About Brad R. Torgersen

Blue Collar Speculative Fiction

Clinton and Trump are Scylla and Charybdis

In 1992 — my first year voting in United States national elections — I was a Perot man. Unhappy with the choices and rhetoric put forth by the Republicans and Democrats, I was excited by the fact that there was somebody making a very strong push; as a third option. I watched Perot’s presentations, and also his performance during debates. I knew I wanted him to be the next President. He even got my Dad’s vote, and Dad was a very reliable Republican supporter.

Unfortunately, we simply wound up handing the White House to Bill Clinton.

In 2016, I am afraid the terrible two-party calculus, will again wind up handing the White House to a Clinton. The Trump supporters just don’t realize it yet.

Look, seriously, I get it. I get the frustration with the establishment. I get being tired of the endless lies, and being pandered to. I get that the Republicans are always betraying principle, for the phantasm of “electability.”

But Trump is not anti-establishment. He’s as establishment as they come, and he’s actually on Hillary’s side of the fence!

Oh, sure, he’s out there saying whatever he thinks he needs to say, to make you — reliable Republican — believe that he represents a true turn away from business-as-usual words-not-deeds soft-serve Republicanism. He’s the dude who is going to shake everything up, piss off all the right people, and get America back on track. Sounds great. And if Trump did not have a history, even I might be inclined to buy his schtick.

But Trump does have a history, and it’s the very history — of talking like a Democrat flunky, of donating money like a Democrat flunky — that convinced me Trump is not serious. He is, at best, trying to ego his way to the White House. Or, at worst, he is merely playing a role, so that Hillary Clinton is ensured an error-free path to the Presidency. Does that sound crazy? It makes perfect sense, if you believe that the Republican base is both gullible, and easily led astray.

This is a crucial moment, not just for the Republican party, but for American conservative and libertarian principles. For decades, we’ve labored under derision — from progressives, liberals, Democrats, etc. — that we’re a bunch of mouth-breathing goons. We will follow any damned fool to hell, so long as he tells us what he thinks we want to hear. Guess what? Putting Trump forth as the “anti-establishment candidate” pretty much tells the universe that the progressives, liberals, and Democrats, were all right about us. We are going to follow a damned fool who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.

If I am a lifer Democrat, liberal, or progressive, I am laughing my ass off right now. The ascension of Trump could very well mean the final end of the Reagan coalition legacy, and the consignment of the Republican party to permanent minor-player status. If I am a lifer Democrat, liberal, or progressive, I am rubbing my hands with glee. The “enemy” are happily destroying themselves, and destroying any ability they might have had to stand in the way of progressive policy-making — especially where erosion of basic liberties and financial independence is concerned.

So, the country will get one-party rule. Democrats, for the rest of my adult life. And the Democrats are putting Hillary and Bernie forward, as the shining beacons of progress. These are the poster children for our political future: a pathologically lying narcissist who only cares about herself, and a dippy old socialist who thinks economics can be turned Marxist without destroying the value of the dollar.

If that doesn’t make you weep for the future, I don’t know what will.

Because I don’t want to be a vassal. I am a citizen, dammit, and citizens shouldn’t let punks be in the White House.

Alas, punks are all we’re allowed to choose from in 2016.

Oh, sure, I know, it’s time to unfurl the Unicorn Cavalry flag, and put money down on Gary Johnson. But this will simply lock Clinton in, the same way Perot locked Clinton in, because far fewer Democrats detest Clinton, than Trump, and far more Democrats will gleefully consolidate under the Clinton flag, than Johnson’s flag. So the Unicorn vote is a protest vote only, and the Democrats don’t have to give a crap about protest votes. Hillary is going to be guaranteed her eight years in office, and the Republicans will be demoted to second-string status in both the House and the Senate — barring some unforeseen resurgence of a fresh crop of actual conservatives — so that sixteen combined years of Obama policies and Clinton (for the second time) policies, could result in America being a very, very different place; by the year 2024.

The truism goes: in a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

Looks like we’re gonna find out just how badly we deserve unchecked one-party domination in Washington D.C. Because even if by some strange turn of events, Trump does win — and he won’t — Trump is still a Democrat, far more than he’s a Republican. Far more. And even if a rebellious resurgence by a third party does make a dent, it will only be a dent. Just as Perot was merely a dent, and provided the perfect triangulation Bill Clinton needed to win in 1992. Because there are far more lifer Democrats who will always and forever vote Democrat, at all costs, than there are Republicans and independents who could rally to the Unicorn flag.

Like I said: Scylla, and Charybdis. The ship breaks up on the rocks, or gets sucked into the whirlpool.

