voice broke. Alex had never heard her anything but calm and in control, but now she was neither. The relief of reaching him warred with some unknown panic and she sobbed. “You have to come now. Hurry!”
     She was weeping and her voice betrayed a fragile state of mind.
      “Of course,” Alex said, sitting up. “Of course. I’ll come down right now.”
     He hoped this would calm her and she seemed to relax a bit. She drew several ragged breaths and her voice came over the wire in a tense whisper. “They’re dead, Alex.”
     Alex’s mind snapped into full wakefulness.
      “Who?” he demanded. “Who’s dead?”
      “Everybody.”

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

I also forgot to plug (in yesterday’s launch) the FREE STORY in the Waywork Universe (hat tip: Joe Monson!) which is up at the Baen web site. I’ll put the free link to the story at the top of the comments. 9,000 words of my award-caliber short fiction, which gives the story of a very important character in the book, and get the Waywork Universe started off.

. . . The fist that caught Elvin in the face was a sucker punch. He toppled back over the school lunch bench, knocking the trays of two other students to the floor and half covering himself in food.
     The trio of Outworld boys were the same three who’d been menacing Elvin ever since he’d turned fifteen. Not any bigger than Axabrast was. But—by Elvin’s estimation—much meaner. They were the sons of men who’d come from elsewhere in the Starstate. Technicians lured to Planet Oswight’s shipyard industry by promises of bonus money. It wasn’t glamorous work, any more than the Outworld boys were glamorous young men. They sneered at Elvin as he got to his feet.
     “Typical Dissenter,” said one of them, a particularly cruel lad named Boxlo. “Doesn’t know his table manners.”
     The three howled with laughter, as sauce, meat, and vegetables dripped down Elvin’s front. The smell in his nostrils was the same as it had been on other occasions when these particular lads had come for him at meal time. Like before, Elvin struggled to contain his rage. Three-to-one was never good odds, no matter how you sliced it. He’d fought back each time, and gotten cracked harder for his effort. He vacillated between eyeing the school mess hall exit, and the leader of the trio, named Ordi.
     Elvin unconsciously rubbed the seal on the back of his hand.
     “Takes three o’ you bastards to equal one o’ us,” he growled.
     “Is that so?” Boxlo said, mocking Elvin’s tone.
     “Aye,” Elvin said.
     The third Outworld boy, who typically followed the other two, picked up a piece of fruit from the deck—an apple grown in one of Planet Oswight’s many hydroponics farms—and threw it at Elvin’s head.
     Elvin ducked, while the older boys and girls around him cleared the area. They’d seen this kind of thing before. Outworlds ganging up on Dissenters, and Dissenters doing the same in kind. The school was riven in this way, to the point that most Outworlds and Dissenters traveled the school corridors in packs. Even the girls, who didn’t ordinarily go in for the kind of macho violence upon which the older boys seemed to feed. But they could get sucked in, too, once somebody threw a punch.
     Elvin, in his usual fashion, was one of the few Dissenters who preferred to walk alone. And he paid for it every time.
     In his head, Elvin heard his gran’s voice say, There’s nae respect among men that you don’t earn the hard way.
     Elvin then launched himself at the three, and got Boxlo on his back before the other two could react. One satisfyingly hard fist to Boxlo’s mouth, and the other two were suddenly on top of Elvin, kicking and hitting. Each time, the strikes came harder, got more vicious. Elvin didn’t care. The adrenaline of rage was in his blood. Too many days hearing his name mockingly called after him as he went to class. Too many instances of humiliation in front of the other kids, who always left him to fend for himself—even the other Dissenters, who didn’t consider Elvin to really be one of their own. Not enough to rush in and risk punishment on his behalf. If he’d been a good pack-runner like most, maybe things would have been different. But here again, Elvin had to make his own justice.

Read more HERE!

And then . . . BUY THE BOOK!

Amazon paperback.
Amazon Kindle edition.
Amazon Audible.com audio book edition.
Barnes & Noble paperback.
Barnes & Noble Nook edition.

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Book launch for A Star-Wheeled Sky

Amazon paperback.
Amazon Kindle edition.
Amazon Audible.com audio book edition.
Barnes & Noble paperback.
Barnes & Noble Nook edition.

FOR OVER A THOUSAND YEARS the Waywork has been both boon and bane: an alien interstellar highway system, which offers instantaneous travel between a closed network of stars. Within this bubble, the orphaned refugees of Earth—long lost—vie for control of humanity’s destiny. Can the beautiful daughter of a royal family, together with the rugged son of a shipping magnate, join forces with a proud but disgraced flag officer, to seize the initiative? Because the Waywork may at last be ready to give up its secrets, and one woman—a merciless autocrat, from the Waywork’s most brutal regime—is determined to ensure that she controls it all . . .

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

. . . Suddenly, a second set of rocket attacks blasted from the ruins, even father away from Garsina’s position than the first. The unguided missiles hit one of the sandbagged security positions, several shots at once. The sandbagged hole went up in a fireball which illuminated the night sky for several seconds.
      “That detail headed toward the pyramid is double-timing back to help their comrades,” Wyodreth said, with no small degree of satisfaction. “Remind me to put Captain Fazal in for a commendation. Meanwhile, Mister Axabrast. Shall we?”
      “Aye, lad,” the older man said, drawing his sidearm. “Lady? Mister Kalbi? Madam Lethiah?”
     Antagean went first, with Lethiah on his heels, Kalbi in the middle, Garsina behind him, and Elvin bringing up the rear. Garsina crouched and ran at the same time, remembering having watched the TGO troops do it earlier in the day. Then realized nobody else was crouching, and simply stood up, putting one foot in front of the other as fast as her legs would carry her. The moonlight shining down on the ruins in front of the portico made it plain that there would be nowhere to hide. They’d be fully exposed for at least the last fifty meters. And they still didn’t know what waited for them inside.
      “Go, go, go,” Elvin said to Garsina’s rear as she pumped her legs, the bandolier of ammunition slapping uncomfortably across her chest, and the carbine feeling heavy in her hands. She was careful to keep her fingers away from both the trigger and the safety while she moved. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally shoot herself, or anyone else in the remaining leadership group.
     Wyodreth went into the portico first. Almost immediately, there were shouts, screams, and the sound of the lieutenant commander discharging his battle rifle. The shots were like physical impacts on Garsina’s ear drums, and she cringed, resisting the urge to slap her hands over her head. With Elvin close behind her, she crowded into the portico behind Kalbi and Lethiah, who were crowded behind Antagean, who was angling his weapon down the length of the corridor at the backs of several fleeing people.
     Three bodies lay on the illuminated floor—their blood staining the hexagonal pattern of glowing lines which spread a diffuse light throughout the hexagonally cross-sectioned space. They’d each been struck at neck level, where their armor didn’t cover.
     Elvin aimed his sidearm over Garsina’s shoulder and discharged several shots at the fleeing enemy, which did make Garsina drop her weapon—to dangle by its sling—so that she could slap her hands over her ears.
     Elvin then quickly swiveled his head to look to their rear, and reversed himself—aiming back the way they had come. Garsina thought she saw a flicker of movement in the ruins. Several more shots erupted from Axabrast’s sidearm, and two human-shaped shadows toppled out of the darkness. They awkwardly pawed forward half a meter, then collapsed completely. Not to move again. Elvin grunted with satisfaction, and ejected the magazine for his weapon from within the weapon’s single, use-worn handle. Without looking, he removed a fresh magazine from its perch on his gunbelt, slapped the magazine into the sidearm, worked the sidearm’s action, then turned his attention to the men Wyo had killed.
     Antagean stared at the people lying on the f loor of the entrance. They didn’t look any different from Constellar troops, save for the fact that their uniforms were a different style and a different color. They were also young, and male, their eyes staring in empty surprise at the alien ceiling. Almost as if the last thing they had expected, at the pyramid’s main entrance, had been an enemy officer using a rifle.
      “How many?” Elvin demanded.
      “Didn’t . . . didn’t count them,” the lieutenant commander said, still staring down at the bodies. His eyes were large, and he looked sick.
     Elvin—for once—took pity on the man.
      “It’s a terrible thing, lad,” he said. “And you won’t be able to make it okay with yourself for a while. Just keep moving, see? We’ve come this far. Don’t let the gears seize up in the engine now. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.”
     Antagean literally shook his head, swallowed several times, seemed to hear the ongoing battle at the Nautilan aerospace site not far from the portico, and said, “Right. Sorry. Uhhh, okay. Sorry. Let’s go.”
     Elvin slapped the lieutenant commander on the shoulder, and the businessman’s son, who’d turned soldier, stepped over the dead, and trooped off down the corridor. Lethiah—who didn’t seem bothered by the bodies at all—followed, then Kalbi after her. The infotainer seemed even more horrified by the sight of the dead Nautilan troops than Wyodreth had been, and he had to be prodded to continue.
      “Follow Antagean!” Elvin roared, pushing the small man in front of Garsina, “or we leave you behind!”
     Kalbi moved, but his actions were robotic. Forced.
     Garsina moved too. Seeing the blood was something she knew she was never going to forget. It had been fresh, and dark, filling the air with a slight coppery sent. Who those young men had been, and where they had come from, Garsina would never know. As Elvin had patiently explained to her, back aboard the starliner, good people did bad things to each other in war. It was just the way of things. You couldn’t stop and judge it in the moment. Forces were at work, well above the consciences of single men. Though single men—and women—would bear the burden for those deaths well beyond the battlefield.

Click HERE to buy the book!

Guns and abortion illustrate the chasm between American paradigms

Of all the potentially explosive political topics in America today, abortion and guns probably reveal the most—regarding our intense moral, ethical, and ideological divide.

In both cases, the antis are SUPER DUPER ANTI. It’s tough to find somebody who is just sort of “meh” anti. No. They are RAGING ANTI. Hotly, loudly, fist-shakingly anti.

Also in both cases, the antis are (in their minds) fighting for life. They are sure of this in their bones. If you disagree with them, you are (to them) stating you are against life. This makes you bad. Very, very bad.

Meanwhile, for both cases, the pros are SUPER DUPER PRO. Tough to find people who are just kind of “meh” pro abortion, or “meh” pro gun. It’s MEGA MONDO PRO. They are hotly, loudly, fist-shakingly pro.

And the pros all frame their arguments with FREEDOM. Pros are fantastically dedicated to preserving what they consider to be a bedrock liberty. Infringing upon or denying this liberty is heinous and evil. Mess with freedom at your peril!

Pro gun will say it’s not about killing people, and never was. And from their specific point of view, they are 100% right.