It didn’t have to be this way. But decades of voter inattention and apathy, combined with over a century of money, power, and influence consolidation — by both the two big parties — have conspired to give us the absolute worst Presidential choices of this generation. Perhaps, even of several generations. We’ve faced poor choices before, sure. But right now, we’ve got a lying, self-absorbed narcissist with liberal tendencies on one side, and a lying, self-absorbed narcissist (also with liberal tendencies) on the other side.

And no, the American Republic is not bulletproof. I firmly believe that one-party domination (by the Democrats) will put the United States on track to becoming a super-sized version of Greece, or Venezuela. And these are the soft crash outcomes. I don’t even want to think about the (also very possible) hard crash outcomes.

If I disliked the two-party calculus when was just 18 years old, I now absolutely loathe that same two-party calculus. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have principles. They are simply interested in keeping themselves elected. And we — the voters — apparently can’t be bothered enough to take our national elections seriously. On the one hand, we have people eagerly rushing to become serfs on the one-party-rule Democrat plantation, and on the other hand we have people lining up behind bozo the clown, with an orange face, zero ethics, and a titanic ego.

I want to think God can see us through this. I suspect God’s simply sitting back and shaking His head, saying, “I warned you what would happen, and you didn’t believe me — have fun with your mess I told you you’d make, if you stopped paying attention to me.”

Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

It’s rhetorical pogrom season, in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction.

The 2016 Hugo award selection list (aka: final ballot) has been released, and we seem to be taking a trip down a familiar path. It’s Hatfields vs. McCoys, for yet another year. Or as one reader observed (last season) it’s just Campbellian vs. New Wave, for the umpteenth time. I’ve had several dozen e-mails cross my transom, all showing me what the “other side” is saying (behind both closed and open digital doors) and very little of it surprises me. The same personalities are involved. The same people are lobbying for the same result: NO AWARD for anything deemed to be part of Unfandom, so that Trufandom can rescue the Hugos from those nasty Unfans and their Unfannishness. Just gotta get Worldcon to Europe, so that rules changes can be cemented, and the Hugos will be even better insulated against Unfannery. Meanwhile, another bottle of vintage NO AWARD will be uncorked, to ensure that no rocketships are given to Unfannish types who aren’t properly bred and vetted.

I confess, the NO AWARD result (from 2015) was the only thing that truly surprised me, because not even I thought there would be enough resentful Trufans, all willing to cut the baby in half. But, not only was the baby cut in half, the ones wielding the blade cheered themselves doing the deed. They also handed out wooden CHORFholes, and thought that covering their wooden CHORFholes with a fig leaf of charity, would mask what was — beyond any shadow of a doubt — a complete and total dick move. Yeah, sorry, no. I realize that in the era of virtue-signalling slacktivism, charity is supposed to make dick moves bulletproof. But I am not sure that trick works anymore. That’s the problem with fig leaves: they cover so very little of the actual dickishness behind them.

But really, all of this has been talked to death in past iterations of the same conversation. Everyone knows its madness, and everyone also has an excuse. Everyone expects everyone else to admit wrong, and apologize, but everybody finds him or herself blameless. It’s not any single person that’s wrong with the Hugos, its the entire culture and concept of F/fandom (caps f, small f) that’s rotten. Oh, sure, there’s Scalzi and Beale, hammering away at each other with their egos, but that’s a bit like saying Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invented the present 2016 Presidential mess, when they did not. Hillary and The Donald — two utterly self-serving narcissists — are merely emblematic of a deeper, much more pervasive problem in American culture. We (the nation) have lost our touchstones. We no longer have unifying identifiers, just as F/fandom (caps f, and small f) no longer has unifying identifiers. There are merely circles on a giant Venn diagram, not all of which overlap. And where there is no overlap, there is no commonality. No place in which to reach consensus. There is simply the jostling and friction of competing paradigms.

Which is what the Hugo Wars (or whatever we end up calling them) are all about: the F/fandom (caps f, small f) has ultimately fractured beyond repair. And the Hugos — the former totem for all — has been similarly fractured.

None of this happened overnight. None of it was the invention of a single individual. Just as dysfunctional families do not invent themselves from whole cloth. While the favored son stares in shock as his n’er-do-well sibling sets the drapes on fire, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. The burning drapes are merely the dividend of a thousand slights. And the favored son has the ignorant nerve to act surprised.

Don’t be shocked, then, that the Hugos are in turmoil for another season. There is no longer any unified agreement, about what the Hugos are for. Just as there is no longer any unified agreement about what science fiction is for, much less which types and kinds of science fiction are “worthy” of recognition — above and beyond publication or sales. Similarly, the Oval Office is in doubt. What is it for? What good does it do? Who is qualified to sit in that Oval Office? Some people want to use that office to inflict themselves and their ideas on other people. Some expect the Oval Office to be a single-shot solution to all the universe’s problems. Others have given up entirely on placing any faith in the Oval Office, and openly despise whichever man or woman sits there.

One of my favorite authors of all time — a man of considerable accomplishment and pedigree — remarked to me that he hated winning a major science fiction award. Because winning brought out all the worst, in so many of the people this author formerly considered his colleagues.

Maybe it’s for the best, that the Hugos self-immolate? We (of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction) are evidently perfectly capable of manufacturing plenty of reasons to hate and despise each other. Do we really need another one? Especially with so many oily and competitive personalities involved? Catch the man who has fallen in love with his own mirror — with his self-perception of propriety — and you will typically find the worst sower of rancor. Because he doesn’t openly shout epithets at you across the length of the bar. He quietly poisons the well, with a thousand little shavings of rhetorical and emotional arsenic.

And the science fiction field has a surfeit of such individuals.

It’s enough to make any decent person GAFIAte, permanently. Especially since the emergence of the new Dragon Award, basically puts the Hugos into a place of permanent twilight.

My story’s in 2113

It’s not very often that an author gets invited to contribute to a once-in-a-lifetime project. When Kevin asked me to put a story in for 2113, I instantly knew the direction I wanted to go. I’ve been a RUSH listener since my older cousin (Mark Harman) introduced me to them in 1987. At that point, the band had been active for two decades, and I was coming to them “in the middle” with albums like Hold Your Fire and Power Windows. Not only was I attracted to the music, the lyrics especially spoke to me. I went on to listen to them (backward, to past albums; and forward, to future albums) for many years — enjoying the thoughtfulness and thought-provoking content of any number of songs. With RUSH, there is almost always a lot more “there” there. And while not every RUSH track hit it out of the park for me, there were some tracks that became personal anthems. I wrote my contribution to 2113 accordingly. Think of it like a tribute album. I am quite sure I’ll never get to participate in anything like it ever again. I hope people enjoy the story!! Indeed, I hope people enjoy all of the stories.

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. :)

Here’s a snippet from within:

——————————————————————–

. . . so that the clickity-clackity noise filled Shar’s small NASA office.

The framed photo Shar used to keep—of her wedding day, with Jason—was now absent from the desk’s corner.

She’d let him off easy. It hadn’t been an acrimonious separation. One day he’d come home to discover that Shar was moving closer to work. A tiny studio apartment, with easy public transit options, for getting to and from the NASA office.

“We can figure this out,” Jason had said, his face flushed.

“It’s not about figuring it out,” Shar had told him gently. “It’s about us going in different directions. We’ve been going in different directions for a long time. We can’t keep beating around the bush, or pretend that everything is just going to be alright. It’s not that I don’t love you, Jason. It’s that I don’t think loving you is enough anymore.”

He hadn’t argued with her much. Which essentially cemented her hunch that she’d been right about how tenuous their affection had become. He’d increasingly had his world—focused on his dream of the country house, far from the NASA office. And Shar had had her world—pushing forward on the building of new machines, new ships, and new technology; all designed to grow and foster the tiny, fledgling colony that was budding on the surface of Mars.

Shar’s little office was covered in high-resolution color printouts of digital photos from the colony. Unless Shar had known better, she might have suspected that they came from Utah or New Mexico. The rocks and soil stretched dryly in every direction, with an orange sky that faded to red and purple when the sun went down. Shar watched every digital movie that the colonists could send back. She spent hours talking to the people from crews which had returned. Some of them were friends from the original Wanderer mission. Others were just getting back from their first assignment. The colony wasn’t ready yet for year-round habitation. But with Shar’s help, it would be soon.

Shar leaned back in her thin-profile wheelchair, and watched the three-dimensional machining animation on her screen. In the span of thirty seconds, a five-hour printing and milling process played out, quick-time. She examined the finished product, swiveling it around on the screen, using her fingertips.

If ever the colony was going to survive unaided—in case something interrupted the supply line from Earth—they were going to need to be able to build replacement parts by themselves. The automated manufacturing units being planned for the newer missions were supposed to be able to fashion almost any part of any shape, from any refined material. Even solid steel. Every colony component that could break or wear out, was going to have to be programmed into the databases on those units. Then the units were going to have to be tested relentlessly, to be sure they worked as they were meant to.

To include being able to manufacture the parts to replace the units themselves if it came down to it.

Satisfied with her work, Shar closed the animation and put her computer on standby. It was only a little bit after ten at night. The cafeteria was closed, but she could go get some sandwiches from the twenty-four-hour desk, which had a refrigerator constantly stocked with cold foods—for the staff who often needed to eat at odd times.