Pro abortion will also say it’s not about killing people, and never was. And from their specific point of view, they are 100% right.

I have spent most of my adult life walking back and forth across this divide. I have friends and family on both sides. I have seen and read all the arguments. I am also sympathetic to the moral basis for the antis and the pros, in both camps—all four quadrants.

Me myself? I am against abortion, but I don’t want it outlawed. Because not everything immoral, must be illegal. That way lies totalitarianism and tyranny. For the same reason, I can be sympathetic to the emotional basis for almost all the gun control arguments, without agreeing with gun control itself. Because again, that way lies totalitarianism and tyranny.

People think totalitarianism and tyranny can’t happen here. They are wrong. It happened against the American Japanese in World War 2. It happened against almost every First Peoples tribe in North America. It happened against all the Africans imported from African slave-sellers, who peddled to the English and the French. It happened against the Mormons—my personal little piece of the puzzle—under a governor’s extermination order. And so on, and so forth.

Totalitarianism and tyranny—even the kind cloaked with good intentions—must be resisted. I believe this at a very fundamental level. And the older I get, the more I see how easily and quickly we Americans allow ourselves to succumb to the totalitarian, tyrannical impulse.

Ultimately, if I am pro 2nd Amendment, it’s only because I know from the examples of history that our ballot and jury boxes are worthless—once they’ve taken away both our soap boxes, and our cartridge boxes.

(NOTE: that is my S&W M&P 15, pictured above, when I bought it new in 2016. It is just one of several firearms I own and use on a regular basis. I have put easily a thousand rounds of both 5.56x45mm and the less powerful .223 through this rifle. I have taught both my wife and my daughter to shoot it. Not once have I ever had to charge this weapon and aim it at a human being. God willing, I hope I’ll never have to, too.)

The LAST JEDI that could have been

The Last Jedi. I give it a 6.5 out of 10. I also think with maybe one or two significant tweaks to the main plot points, it could have been an 8. Alas, the fingerprints of whatever committee Disney is running these days, were all over this thing. It tried too hard to be too much to too many people. I liked Rogue One a lot more, and felt like Rogue One didn’t have to work so hard to appeal to the sense-o-wunda that lives in the heart of every STAR WARS fan.

Yes, The Last Jedi had some very, very good moments. But these tended to get undercut by the choppy nature of the other material. So while those moments were on the brink of soaring, some of the pointless and gratuitous plotting (as well as pointless and gratuitous characters) were a net drag on the entire enterprise. The movie just wasn’t “tight” the way it could have been tight, if someone in a position of authority at Disney (and with a clearer eye, aimed backward at the original trilogy) had been allowed to chop the damned thing down. Scuttle some of this stuff that clearly sounded neat in pitch sessions, but should have stayed there. And gone no further.

Thus, here’s how I would rank all of the extant STAR WARS films. This is a gut rank, based purely on my personal satisfaction with each of the movies, in relation to each of the other movies. I’m not basing it on any kind of aggregate (Rotten Tomatoes) nor am I comparing these films to any other movies or franchises.

1) Episode IV
2) Episode V
3) Rogue One
4) Episode VI
5) Episode VII
6) Episode VIII
7) Episode I
8) Episode II
9) Episode III

I do think it’s quite true that all of us who grew up with STAR WARS (as kids and teens and young adults) can never go back home again. Meaning, the unbridled excitement of the original three films cannot be captured in a bottle. We will never see these new movies through child-like eyes. And it’s clear that the franchise does struggle with too much self-awareness, in terms of its global cultural footprint. But ROGUE ONE was an illustration (to me) that they can still nail it, when they want to.

On that note, how hard would it have been to boost The Last Jedi into an orbit matching Rogue One’s? Not very.

Case in point. Imagine a Last Jedi with these modifications . . . .

1) Ditch the Vegas Planet dead end, and have Rose tag along with Finn as they are dispatched (instead, with a tiny team) to Crait. Which is not an old Rebel base, but an old abandoned Imperial base. Which Finn can get into using “older codes, but they check out” and he needs Rose’s help, because she knows what kinds of Imperial fuel and which kinds of Imperial weapons can be quickly adapted for Resistance use. DJ the arms smuggler is already there, though. And isn’t willing to give up his hideout — and cash cow — without a fight. Finn must lead the Resistance expedition against DJ’s small army of mercenary thugs. Eventually DJ bails out, stating, “I sell stuff to your side too, kid. This fight you’ve brought to me, it’s bad for business.” He escapes and lives, to return and play a bigger part in Episode 9. Finn and Rose get back to Organa’s command cruiser — with the goods in tow — only to find:

2) Poe Dameron and Vice Admiral Holdo in a shouting match over what to do now, as General Organa’s cruiser is mere minutes from losing the aft shields. A wounded (but surviving) Admiral Ackbar stumbles from the medical bay, upbraiding Dameron and Holdo both — about how General Organa would be ashamed to see Resistance discipline and chain-of-command so grossly disregarded. He orders the two of them to cease fire, and rally the troops — using the weapons and fuel provided by Finn, with Rose’s assistance. Holdo will put the remaining “brain trust” of the Resistance into the transports for escape to Crait, while Ackbar takes sole command of the cruiser, with Dameron out in front leading a small squadron of the last Resistance snub fighters, co-attacking the big Snoke star destroyer. Both Ackbar and Dameron know it’s a suicide mission. Holdo, with a comatose Leia aboard, departs.

3) Leia, who has been in a kind of Force Fugue since being expelled into space (after her bridge was hit) experiences a dream-like sequence during which she communicates with Luke’s soul, similar to how she heard Luke calling her at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Luke says he has turned away from The Force, after ruining Ben Solo, and contributing to Ben’s flight to the Dark Side. Luke is too ashamed to re-assume the mantle. Leia begs Luke to come back one more time, and do what a Jedi knows must be done. She loves Luke. She forgives Luke. She wants him to help her one last time, and possibly help Ben Solo, too. Lest the First Order snuff out the Resistance utterly. Luke is inspired, as well as humbled. We then see a scene of Luke quickly trimming his facial hair, military-short. We also see him using The Force to raise his old X-Wing out of the Ahch-To sea, with R2D2 obediently at Luke’s side.

4) Dameron and Ackbar are deeply engaged against Hux and the First Order. Kylo Ren orders Hux to ignore Ackbar and Dameron, so as to pursue Vice Admiral Holdo, in whose care the “kernel” of the Resistance now rests. With fresh fuel and weapons, Ackbar is able to keep Snoke’s super-dreadnought occupied, but cannot block the pursuit of Vice Admiral Holdo. In desperation, with his ship falling to pieces, Ackbar wishes Dameron, “May The Force be with you,” and punches the hyperdrive, launching his cruiser — like a missile — into Snoke’s the super-dreadnought. Dameron retreats to cover the fleeing Holdo, with her transports. A cloud of angry TIEs is all over them, as they descend to Crait. Into this swarm of angry TIEs, the Millennium Falcon appears, communicating with Dameron on Resistance bandwidth. Together, Chewie, Dameron, and Rey, give Holdo cover while Holdo and Finn land the transports, and flee (with Organa in medical stasis) into the old, abandoned Imperial fortress

5) With the Millennium Falcon now badly damaged from overwhelming TIE strikes, Chewie is forced to crash-land the Falcon at the mouth of the imperial fortress. He and Rey disembark, and pursue Finn. Dameron is frantically trying to keep the cloud of TIEs busy, while a force of First Order walkers marches on the horizon. Severely outnumbered, Dameron concludes he’s not going to survive this fight. But just as he’s about to suicide-run one of the walkers, a second X-Wing appears. Older, somewhat worn down, but being piloted with expert precision. The old X-Wing uses proton torps to disable several walkers, while also downing a mess of TIEs, allowing Dameron to get his badly-damaged advanced X-Wing out of the fight. Both fighters eventually fly to where the Falcon is smoldering, and land. Poe and Luke have a moment of mutual admiration — for the fine flying — and then Luke tells Poe to go alone into the fortress in pursuit of Rey. “But you’ll never escape,” Poe says. “Escape is not my plan,” Luke informs him.

6) The remaining First Order walkers, with Kylo’s command shuttle floating among them, close on the abandoned fortress. Seeing one man out in front of the old X-Wing — a blue-accented droid at the pilot’s side — Kylo orders the walkers to stand fast, and his shuttle to land. Kylo stomps down the ramp and walks across the salt, to face his old master. They exchange words, about how things went sour back in the Jedi temple. About how Luke did Kylo wrong. And about how Kylo then did Han Solo and Leia Organa wrong. Enraged, Kylo finally shouts, “Your powers are weak, old man!” And ignites his cross-saber. Luke throws off his Jedi robe — revealing the old fighting Jedi uniform underneath — and replies firmly, “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” At which point Luke ignites his own saber. The two men raise their weapons, as if to strike, and . . . . cut to black.

THE END

Star Wars fanfare trumpets through the theater.

How the ctrl-Left drove me away from American liberalism

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be an outstanding author, once quipped, “If I am forced to choose a side, I choose the side which is not forcing me to choose sides.”

Seldom have I ever encountered phrasing more apt. Because that’s precisely how I feel. I’ve been feeling that way, for years now. It was not a sudden thing. It was a gradual realization. The slow clarity of an underlying sentiment, incrementally surfacing.

To make the picture more specific, let me lay out some background details. This is a bit wordy, so bear with me:

When I first met my wife in 1992, we were both volunteering at community radio station KRCL-FM in Salt Lake City, Utah. Back then, KRCL was something of a tentpole organization for folk who styled themselves as counter-culture. It was staffed with an oddball assortment of old-school Hippies, new-school progressives, the occasional play-anarchist, plenty of environmentalists, a few gays and lesbians, a tiny handful of non-caucasians (my future wife among them) as well as one or two small-c conservatives and small-l libertarians who worked very hard to keep their political cards held close to their chests; at least around the other staff. George Carlin was arguably my favorite comedian. I was attending the University of Utah, having turned down an Army recruiter the year before.

In other words, I was the proverbial sapling, with his roots sunk into decidedly progressive soil.

By the end of 1996, my wife and I had moved to the Puget Sound in Washington State, we were again involved with a public radio station — I was student program director of KSVR-FM from 1995 to 1998 — and I had just voted in my second U.S. Presidential election, selecting Bill Clinton for a second term. I didn’t think Bob Dole was a bad guy, but I tended to pick Democrats in most categories. Why not? Nothing in my life had convinced me that the Democrats weren’t “my” party. And I was surrounded by men and women who all felt the same way. New Dimensions was my favorite weekly talk program, and I was an avid Carl Sagan fan. Being in an interracial marriage practically made me a Democrat by default, though I did not ever sign up with the party, because I liked to be able to keep my options open — and not feel like I “owed” my vote to anybody. I was (and remain) pro-choice, as well as pro-legalization (rec drugs) even though I am an LDS teetotaler of same.

For the year 2000 I voted Al Gore — and was quite upset about Bush 43’s win, as some of my friends from the old incarnation of the ESPN Utah Jazz message forum may recall.

All of which is to say, I may not have been a card-carrier, but I was as reliable a constituent as any Democratic Party planner could have hoped for — a liberal by any reasonable definition of the period. Living in a liberal part of the country, too.

But . . . things had already begun to shift, even if I myself did not yet realize it.

Again, let me lay out some background details:

I’d watched the unfolding of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and could not understand why so many determined liberals and especially feminists, were so willing to give Bill Clinton a pass. Yeah, sure, I voted for the guy too, but voting for a guy and lending him blind license to ill, are not the same thing. I was pretty sure (then, as well as now) if Bob Dole had been in Clinton’s place, everyone defending Clinton, would have crucified Dole. Bill Clinton (and his ardent defenders) let me down as a result.

Likewise, I’d had a front-row seat for the WTO riots in Seattle. Beyond the disruption those riots caused — at the time, I was working at One Union Square — I couldn’t understand what the rioters hoped to accomplish. They seemed to be protesting anything and everything. There was no coherency. Likewise, there was no discipline. Window-smashers assaulted downtown businesses, while anarchists baited the police into overreacting. Crowds pushed up the ramps near the convention center, trying to block I-5. Public transportation was blocked and vandalized too. It seemed to me I was witnessing, not a dedicated movement for change, but a kind of ritualistic cultural event — for all those who felt like the need to express themselves outweighed actually trying to accomplish a goal with measurable metrics. I was very turned off by the whole episode.

Of course, then came the morning when some nice Middle Eastern gentlemen of a certain religious affiliation converted four full airliners into cruise missiles aimed at U.S. targets on U.S. soil. I’ll never forget that day. Even though I was on the other side of the country. It was the moment when many of my conventional wisdoms — about how people, and the world, work — began to spectacularly unravel.

Because none of the Left-wing reactions to September 11, 2001, made any sense to me.

College professors called for solidarity with the terrorists. Liberals were openly self-blaming the United States for the event. Conspiracy theorists said it was an inside job by Bush, to fool us into going to war. People once again lamented the fact Gore had had the Presidency “stolen” from him — because what was needed most of all, was a President who could go to the United Nations and repent before the world; on account of America’s long history of sordid capitalistic colonialist nationalist imperialism. Or something along those lines.

My reaction to it all was to openly say, “What the f***?!”

The United States — indeed, the liberal West as a whole — had been brutally attacked! Thousands died!

Yet the Left blamed us for the thing? We were the bad guys??!

Clearly, there was a major malfunction happening — at the ideological level.

And the more I began to openly criticise these Left-wing reactions — including my adamant insistence that Gore would have been compelled to go into Afghanistan, just as Bush had been — the more hostility I encountered. And not just theoretically, either. I mean from people I worked with, went to school with, and also had become friends with. The culture of King County was going in one direction about the whole event, and I was going in a different direction. The more time went on, the wider the gap between these two trajectories became.

By the end of 2002, I was signed up with the Army Reserve. Me, they guy who’d been talked out of joining ten years prior, because my Dad knew I was an easy-going fellow who liked to take it easy, and Dad was convinced I’d hate military life.

Dad was right, too. I am not a natural serviceman. It’s an existence quite foreign to my sensibilities. But I signed up anyway, because 9/11 felt to me like my generation’s version of Pearl Harbor. To arms, young men! Do not be caught standing on the sideliness of history! Take up the flag of your country, right or wrong! That sort of thing. I had no illusion I’d be any kind of Rambo. When I joined, I had bad eyes, a bad knee, was very sedentary, and did not possess any talent for tactical training like the Army employs. I wouldn’t be an infantry rock star. I just wanted to help out, in whatever capacity they’d have me. Because that’s my general instinct in most crises: I simply want to assist, in tangible ways that count, versus merely being somebody who gets pissed off on the internet.

Trajectories, continuing to diverge. The ground lurches beneath the tree?

Seattle Democrats took an election away from Dino Rossi. Who won fairly — if narrowly — in the Washington race for governor. The Democrats of King County demanded a recount, then set about inventing ballots for Rossi’s competitor all along the way, and once they put Christine Gregoire over the top, magically the results became legit.

These Democrats didn’t even try to hide what they were doing. They crowed about it, exclaiming, “We’re just getting revenge for what Bush did in 2000!”

There was the woman on the street who said, “Go Army, rape those Iraqis!” when she saw me wearing my Army sweatshirt outside my apartment complex on Lake City Way. This somewhat startling comment would be reminded to me a couple of years later, when a classmate at Seattle Central Commun(ist) College told me it was a shame I signed up with the Reserve, because my job was to kill people. Uhhhh, what? Since when does being an HR Specialist at a Garrison Support Unit involve killing people? It got even worse when the students at SCCC began throwing water bottles at Army recruiters, as well as destroying Army recruiter literature. The students ran the recruiters off campus — and cheered themselves doing it!

Those of us who were military, and attending, wondered how long it would be before we ourselves became targets.

This was about the time a one-man protest operation named ReplacementsNeeded! was covering every light and utility pole in the First Hill and Capitol Hill area, with quasi-anarchist, anti-military agit prop posters. They were vulgar, ghastly, and inflammatory, and they stretched from the sidewalk to seven feet above the pavement. Every. Single. Pole. Within about a two mile radius, give or take. He never cleaned up after himself. He fled Seattle with $10,000.00 in fines on his head, unpaid, then bitched on-line about how Evergreen State College wasn’t progressive enough for him. I think he’s since left the States altogether? I am not sure. I know he never took down any of his signs, despite the city ordnance.

Anyway, anti-military and anti-Bush protest marches were also routinely sprouting from the Capitol Hill district, usually kicking off at SCCC and meandering their way through downtown streets, leaving a wake of debris and sometimes damage to public and private property.

Like when they defended Clinton in 1998, I was severely let down by the liberal behavior I witnessed and experienced, after I joined the military. Nobody seemed to care if it was organized, or not. Nobody seemed to question the sense of attacking soldiers because the attackers hated the President. Feelings mattered more than facts. The ends justified the means. They were proud of it, too.

The tree finds itself standing still, as the sod runs like a river to the left . . .

Needless to say, I voted Bush for his second term. First time ever for me, selecting a Republican in a Presidential race. Even I was surprised. I had been unhappy with the Bush win four years earlier. But the nation was at war. I’d always thought that failing to remove Saddam Hussein — in 1990/1991 — was a mistake. The 2003 Iraq invasion seemed like the U.S. was simply taking care of long-unfinished business. And Kerry? Goodness, how in he world was I supposed to take that man seriously? He seemed to embody everything that had been going haywire (in my opinion) with American politics, in the wake of 9/11. He’d thrown his medals over the White House fence when it was politically expedient, and now he was “reporting for duty” and saluting at the DNC, when it was politically expedient.

I did not trust John Kerry to lead the country any better than Bush had. So, while I did not think Bush was flawless — he wasn’t — I thought he was the better option. Just as I’d thought Clinton was the better option, years before.

But, to be an “outted” Bush voter in Seattle, was to be an unwanted alien — living and working in the Puget Sound I-5 corridor.

I had betrayed the zeitgeist of the region.

Eventually, my wife and I moved back to Utah. Not because of the politics, but because of the cost of living. For an area that prides itself on being merciful to people who don’t have a lot of money, the Puget Sound I-5 corridor is a wickedly expensive place to try to function on a single income; when you’ve got a wife and child to house and feed. Plus, we knew my Mom and Dad would be needing some assistance soon, and it was far easier for us to go to them, than for them to come to us.

But when the Obama election rolled around later that same year, even being in Utah was not sufficient to insulate me from the same attitudes I used to face routinely in the Puget Sound. Because suddenly, if you weren’t fainting to the ground with love and adoration for Saint Obama, you weren’t just called stupid, you were declared evil. You were RACIST! Because nobody could not vote for Obama, without being a RACIST! could they? Of course not. Both the media and the Obama voters let all of us — in poor dumb hick fly-over country — know just what kind of reprobates we were. For not being on board the Obama bandwagon.

And I didn’t even vote for McCain. He seemed like a dud to me. Nor was I impressed with Obama, who seemed like he was all flash, but little substance. I wrote in Mitt Romney for (P) and Condi Rice for (VP) knowing I was “throwing away” my vote. It had not been the first time, nor would it be the last.

Didn’t matter to the Obama zealots, of course. Nor did my marriage. Everybody who was not 110% pro-Obama, was magically painted with the RACIST! brush. This was a fact, the zealots said. We were all RACIST! It was declared over, and over, and over again. Apparently this made my wife a RACIST! too, against her own “kind” — because she voted third party in 2008, as she has often done over the years (she’s just an independent gal like that, and was not impressed with Obama either.)

So, did Obama eventually win me over, the way Clinton and Bush had won me over?

No. Obama cut arbitrary deals with Wall Street and the banks. The economy — already headed into the hole — crashed and burned. He paid lip service to promises made on the campaign trail — closing Guantanamo bay, removing U.S. troops entirely from places like Iraq — while courting the favor of vocal elites in academia, the media, and the entertainment industry. He loved being treated like a rock star, because in reality he was still just that nerdy, underachieving, culturally-white black kid; who had to affect a ghetto accent when politically touring dilapidated inner-city streets he never lived on.

But damn if Obama didn’t make his Leftist white voters feel spectacular about themselves, for having voted for him!

Apparently this was the sole great benefit of re-voting for Obama again in 2012: being able to proclaim your awesomeness as a human being, for having re-elected Teh Furst Black Presadent.

I am sounding mighty cynical at this point, am I not? But wait, there’s more.

By late 2015, I was overseas with a Joint Task Force designed to confront ISIS. We watched Obama effectively yank the cord on our mission. We also watched as Hillary Clinton — recently of Benghazi disaster fame — wiped the walls with Bernie Sanders. She would face Trump for the Presidency in 2016. It was a certainty that she would win. No way would Trump make it. He was an absurd candidate. Hillary was inevitable. Very few of us in that Task Force trusted her. But Trump? The reality TV star with bronze hair and orange skin? What?

My UK counterpart in the Task Force, a 30+ year British Army veteran, was cannier than I was. “Mate, get ready for President Trump,” he said. I told him it was impossible. After watching Romney lose in 2012 — the only Presidential election in which I’d ever felt truly and deeply invested — I had no faith in any kind of resistance to someone like Hillary. She would cake walk her way into the Oval Office.

My Brit friend turned out to be right.

But not before all of us who could not stomach Hillary’s lying and duplicity in Washington D.C., got to be labeled SEXISTS!

Failure to be full-blown enthusiastic about Hillary was SEXIST! We were woman-haters, all of us. Even other women, who clearly detested their own vaginas, by not supporting Hillary.

Many of us would have happily voted Democrat in that race, if someone like Joe Lieberman or Jim Webb had run. I myself would have cheered a Lieberman or a Webb candidacy. I would have been all in. Hell, I was half-serious when I said I’d vote Sanders before I’d vote Trump. Remember what I said, about not wanting to “owe” a vote to anyone? The Republicans had not captured me. I was in play. And so were many other people. I know. I talked to them. It was the easiest crossover bet for the Democrats since Clinton in 1996. Surely. Because . . . Trump?! Seriously??!

But no. Hillary railroaded the DNC and PWN3D the Dem primary process, tossing Bernie out on his ear. As had been the case for a long time, what Hillary wanted, Hillary got. And it didn’t matter who stood in her way.

Meanwhile, the Left applauded, and applauded, and applauded some more.

If you weren’t “With Her!” you were deplorable. Everybody who was anybody, was going out of his or her way, to wave the Hillary flag. It was wall-to-wall virtue signalling, dialed to eleven.

Then came the evening of November 8, 2016. Oh my.

I was as shocked by the Trump win as any other non-Trumper. Outrageous. And yet, it was nice to see an ideological inevitability — “I’m with Her!” — overturned by a republican (note the small r) process still healthy enough to stand up to a vainglorious technocrat of Hillary’s raw ambition. I mean, she did everything right. She courted celebrity opinion. She raked in the endorsements. She had corporations in her hip pocket, and billions of dollars behind her, plus a friendly media who ate out of both her hands. Academics loved her. All the Obama faithful loved her.

Not loving her, was a sure sign of misogyny. Nobody wants to be a woman-hater, right? How does she not win?

Apparently, by being the one candidate 63 million voters disliked even more than Donald Trump.

Which of course has touched off close to 90 days of destructive political pandemonium in these United States. Denunciations. Riots. Beatings. Calls for the White House to be bombed, and for the military to rise up and overthrow the government. All from liberals. All by liberals. A righteous junta! Nevermind that the military vote went to Trump at a 3 to 1 ratio, with a large percentage of the remaining military vote going to 3rd parties. I was in the latter category.

And I have been reminded every single day, just how far I’ve been pushed away — by so-called progressives in this country.

Sure, some of that is me walking my talk. I am not exactly the same guy I was 25 years ago. And not because I don’t think some of the idealism of liberal thought is not worthy, or even evocatively beautiful.

It is.

Liberalism — the kind I was attracted to in my teens, and early twenties — mostly focuses on brighter futures with better choices.

Yet at many points over the past quarter century, that shining picture of what the Left supposedly stands for, has been undermined again, and again, and again, and again, by the behavior of self-styled Leftists.

Maybe it all comes down to the fact that I decided Alinsky’s ballyhooed rules are pernicious. Not once do they involve self-reflection, nor questions of higher moral obligation to a power or a need beyond simple political expediency. Like with the 2004 Washington State governors race, the ends justify the means. If you’re a Leftist and you have to lie to get what you want, then lie. If you’re a Leftist and you have to cheat to get what you want, then cheat. If you’re a Leftist and you have to hurt people to get what you want, or if you have to frighten people into not opposing you, then hurt and frighten people.

Never doubt that everything you — the Leftist — says or does, is done justifiably.

Everyone and everything is a fair target. Lash out. Incriminate. Slander. Punish. Make them quake in their boots. They deserve it, the jerks. “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists!” Oops, Leftists excoriated Bush 43 for saying that. Now they themselves live it every day. “If you didn’t vote for Hillary, you’re with the KKK and the Nazis!”

Leftists now give all of us a political litmus test, without exception. Wrong-thinkers will be singled out for eviction from the human equation.

I certainly experienced plenty of this crap during the Sad Puppies campaign, wherein us rowdy sci-fi nonconformists from Delta Tau Chi crashed the Faber homecoming parade, and all hell broke loose with the people from Omega Theta Pi.

And if you’re wondering how in the world an Animal House analogy works in all of this, consider the fact that Senator Blutarsky undoubtedly switched to the Republicans after 9/11/2001. Donald Trump rallies were the toga parties of the election. The Electoral College smashed Hillary Clinton’s guitar against the stairwell wall.

I don’t feel like I’ve stopped being the liberal I was at age 19 — still married to the same amazing lady, still enjoying public radio, still pro-choice, still pro-legalization, still about people having brighter futures — as much as I feel left behind.

The cultural shift that’s masqueraded beneath a banner of liberalism, kicked me out. Or I walked away. Whichever.

Like Hermey the elf, from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. “You can’t fire me, I quit!”

Naturally, my liberal friends reading this will shake their heads from side to side, with pained expressions on their faces. “He’s got it all wrong. The Right is so much worse. They are always worse.”

Hey folks, I never said the Right was perfect. Nor are the people of the Right immune to being hypocrites about a lot of things.

But here’s the shocker. There is far, far more true liberalism on the American Right, in this 21st century, than inhabits the American Left.

I’ll say it again: there is far more real, actual, tangible liberalism, on the American Right, at this point in time, than on the American Left. By a significant margin.

This is not my opinion based on Fox News, Limbaugh, or Breitbart. I don’t watch Fox News, nor do I listen to Limbaugh, nor do I follow Breitbart. This is my opinion based on a quarter century of cumulative experience and analysis. I have reached this point, having felt the spectrum of American political discourse being dragged beneath my feet, such that many of the old-style liberal heroes of yore would be called dangerously extreme Republicans today.

Doubt me? Hell, JFK was a recklessly warmongering one-percenter. Like Bush 43 and Romney rolled into one! He could not hope to win the Democratic ticket in 2017. He’d be compared to Trump, and lambasted in a similar manner. Meanwhile, Martin Luther King would be called a race traitor, for failing to embrace intersectional identity theories and their attendant anti-caucasian, anti-male, anti-straight, anti-cis hatreds — which place Victimhood (caps v) above content of character.

Even the original Suffragettes would be kicked out of the Good Guy club, for their traditional opposition to abortion.

In other words, there is almost nothing about the 21st century American Left, which can be accurately called liberal. No way in hell.

The 21st century American Left is instead a cultural and political enforcer of both dogma, and uniformity. Which preens in the mirror each morning, celebrating its eminent superiority, and talking down to, attacking, or otherwise throwing out anyone and everyone who steps out of line.

It doesn’t take much to get put on the “bad people” list. Witness all the proper progressives forever being witch-burned on our campuses, by the intersectional crybabies (in grown bodies) who demand to never be disagreed with, otherwise they’re triggered — and need to run to their safe spaces.

I can’t ride in that dysfunctional clown car. It is anti-intellectual, and anti-reason. It proposes to elevate feelings above all else, and has turned victimization — both real and imagined — into a bizarre form of morally-elevated celebrity.

Being a victim is now chic!

Failure to abide by the dogma, gets you attacked. You can’t even criticize the dogma from a friendly standpoint, without being ejected from the tribe of propriety. You are kicked to the curb. Shamed. Shunned. Called names. They attack your friends, your family, try to get you fired from your job, and worse.

I mean, good Lord, they attacked Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show, because she didn’t get up on stage and pull a Madonna or an Ashley Judd.

Thus Lady Gaga “failed” the movement. She is a traitor. Yes, Lady Gaga.

Meanwhile, you can apparently beat a woman to the ground on the campus of U.C. Berkeley, and it’s no-harm no-foul — so long as you can call that woman a “fascist” just because you feel like she’s bad, for having a different opinion.

My gentle suggestion would be: the first step in fighting fascism, involves not being a fascist.

“But isn’t the American Right crackers too?” Sometimes, sure. Delta Tau Chi is hardly a monolith of coherency.

It’s just that, I think the ass-paddlers of Omega Theta Pi can have their black robes and their rituals of humiliation — cough, “check your privilege,” cough — while I will be over at the slum fraternity, having fun with the other deplorables. Delta Tau Chi never tells me I have to prove I am a good “ally” by debasing myself endlessly, then going on the attack against others. They also don’t demand that I model and emulate an increasingly strident and narrow form of ideological purity. They further do not believe in throwing friends to the wolves — when the torches and pitch forks of the Left arrive at the door.

Omega Theta Pi — the modern American Left — are control freaks by comparison. They are in love with banning things. Outlawing words. Ideas. People. Making it a punishable offense to disagree. All while taking selfies and giving themselves squishy hugs for being such wonderful, proper, altogether forward-thinking and forward-believing human beings.

And if you believe otherwise, then f*** you, you’re a RACIST! and a SEXIST! and a HOMOPHOBE! and an ISLAMOPHOBE!

Which reminds me: every LDS person in good standing has become painfully aware of just how big the double-standard is, when the Left talks about religion, and religious cultures. Islam and Muslims are a protected, sacrosanct class. Mormons? F*** ’em. Racist, sexist, inbred, fanatical morons. The LDS leadership in Salt Lake City cannot utter a single peep about church policy, without it becoming an excuse for breathless Left-wing tabloid hyperventilation — about the “problem” of Mormonism. Meanwhile, Islamic radicals continue to murder on just about every continent, and violate every sacred belief in the progressive playbook, but we as a nation are piously reminded to never hold Islam or Muslims accountable. Never, ever, ever, ever. If you say otherwise, you are ISLAMOPHOBIC!

And being ISLAMOPHOBIC! is almost as bad as being TRANSPHOBIC! Even though getting caught being gay or trans in many Isamic countries, is a death sentence. Or worse.

But then, the modern American Left is not great at logical consistency. Thoughts don’t count. It’s the feelz.

Skeptical? Check this out.

Want to be a woman today, even if you’re genetically and anatomically male? Shazam! You’re a woman! Here is your golden Victim crown of identity! Nobody is allowed to say otherwise! Oh wait, women who are actually women — with lady parts and everything — cease to be women the instant they run for office as Republicans. They magically lose their melanin too. Just ask Mia Love if she’s still allowed to be black.

The American Left will confiscate your gender and your ethnicity, if they catch you playing for the wrong team.

Again, the pattern emerges: taking away, taking away, taking away. The modern American Left is obsessed with removing things. I don’t know how or why it came to this, but it has. They want to take away your single-occupancy vehicle. They want to take away your ability to operate your private business according to your religious convictions — except Muslims, who will get a pass. They want to take away your right to choose where your kids are schooled, and how. They want to take away your furnace, and your air conditioner — global warming, cough, climate change, cough, reasons, cough. They want to take away your options at restaurants, and also at the grocery store — you will no longer be allowed to have “bad” things in “bad” quantities. They want to take away your right to own firearms and defend yourself, your family, and your property — because only the police should have guns. Even though the same mouths claims the police are out of control and kill black people for sport.

This is not liberalism. It’s contradictory, nonsensical tyranny, which dresses itself up in a ghastly pink-fuzzy bunny suit of false benevolence. Like Ralphie from Christmas Story, except he’s been zombified, and he’s going to eat you.

You know what I say to that?

In the immortal words of Ned and Uncle Jimbo, from South Park: IT’S COMING RIGHT FOR US!

Speaking of South Park, if you need any further proof that the American Left has dragged the spectrum beneath us, consider the Comedy Central fixture which went from being the prime amusement of adolescent liberals, to one of the few entertainment weapons left in the arsenal of adult conservatives (I know, I know, we’re often the same people; just two decades older.)

Matt and Trey are among the few vocal entertainment pairs left, who will openly make fun of progressives and progressive gospel.

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein being another pair. I have seldom laughed harder, than while watching Portlandia.

(Satire is Kryptonite to the 21st century liberal moral majority, just as it was Kryptonite to the 20th century conservative moral majority.)

My bottom-line analysis? American liberalism abandoned American liberalism.

I watched and felt it happen, right before my own eyes. The Left became power-drunk on their ascendant ride through our culture, and now it’s morphed into the very kind of petty, thin-skinned, tin-pot authoritarianism which the Left claims to oppose. It rejects all questioning, and seeks to revile and hurt the questioner. Look at how scientists who criticize climate change alarmism, become pariahs in their own profession — called “denialist” in an almost ritualistic fashion, by the keepers of the gnostic doctrine of the Church of Global Warming. See how women and ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians, who “come out” as conservative, or Republican, are treated as traitors. Witness business owners and executives who resign in humiliation, when they are “outed” for supporting religiously-based political initiatives that run contra to the Left-wing agenda. (Unless they’re Muslim — free pass!)

Folks, I can’t truck with this. I can’t be with the authoritarian control freaks — people who fight the so-called alt-Right, by inventing an even more problematic ctrl-Left. Not even if the ctrl-Left are the heirs to history, like they always claim they are.

My personal suspicion — as someone who recognizes that history is not a straight-line ramp of destiny, but rather a variable waveform of deliberate action twined with chance — is that nobody owns the future. The more hotly and adamantly somebody claims to own the future, like Khrushchev slamming his shoe at the United Nations, the more sure I am this person (or this movement) is writing its own epitaph. Authoritarians always fail. Always. If not sooner, then later. Because human beings are unruly. We seldom do as we’re told. Not even when it’s the cuddly cudgel of compassionate dictatorship banging down across our skulls.

Yes, yes, I know, the American Right has had plenty of moments in that unkind spotlight too. They’re not immune to overreaching.

The American Right just seems to better understand the way people and the world actually work, versus how we might wish for them to work. Thus the American Right spends a lot of its intellectual and emotional capital on concepts like individual liberty and limited government, according to the wishes of the U.S. Founders.

The American Left, meanwhile, is obsessed with perfecting the human condition, using the ideas of theorists like Marx. They seek a total reformation of society, as well as the state. They are anti-Enlightenment, believing that empirical science and objective analysis are somehow RACIST! as well as SEXIST! Facts which refute the reformative theory, are to be suppressed, and the fact-finders walled out of polite discussion.

The ghosts of the gulags and the killing fields tell us which of these two paradigms is sustainable, and which is not.

I choose to listen to the ghosts.

EDIT TO ADD: a friend reminded me of something I wrote two years ago. Re-reading it, I have to say, “Yup.”

If I am insufficiently hateful of a hater who hates, I am therefore a secret hater? And in order to absolve myself of being a secret hater, I have to loudly and publicly hate the hater more than anyone else who presently hates the hater who hates, and this will prove that I am not a secret hater, because I will have hated the hater the way the haters of the hater say I need to hate the hater because he hates? Hating is now how you prove you’re not a hater. You just have to hate the people the anti-hate haters approve of hating!

Because being an anti-hater is all about hating the haters who hate, even if they’re not really hating, but you think they secretly hate anyway. Because all of us are secret haters who have to be shown our hatred, by the hating haters of hate who hate all secret haters. So that in order to become an anti-hater, you must hate yourself for being a secret hater, who then goes on to hate the hating haters the haters of hate say you have to hate in order to become an anti-hater who formerly hated in the wrong way. But once you hate in the right way, you are magically absolved of being a hater, and can go around hating on everyone you want.

EDIT TO ADD AGAIN: if you’ve not read this excellent piece by my senior at Baen Books, bestseller John Ringo, you should. I agree especially with John’s point — reinforced by this viral bit from British satirist Tom Walker, doing his Jonathan Pie character — that the voting booth remains one of the very few places in American life where people can express how they think and feel, and not get attacked for it. So the Left can shame and shun and label people all day every day, but when those people pull the curtain and prepare to punch their card at election time, what does all the shunning, shaming, and labeling accomplish? In Tom Walker’s words, you get President Trump! (Trust a Brit to see it clearly, just as my buddy in the Joint Task Force did.) But the Left seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from Trump’s win. Instead of pushing the PAUSE button and doing a wholesale review of both tactics and rhetoric, the Left have doubled down. The name-calling is even louder. Even more people are being thrown into the “basket of deplorables.” At this point, the Left are doing so much angry eviction — kicking people out of the auditorium — they’re liable to wind up shouting at empty seats. The Left are so high on their own supply of smug self-righteousness, they cannot be bothered to come down from their ivory tower, eat some humble pie, and talk to the rest of us like we’re decent people.

ROGUE ONE review, with minimal spoilage

I still remember how I felt, coming out of STAR WARS: Episode I. Very mixed emotions. I kept telling myself that it was impossible for STAR WARS to capture me, as an adult, in the same way I had been captured as a child. I kept telling myself that it would get better—with the next two movies. Hope sprang eternal. But then . . . Episode II also let me down. And Episode III was such a colossal mess, I was forced to conclude that Lucas had laid a massive egg. No, three eggs. In a row. And nobody had taken Lucas by the lapels and screamed, “My Lord, George, do you have any idea what you’re doing?!” The man who had gifted us with STAR WARS ,had also nearly ruined STAR WARS. It was a bitter pill, which went down very gradually.

Having seen the new ROGUE ONE, I think the other prequels can be quietly swept into the memory hole.

Which is not to say ROGUE ONE is perfect—it’s not.

But my gut check on any film I see, is always: did I lose track of the clock?

If the answer is yes, I know I’ve enjoyed myself. It doesn’t happen all that often. It happened with Episode VII, though I think ROGUE ONE is actually superior to Episode VII on most levels.

I’ll try to explain why, without giving out tons of plot spoilers.

The cameos by known characters were superbly done. Especially Governor Tarkin. Amazing, how they can resurrect an actor with CGI in this manner. The technology has come even further, since they used it extensively for TRON: Legacy. It was almost like Cushing had returned in real time. Extremely crisp, and barely noticeable—so far as CGI goes. We saw just enough of the familiar faces, to impose verisimilitude on the new film’s emotional landscape.

The central villain was meaty, too. Whereas I wanted to drown Ben/Kylo in a toilet—on account of him being an emotionally unstable, whiney, butthurt little emo jerk—I thought the new main villain for ROGUE ONE was actually composed, and sympathetic. Not because he’s not bad—he is. But because you can see how the pressure cooker at the top of the Imperial pecking order breeds, and then grinds down and uses up, capable men. I didn’t root for him, but I didn’t actively root against him either. He was . . . necessary.

The overall mood of the film is most closely matched by Episode V, to which ROGUE ONE is already being favorably compared. I agree with the comparison, insomuch as ROGUE ONE cannot (by design) have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the mains were given compelling plot arcs and the acting was very nicely done. Just like in Empire Strikes Back. The chief difference being, The Force is not a center-stage player in the plot. It’s there, just not overtly at work. There are no Jedi, but they have left a long shadow across the fabric of the galaxy. This was evocative of the original films, and helped to give ROGUE ONE a level of gravitas that Episode VII occasionally lacked.

ROGUE ONE also sufficiently plugs a monstrous plot hole—from Episode IV—which has bothered many a STAR WARS fan for decades. You will know what it is, when you see it in the new film.

And of course, the space battles and planetside fighting sequences are literally spectacular. As we’ve come to expect from any decent STAR WARS outing.

My only regret, is that ROGUE ONE is a ship in a bottle. It cannot “go on” the way the other films do, because it’s sandwiched between the events of Episode III and Epiisode IV. We’re given a brilliant snapshot of the Empire at the near-zenith of its might, coupled with a Rebel Alliance being compelled to find its feet.

Now, as stated earlier, ROGUE ONE is not perfect. It’s got the usual problems the series is prone to, from a hard-science perspective, as well as the same tendency to gloss over certain necessities of fully-fleshed plot development; for the sake of action-packed plot advancement. This is Space Opera, after all. Sure, you could have probably made two ROGUE ONE films, and dialed pacing down for the sake of getting a slow-boil. But this seems to have been a decision of economy, lest ROGUE ONE steal the spotlight from the main plot core of the seven films which have gone before it. Which I don’t think ROGUE ONE was meant to do.

Rather, ROGUE ONE gives us a picture of the struggle as seen from the eyes of the “little” fighters—the men and women whose names and deeds won’t ever reach the level of a Skywalker or a Solo. Yet their actions are still vital to the Rebellion.

In final, I offer some (not always serious) observations, as well as questions:

Mads Mikkelsen gave a very dignified, tragic performance. His character reminded me of Dr. Baranovich, from Firefox.

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna played off each other believably.

Why does the Empire love death-defying vertical shafts, and improbable catwalks?

Likewise, why do the clone troops wear bulky armor that is clearly worthless against blaster fire, as well as melee weapons?

The Imperial officer corps must get otherworldly perks and benefits, since the higher you climb in the ranks, the more savage and hostile the environment becomes.

It was nice to see the Rebellion’s blemishes brought into the light—the drive for winning and surviving at all costs, can make even good people do terrible things.

The hammy droid antics were minimal. Thank goodness.

Gorgeous original X-Wing and Y-Wing battle footage. Absolutely gorgeous.

The matter of planetary shields again raises its head. We know they had one on Hoth, but it was apparently porous to landing craft. Yet, the shield in ROGUE ONE blocks everything and anything, including transmissions? Except for when the plot requires otherwise? And how come such a shield never equipped the Death Star proper? Eiither 1.0 or 2.0?

Heh. Again, the point is not whether the plot holes exist—they do. The point is that ROGUE ONE was bona-fide rip-roaring, with some substance to boot.

I think I now have to rank the entire STAR WARS franchise (from most-favorite to least-favorite) as follows:

1) Episode IV
2) Episode V
3) Episode VI
4) R1
5) Episode VII
— (I prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (II prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (III prequel redacted from personal fan canon)

😀

Hoarders of rectitude

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) wrote some interesting commentary this week. How familiar it all sounds, given the SF/F storm of 2015. I agree with Scott. It’s a disheartening thing when any Presidential candidate excommunicates half the country from the human equation. That’s basically what Hillary Clinton did, with her quip about “deplorables.” She’s reading from the 21st century progressive playbook. I call it Moral Majority 2.0, which has taken all the worst qualities of the so-called Moral Majority of the 1970s and 1980s, and valorized them — with a progressive flavoring. It’s now perfectly okay to hate, despise, lie about, abuse, bully, browbeat (or physically beat!) people who are “bad” — because the “bad” people deserve it.

And who are these “bad” people, and how can we know them?

Why, they’re everyone who’s not voting for Hillary, of course.

I know, I know, it’s unconscionable — to not support Hillary. I mean, are we crazy? How can we not vote for Hillary? Even if she is a serial liar who evades accountability by buying off and/or intimidating people who might call her on the carpet? She’s going to be the first woman President in U.S. history! Why do we want to be on the wrong side?

I’ve seen and heard a lot of that kind of talk — about people being on the wrong side of history — during both the Obama years, and now the (soon to come) Hillary years. Usually issuing from the keyboards of so-called liberal opinionators who believe human civilization is on some kind of straight-line “ramp” ascending ever-upward to an idealized nirvana of economic, political, and social perfection.

To the liberal opinionators, they and theirs are on the ramp, while all the rest of us are merely hapless ideological road kill. We didn’t (or don’t) pick the right “team” therefore the choo-choo of inevitability is going to leave us behind — or run us over.

Like Moral Majority 1.0, there is a smug certainty to the declarations of Moral Majority 2.0, and Hillary’s “deplorables” comment was made precisely so as to tap into that smugness. For Hillary — and her ardent fans — the country is theirs, and theirs alone. The rest of us are just squatters. We’re going to be run off, or burned out. If not literally, at least figuratively. We didn’t pick the correct “side” so we will not be given a place at the table. We have been made “bad” according to the doctrines of Moral Majority 2.0 and there will be no redemption for us.

In other words, we are blocked from having moral validity, as well as virtue. The river of moral worth has been dammed up at Hillary Clinton. If you’re downstream, forget it. No moral worth for you. Either get with the program and be on the reservoir with the rest of the “right thinking, right voting” Hillary supporters — even the ones holding their noses — or you’re an outcast. You are cut off from the light of righteousness. Banished from the circle of humanity.

“Either you’re voting for Hillary, or you’re with those Nazi racist Trump voters!”

I’ve said in this space (before) that I am taking a Treebeard approach to the 2016 election: Side? I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side. Forced to swallow Fish Hook #1 or Fish Hook #2, I choose a third option.

But that doesn’t mean I think the people voting for Trump are awful. I also don’t think the people voting for Hillary are awful, even if I think Hillary herself is an awful choice, in an awful election year. I fully respect the personhood of both voting blocks, even if I think neither of them is going to get anything like what they’re hoping for — from either of the two main, miserable candidates. So, I try to be careful to distinguish between my dislike of the candidates, and the voters supporting same. I’ve got good friends and even family who are voting for both Hillary and Trump. I don’t think this makes them awful people.

But there does seem to be a significant number of Hillary supporters who aren’t willing to accord me and mine — to say nothing of the Trump supporters — similar courtesy. To them, if you’re not standing with Hillary, you’re scum.

Remember how Bush (last decade) was excoriated for declaring, “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists”?

Progressives and liberals loathed, derided, and detested that sentence. They considered it proof of Bush’s retrograde, one-dimensional policy. Zero nuance.

Do any of Hillary’s proponents think twice, in our current election, before sneering about misogynist, racist, homophobic, Trump voters and independents?

If not, they probably should.

Frankly, if your first instinct is to label anyone who doesn’t behave or believe the way you do — racist, misogynist, homophobe, Nazi, etc. — I think the problem is far more on your side of the table, than not. You’re neither caring, nor compassionate. You’re merely impressed with your own moral and political rightness.

You’ve become a hoarder of rectitude. All for you, none for us. Nobody else is allowed to have any goodness. Only you — and everyone you deem worthy — gets to be good. Meaning, your monocultural opinions and ideas are the only ideas given any standing in a given conversation. Everyone else who isn’t “smart” enough to believe and think just like you, is a moral monster.

And we all know that monsters are fair game. You can vandalize their property, call them bad names, call their family and their children bad names, lie about them and spread lies to defame and undermine them, threaten their jobs, stage repeated on-line mob sessions or street protests resembling 1984’s infamous Two Minute Hate, and much worse. Because monsters deserve what they have coming to them.

Monsters aren’t on the “team” pushing this country up the “ramp” leading to the perfection of the human condition.

Therefore, anything done to or said about a monster, is perfectly okay. Even terrible, hate-filled untruths, designed to evict decent folk from the human condition. It’s all good. They’re only monsters.

When Hillary called us “deplorables” she was saying we not only do not matter, but that we’re terrible people who do not exist in the realm of individual dignity. In true Hillary fashion, everyone who is not useful to her, is deemed an outlander. We’re off the chart of civilization. We are just in the way of Hillary’s vision of progress.

This kind of thing has happened regularly throughout history. The many Moral Majorities — and their bold leaders — which have marched brazenly across every continent. How or why we don’t learn from the past, is probably explained by the fact that self-righteousness is a hell of a drug. Convince a man that he’s got the moral “right” to be terrible to another human being, and that man will do all manner of atrocity — in the name of what he believes to be correct. Or true. Or virtuous. Because he’s been given an excuse.

The various Marxist movements of the 20th century were all certain that their “way” was the inevitable — indeed, scientific — path forward. Hundreds of millions of human beings suffered and /or were killed, for the sake of the Marxist certainty that their ramp to societal perfection, was so just and so absolute, that nobody could deviate without being an obviously amoral and pernicious individual. Worthy of jail. Torture. Execution. And other heinousness.

Of course, the Marxist road to a perfect society, predictably crumbled beneath them. Because history is not a straight line. It is an oscillating waveform. Depending on your view, the present time may be a peak, or a trough; or maybe somewhere in between? The “inevitable” course of history has an uncanny tendency to swerve sharply from expected trajector(ies).

Thus it may be that the finger-pointers of 2016 — those who happily mock and abuse us “deplorables” — will learn a little humility.

Or not?

Again, self-righteousness is a hell of a drug.

The Mote in Gernsback’s Eye

I’ve said before that it usually doesn’t matter how much a conservative shouts or points at a problem with liberal behavior, the liberals usually don’t pay any attention until another liberal sees the same problem, and speaks up. This is because liberals (and conservatives often, too) — in the United States — have trained themselves to be so cynical about the thoughts and motives of the other side, they will immediately discount any information flowing from an “enemy” source. Everyone is forever on the alert for “concern trolling” and nobody wants to budge an inch, if it means admitting that maybe something might be wrong in friendly territory.

Excerpted below are the comments of the current Vice President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America — SFWA.

NOTE: I walked out of that organization after they expelled Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg from the pages of the SFWA Bulletin, for what essentially amounted to word crime. I decided I didn’t want any part of a so-called writers’ union that would treat two of its senior members so shabbily, over a matter which can only be described as thought-policing. I haven’t paid much attention to SFWA since then.

But Ms. Hogarth’s words struck a chord with me — they should, for any conservative who’s toiled in these spec fictional prose mines over the past 25 years. I said it last weekend: the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy does not like conservatives, nor libertarians, all that much. Being a conservative or libertarian (aka: classically liberal) in SF/F, in the year 2016, is akin to operating in enemy territory. Not because you’re out to get them as much as they’re certainly out to get you. Unless you can run silent, and run deep. Showing your cards — forcing them to admit that you exist — comes with a host of potential repercussions. You’ve definitely got to make up your mind about how you’re going to sail your way through this strange little ocean Hugo Gernsback dubbed “scientifiction.”

I attended a con once where the toastmaster said that they wanted all conservatives to “hurry up and die and leave the planet to the rest of us. No wait, they can stay as long as we can have their money.” And people applauded. That person wasn’t kicked out of the convention. They were feted and congratulated while I sat in the audience, pale and trembling, listening to the people around me cheer my demise. I have never, ever forgotten that moment. Or all the threatening ones after, both generalized or intimate, like the man who leaned into my face and told me the world would be better off without me and people like me. No one stepped in to tell him that he shouldn’t say such things. The people standing around us just nodded or smiled. One of them even said before leaving, “Your time is over. We don’t need you anymore, [expletive here].”

The mandarins of SF/F expend a lot of energy wrapping themselves in the flag of tolerance. But as any conservative can tell you, that tolerance runs pretty much one-way. A tolerance conversation (liberal to conservative) in SF/F often goes like this, “Hello, I am a tolerant caring compassionate liberal, and you’re not. You will sit there and politely listen to all of my ideas and theories, and not say a word. I will sit here and listen to all of your ideas and theories, and then I will explain to you why you’re a dirty bigot and a hater and an evil human being. We will both agree I am right, and you will apologize for being bad.”

That, dear friends, is how “tolerance” works in SF/F at this time.

I’ve discussed this at length with Orson Scott Card — he being well acquainted with the tolerance charade — and he says it didn’t used to be like this before 1980. Oh, to be sure, there were plenty of fans, authors, and editors on the left-wing side of the aisle. But it wasn’t so vindictive, nor so personal. You could sit at a table with conservatives, liberals, anarchists, libertarians, and have a rousing verbal melee of competing ideas, but at the end of it, you’d still be able to shake hands, and walk away comrades in the field. That began to change (perhaps not coincidentally) about the time Ronald Reagan took his seat in the Oval Office. Gradually, in dribs and drabs, the dominant left-wing culture of SF/F has traded in true tolerance, for a kind of totalitarian double-think 1984 version of tolerance — people and ideas labeled ‘intolerant’ don’t have to be tolerated. In 2016, with tender snowflakes floating around in SF/F like it’s a mild blizzard, anyone can be labeled ‘intolerant’ for any reason, logical or not. Because anyone can claim to be a Victim (caps v) and in the new vernacular of Social Justice Zealotry, the Victim is always right and always wins. Always.

What this means is that common law assumption of innocence — the foundation for Enlightenment justice as practiced in the United States for over two hundred years — has been replaced (in the culture of SF/F) with a totalitarian law of default guilt. When a Victim says you have “aggressed” in some fashion, you are automatically at fault. In fact, if you’re unfortunate enough to possess “privileged” demographics, your very existence is an aggression. You must put on your scarlet letter P and show the world that you are willing to atone for your sin of privilege, and call out those around you for their privilege too. Again, all of this rests on a totalitarian law of default guilt.

Not surprisingly, default guilt breeds an environment where compassion and generosity shrivel away to nothingness.

I’ll say it twice, for emphasis: default guilt breeds an environment where compassion and generosity shrivel away to nothingness.

What do I mean by that? Look at Ms. Hogarth’s example. A compassionate person does not openly wish for a broad segment of the population to die — whether it was a joke or not — and a compassionate audience does not applaud such a statement. There is also zero generosity in the declaration, “We don’t need you anymore, your time is over, bitch.” Ms. Hogarth was cast in the role of villain merely for being who she is. As the villain, she was not accorded the regard even a child might be accorded. Villains don’t deserve regard. Villains deserve scorn, disdain, insults, and worse.

I have occasionally read and heard rebuttals along the lines of, “Well if conservatives and libertarians weren’t so selfish, terrible, hateful, and bigoted, we wouldn’t have to insult them!”

Again, the totalitarian assumption of guilt. It doesn’t matter how the default villain has comported herself. The villain is the villain is the villain. And villains are fair game for all kinds of atrocious and genuinely aggressive (usually, passive aggressive) behavior that tolerant liberals themselves would never countenance; if it were directed at them, or their fellow ideological travelers.

More from Ms. Hogarth:

I am all for a more civilized fandom. I am all for us being kinder to one another, and striving to understand each other’s viewpoints, experiences, and beliefs. I give people the benefit of the doubt, and because of that, I’ve enjoyed friendships with a broad gamut of people, all of whom have taught me a great deal and brought me a great deal of joy. But if we’re going to slap people on the wrists for microaggression, can we please start playing fair? Can we go after the person at the con who made knowing comments to the audience about flyover states? Can we talk to the person who was preaching radical feminist philosophy as if it was the only sensible philosophy until I said, quietly, “I’m sorry. I’m not on board with most of that.” Can we stop the toastmasters wishing that half the population would die in a fire (and leave their wealth to them)? Is my excessive discomfort also important? What about all my conservative or religious friends, and the fans who have quietly told me the only place they feel safe is in my social media spaces? What about the fans who have even more quietly told me they don’t feel safe ever?

I find this sentiment plausibly risable. It seems like the voice of grown-upness, pleading for sanity. “Can we all please just try to treat each other a little better? Please??”

I could only add that the solution to all of this, is not to police the left-wing (on matters of “microagression”) to the same degree that the right-wing has been policed. The solution is to reevaluate the entire concept of “aggression” and “microagression.” Again, what happened to common-law assumption of innocence? We need to get back to it. Do not assume intent to harm. Set the bar (for proof of harm) high, and keep it high. Good lord, do we really want twin competing blizzards of tender snowflakes, all flying into each other and running to authority figures to “fix” the issue? Like a pack of sore-faced first graders endlessly tattling to teacher?

I was raised to believe that a real grown-up can take a few things on the chin. I was also raised to believe that a real grown-up can laugh at himself on occasion. The totalitarian assumption of guilt removes vital flexibility from our interactions. Everyone winds up expecting and seeking to discover (s)he has been harmed, and everyone is on the defensive against accusations of same. This kafka-esq nightmare of human relations permits almost no compassion, nor humility. When both pride and ego have been refined to the point of glass fragility, the slightest knock can cause shatteringly overblown reactions.

So, rather than degrade the state of dialogue, we need to promote thicker skins as well as greater honesty. I don’t want liberals being too scared to speak their minds. If somebody wishes I would go away and just die, I may not like the sentiment, but at least I know where the person stands. I am tough enough to hear those words, and I know the viewpoint from which they spring. It’s the viewpoint of moral surety. Scaring liberals into never speaking their moral surety does not end the moral surety. It merely drives them into echo chambers behind closed doors, where they can speak and share that surety in safe company; people who won’t run and tattle to teacher.

And if both conservatives and liberals only ever spend their time among like minds, behind closed doors, inventing monocultural spaces for themselves where they only ever have to hear and speak the same thoughts about the same ideas . . . well, we’re pretty much there already. In SF/F and also the culture at large. Social media has allowed us to run around inside the heads of other people, and we’re horrified by what we find there. Perhaps the liberals of SF/F believe that SF/F conventions (like Worldcon) ought to be places where they can feel safe verbally wishing for the deaths of conservatives? Forgetting that conservatives, too, are part of the fabric of SF/F? Whether SF/F’s liberals like it or not.

One wonders what old Mr. Gernsback might make of the situation — he who originally intended for “scientifiction” to be a literature that interested children in STEM careers. I am not sure Gernsback had any asterisks attached to that desire, political or otherwise.

Still more, from Ms. Hogarth:

Should I discuss at length all the times I have had this prejudice applied to me, not only at conventions, but in my career? Should I tell you about the time someone told me I “belong in the Baen gutter, with all the other troglodytes?” If this wasn’t a systemic prejudice, I wouldn’t bring it up. If we didn’t belong to a fandom that claims to desire diversity, I wouldn’t bring it up. But it’s both, and I am here bringing a warning: all the moderate conservatives — which constitute the majority — who do care about the rights of their friends, no matter their identities, are being driven away. Soon SF/F will find itself in an echo chamber, without any way to build bridges to the people who will increasingly see them as enemies. I don’t want that to happen. That’s why I continue to quietly point out that we can’t foster an environment of real safety without including people we disagree with. Because without exposure to one another, it’s too easy to demonize each other.

Three or four years ago, a fellow author lamented — in a discrete conversation among mixed company — that she had to suppress and hide a significant portion of her identity, in order to avoid causing trouble in SF/F. Because she knew her religiously-couched beliefs about a hot-button political topic would make her persona non grata with fellow authors, and also editors. She was crying when she said it. She knew she was baring her soul to a potentially hostile audience. At the risk of using a shopworn phrase, I felt her pain. Quite deeply. About a dozen years ago, it became apparent to me that if I truly wanted to become a “player” in SF/F I would have to learn to mask my beliefs. Either hide them, or pretend (in the company of fellow professionals) that my beliefs were contra to what I actually think and feel. About economics. About how societies and human beings function. About God, and the immortality of human essence. About sex and sexuality. About any number of things. It would all have to be shoved far back into the closet, and kept there. Otherwise, I was going to piss off a lot of people.

A few years later, having broken into the field — and having also failed spectacularly to keep my trap shut — a trusted mentor engaged in what can only be described as an impromptu intervention. To his credit, all of his logic was business-sound: when you are open about your beliefs, you risk alienating part of your audience, as well as part of your professional cohort. So why talk about it? Isn’t the golden rule to never discuss religion or politics? Because this conversation almost always ends in disaster?

My mentor made excellent sense, then. He still makes excellent sense now. And if the field of SF/F were a field that abided the golden rule across the board I am quite sure I’d not feel the need to bang my pot to the extent that I’ve been banging it. Bless my poor mentor, I know he gets an eye-twitch now, if ever my name is brought up in conversation. He knows he’s gonna have to hear it, about me. And he’s tired of deflecting, or making apologia. I don’t blame him.

But then, that’s precisely why I can’t let it go. Why should he have to deflect, or offer apologia? Why should Ms. Hogarth have to sound the alarm, about moderate conservatives being driven out of SF/F? Why should my fellow author — who cried tears of genuine anguish — have to suppress or cloak who she is, just to get along in this field? Why should any of us have to fear repercussions simply for thinking or expressing opinions or ideas that other people in SF/F disagree with?

“Stop thinking and speaking bad ideas, and we won’t have to be jerks to you!” shout the defenders of the status quo.

Ah, yes. The time-honored excuse of all abusers: you made us do it. There was a fair amount of that talk, directly following the farcical 2015 Hugo awards ceremony. And I’ve made no bones about the fact that I think the mandarins of SF/F self-inflicted a very deep, perhaps irrecoverable wound. But even that wound is merely a symptom of the bigger problem. Of the cultural and intellectual rot which has settled over SF/F and is presently intensifying.

Nobody on the “other side” has to give a damn what I say or write.

But they ought to give a damn about what Ms. Hogarth says and writes.

This is a key officer in the field, putting the field on notice. That the rot must not continue without remedy. I may disagree with her style of remedy, but there must be a remedy. At some stage SF/F’s self-styled liberals must force themselves to look into the eyes of those whom they despise, and find humanity there.

Otherwise, SF/F is going to entirely balkanize. It may have balkanized already? A kind of ethnic cleansing, wherein the “bad people” are at last revealed, and driven from the hall of righteous purity. Leaving SF/F a shell of its former self. Unable to grapple with the most basic of all scientifiction concepts: that there are minds which think as well as yours, just differently.

If there was ever a time when that maxim was carved into the stone archway over the door to the hall, it’s since been chiseled out, and replaced by a cheap plastic placard that says: SAFE SPACE. The door itself is now festooned with blinking orange hazard lights and gobs of yellow-and-black caution tape. Abandon all differences, ye who enter here. Diversity has become a skin-deep game of demographics and Victim-identity fetishization. The totalitarian culture of guilt is omnipresent. You can’t go a week in this field without some poor author or editor being called out, shamed, shunned, castigated, and verbally burned at the stake — for infractions of impiety or heresy.

Scientifiction — the literature which ought to, above all other things, pride itself on free inquiry and the publishing and expression of “dangerous” ideas — has fallen into a spiritual and ideological gutter of same-thinkery, restrictions on speech and expression, and the routine punishing of “evil doers” who cannot or will not conform to expected orthodoxy.

Again, the left-wing side doesn’t have to give a damn what I say or write.

But if enough people like Ms. Hogarth have the courage to tell the truth, maybe things can change?

One has to hope.

Courageous left-wing media beats stuffing out of Straw Puppy

Speaking of Social Justice Zealots, it’s not shocking to see a woman like Amanda Marcotte jump on the anti-Puppy bandwagon. Salon is, after all, the publisher of such intellectual giants as Arthur Chu, who (you may recall) cast this author’s family in the unenviable role of human shields. With robust journalism like that, it’s small wonder why Salon Media Group’s stock has completely tanked over the past ten years. I know it’s a matter of rote gospel (for the Left) that the proles of the world must be led by the ear to the Truth, and if the proles aren’t having any, well it’s their own damned fault for being ignorant, racist, cisnormative scumbags — daring to have independent ideas. But there must come a time when even the Left starts to realize that the current progressive voice boxes are preaching an increasingly strident, tone-deaf, self-referential, closed-system mantra of fanatical gibberish that resonates only with the Pure Faith; and few people otherwise.

I know, I know, they do it because they believe humanity is locked into some kind of quasi-mystical destiny wherein all of our descendants will be ultra-progressive, and inhabit a period of such intellectual and political amazingness — according to whichever utopian vision the progressives are infatuated with this decade — that nobody will think twice about the total correctness and rightness of progressive thought. On any subject. Regarding any arena of human endeavor. Amanda Marcotte and her fellow travelers are the country’s most pure and perfect thinkers to have ever lived. The only thing holding us back from nirvana, are the dreaded, nasty, evil, barbaric conservatives. Since this destiny is irrevocable, there doesn’t have to be a dialogue. All Amanda and her cohort have to do is sneer, mock, and ridicule anyone and everyone they disagree with.

Regarding Sad Puppies specifically — the attempt by an actually diverse and occasionally chaotic collection of science fiction and fantasy readers and professionals, to prevent the Hugo awards from plunging into monocultural irrelevancy — I’ve given up expecting a fair hearing from the [lame]stream Left. Amy Wallace made it abundantly clear that she had zero interest in listening to or writing about anyone who didn’t flatter her pre-existing narrative: that Sad Puppies was just a tiny group of evil white racist misogynist males intent on keeping saintly pure and brilliant women, non-whites, and other designated Victims (note the caps v) out of the Hugo winners circle. Like almost every other left-wing outlet that’s approached the matter in the past 72 months, WIRED knew all the answers before it conducted even its first interview. The only job at hand was to make sure the Correct Narrative was adhered to and distributed. People who didn’t fit the narrative — like Sarah Hoyt, or Kate Paulk — were ignored. Their viewpoints didn’t matter, therefore they were not allowed to exist. The Narrative did not include them — the way Creationism has a hard time explaining dinosaur fossils — thus inconvenient women were expunged from the progressive record of Sad Puppies events.

I think Sad Puppies’ chief sin — other than existing — was to correctly point out that the Hugo awards (in this decade) were increasingly being used as a tool of affirmative action. I knew beforehand that pointing this out might ruffle a few feathers, but even I was not prepared for the absolute apoplexy that would ensue. Of all the many doctrines of progressivism, affirmative action seems to be one of the most sacrosanct. To question it is to speak the utmost heresy. Nevermind the fact that progressive media crowing (in the wake of the 2015 and 2016 Hugo ceremonies, as well as events like the related Nebula awards) pretty much proved the Puppy point 110% correct. The Hugos are being used for affirmative action: white progressive intellectuals congratulating themselves for being “diverse.” This is done by ensuring that demographics (in literature) matter more than the prose itself. Because nothing demonstrates that a genre is alive and healthy, more than screaming about how a significant percentage of the audience — and the authors — are a bunch of racist, sexist bigots, and isn’t it high time that all these racist and sexist evil-doers just get the hell out?

Oh, they’re getting out all right. To the point that SF/F literature is beginning to mirror the [lame]stream Left-wing media, in its closed-circle tone-deafness, and unwillingness to consider the fact that there are (in the immortal words of Larry Niven) minds which think as well as theirs, just differently.

Sooner or later the honest intellectuals on the Left are going to have to realize that “diversity” does not constitute a room packed with white progressives, who allow a few non-white progressives through the door, then they hoot and holler and hug themselves for being wonderful. Diversity that runs only skin deep — and then, only in like-minded token quantities — is not diversity. It’s as vanilla as vanilla can be. It’s like an amateur author believing that differentiating characters merely amounts to giving each of them a different hat. Diversity (indeed, actual liberalism proper) means not running scared at the first sign of someone who thinks or believes differently. Diversity means having a true spectrum of opinion. Diversity entails doing the uncomfortable chore of not running people out of the room, the instant they voice ideas you find uncomfortable or with which you don’t agree. In other words, DIVERSITY means scuttling today’s present trend toward closed-eye, closed-ear, safe-space monotone echo chambers.

Which is pretty much what the Hugos (and the Nebulas) have become. And Sad Puppies had the audacity to not just point it out — everybody already knew it — but to try to change things through direct action. Via grass-roots campaigning.

At which point all hell broke loose. The establishment hates nothing like it hates grass-roots disobedience. And for two years running, the establishment (with its media connections) has done everything in its power to vilify and slander everyone and anyone connected to Sad Puppies. We were not human beings. We were designated targets. Character assassination was the objective. Make the broader world believe Sad Puppies are evil, and voila, Sad Puppies magically get to be evil — even though we’re not. I suppose for individuals schooled in Alinsky tactics, the ends will always justify the means. But there must come a point when the invective reflects the reality. And where reality is concerned, we Sad Puppies do not match the horrible, nasty, downright heinous and garish portrait that’s been painted of us.

I think Ira Glass ran into this — the fact not matching the fiction — when he interviewed me in 2015. Whatever he thought I was going to be, at the start of the interview, I suspect his opinion was somewhat changed at the end of it. Enough for This American Life to largely skip over the Sad Puppies controversy. Because there just wasn’t enough “there” there, to justify focusing on Sad Puppies to the extent that other outlets had focused. And Ira is hardly the world’s most conservative chap. I am pretty sure he expected me — self-appointed spokesman of Sad Puppies 3 — to be an entirely different kind of person. But I wasn’t. To Ira’s credit, he didn’t join in pillorying the effigy of us that had been created. Because I didn’t fit the narrative, as it had been repeated to that point.

Nor does Larry Correia fit the narrative. Nor does Kate Paulk fit the narrative. Nor Sarah Hoyt. In fact, you will be hard-pressed to discover anyone in the Sad Puppies camp who fits the narrative — that we’re all hopelessly white, male, sexist, and racist.

Sad Puppies didn’t say we wanted to keep anyone out of the Hugos. We said we wanted the Hugos to be more intellectually diverse, less focused on fetishization of “marginalized” demographics, and that the award was either going to be determined on matters of merit, or it wasn’t much of an award at all.

Far from being the signifier of mind-blowing landmark fiction — as it was when authors such as Scott Card, Lois Bujold, or Vernor Vinge were winning — the Hugo (in this decade) has become the plaything of a very specific crop of connected authors and editors. One might refer to them as The Beautiful People — adept at ensuring they and their friends were routinely on the final ballot, thus routinely winning the trophy.

Naturally, when Sad Puppies stood up and posed a threat to that system, Sad Puppies was (of course) accused of merely being a cabal of friends — interested only in seeing themselves get awards.

In this way, the Beautiful People proved the truism: that individuals often assume others will act (or react) in the same ways those individuals would, in similar circumstances.

Quick fact: Larry Correia actually withdrew himself from Hugo consideration in 2015, and has since re-stated his lifetime recusal. As the 2012 triple-nominee (Hugo, Nebula, Campbell) I am standing with Larry on this. If there’s a worse way to get the establishment to honor you — than pissing off the establishment — I can’t think of it. Larry wasn’t interested in a Hugo for himself, and I am not interested in a Hugo for me either. Especially not after giants like Larry Elmore and Jerry Pournelle were ranked below NO AWARD for the 2016 season. Any collection of “fans” which can treat the masters of this field with such ignorant contempt, is not a collection of “fans” from whom I desire anything. Especially not a lump of metal or plastic.

So, here we are again: the [lame]stream Left’s media apparatus has bravely ridden onto the field, and hacked to pieces the little straw effigy of Sad Puppies. “Bad dog!” they scream from their establishment saddle. “Bad, bad dog! That ought to teach you!”

Yes, it takes true heroism to defeat a foe who not only cannot speak, nor bark, nor bite, but who is in fact not even real.

Even Neil Gaiman — a smart man, who should know better — couldn’t resist the urge to walk onto the grass and kick the straw head of the vanquished effigy. I suppose Neil felt it necessary, to demonstrate his fealty to the establishment? Or maybe Neil felt he genuinely disliked the Straw Puppy — now scattered and tattered.

Though it’s worth pointing out that Neil doesn’t actually know anyone who walks beneath the Sad Puppies banner. He could have easily chatted up Kate Paulk, who is both a true fan of the field, and a very nice woman. She was at the convention in Kansas City. I suspect Neil never consulted her? Nor have most of those who’ve made ritualistic swipes at the Straw Puppy.

I don’t know if there will be a Sad Puppies for 2017. The Beautiful People are changing the rules. Making it even tougher for a grass-roots rebellion to have any impact on the contents of the final Hugo ballot. If that somehow doesn’t satisfy them, they’ll make other moves — to insulate the award from the influence of “bad” people. My finger to the wind tells me that almost everyone who has devoted time, money, or attention to Sad Puppies, has turned his or her eye to the new Dragon Award — an attempt by the famous Dragon Con fan convention to create a bona fide fan-driven award that reflects the interests and enthusiasms of Dragon Con’s (routinely huge) constituency. As in all things, the Dragon will require active participation from a very wide and deep spectrum of people; lest it merely become the Hugos Lite. If I had to bet anything, I’d bet that Sad Puppies (future) will devote itself to the Dragon, or other similar accolades which are not actively being shuttered against the masses, in the way the Hugo is being shuttered.

The Hugos themselves? You can’t save a drowning man, if he slaps away the hands trying to pull him out of the water. My suspicion is that Worldcon attendance is going to bottom out around three thousand people, by the end of this decade. At which point the Hugos will be exclusively given out — among a very tight circle of like-minded souls — for the explicit purpose of making political and social commentary. We’re pretty much doing that already. Only, by 2020, the Beautiful People won’t even pretend otherwise. In their minds, they’ll forever be striving to defeat the Straw Puppy, menacing and terrible.