She brought her hands down onto the familiar hoop grips on the sides of her chair’s two wheels . . .

. . . and the chair rolled into the office.

Alberto stood silently, his pastel-blue hospital scrubs fresh and clean. Life as a young resident was proving to be even more challenging than school itself. This wasn’t just book learning and cadavers anymore. These were real people. With real problems. The paralysis specialty therapy program at Collingsworth General was among the most advanced research programs in the country. Alberto had slaved for years to qualify for this job, and now that he was here, he could see why they weren’t just taking anybody.

“Good morning Mister Gerald,” Alberto said with a smile.

The man in the wheelchair—Philip Gerald, forty seven, wounded in combat, VA disability case, elective referral for experimental therapy—grunted.

“Doc,” Philip said, stopping his chair at the foot of the exam table. The man’s head was shaved bald, and a walrus-like mustache sprouted from his upper lip. His sea-blue eyes were sharp, but held no humor. As always, his manner was direct. No nonsense. A relic from his years in the Army, or so some of the nurses had said when he’d initially been referred. Alberto liked working with Philip, because Philip would often tell stories from his time spent overseas. And he wasn’t afraid of trying anything new.

“If it’ll get me my legs back,” Philip once drawled, “hell, I’ll kiss a rattlesnake on the lips and call her my girlfriend!”

Without needing to be told, Philip allowed myself to be maneuvered up and out of his chair—by Alberto, and one of the medical assistants. They had Philip lying on his stomach on the exam table, and Alberto peeled up the man’s t-shirt to reveal the plastic-covered network of wires that ran up and down Philip’s spine. The wires branched off and penetrated the skin at different points—though there was no blood, nor any scabbing.

“Any changes since last week?” Alberto asked.

“Naw,” Philip said, his voice slightly muffled. “Just dull little prickly sensations where I remember my legs used to be. It’s been like that since the third day after the implant.”

Alberto allowed himself a frown. The direct nerve induction system wasn’t working nearly as well as everyone had hoped.

Alberto wasn’t experienced enough yet to perform any of the surgeries himself, but one day soon he would be. Though, he couldn’t help feeling like the entire induction technology initiative was a dead end—an attempt to solve the problem without considering more elegant solutions.

“Okay,” Alberto said. “I’m going to change the battery, and we’ll take the signal up just a tick.”

“Dial to eleven if you want,” Philip said, chortling. “There aint nothin’ you can break that hasn’t already been broke by a bullet.”

“Right,” Alberto said. “I just want to be careful.”

“Roger that,” Philip grunted.

Alberto snapped the cover off of a small, slim-line plastic box, then he took out the rechargeable battery inside, and placed a fresh one in. When the battery quietly snapped into place, Philip’s legs jerked.

“Did you feel that?” Alberto said, hopefully.

“Feel what?” Philip replied.

Alberto suppressed a sigh. Yes, he was definitely going to have to find a way to get his alternative theory into the lab. This hardware-based implant program wasn’t going to do the job—not the way Alberto envisioned it should. Too clumsy. Prone to breakage and the problem of the batteries always running low. If it was going to work, it needed to be able to last a lifetime.
Alberto pulled his patient’s shirt back down, and together with the medical assistant, began to lever Philip back into the chair . . .

Why I can’t be a socialist

I’ve tried (over time) to explain my opposition to socialism in these terms:

1) Socialism’s ultimate disregard for the dignity and rights of the individual.

2) Socialism’s ultimate disregard for the economics of human nature.

3) The inevitable suffering and misery that results from 1 and 2.

First, because the root philosophy of socialism is Marxist (ergo, redistribution and leveling across economic tiers) socialism requires an authority capable of bending the knees of the people to the will of the state. There is no form of national socialism which has ever existed without very powerful governmental authority, and a police force capable of backing up that authority. This authority (and that police force) tend to show little (historical) regard for the individual, because socialism is focused (in the ideal) on benefit to the aggregate, not the welfare of the single person. If you’re going to have socialism, you have to be able to make people with “too much” give up things, so that people with “too little” receive those same things. This incredible power—however well-intended in its origins—invariably attracts the worst kind of bloody-handed leadership: psychopaths, sociopaths, and zealous devotees of various forms of social engineering.

Second, socialism is forever battling against the gravity field of human nature. Ergo, socialism is a state-sponsored moral remedy for the natural “selfish” virtue that individuals are entitled to the fruits of their creativity, intelligence, and labor. This warping—group or state “management” of the creation and exchange of intellectual and physical product, not to mention currency—undermines and devalues the very labor which socialism claims to venerate. Men who discover they don’t have to work to keep their bellies full, usually don’t work. Men who discover that working 50 hours a week, gets them no further ahead than working zero hours a week, also don’t work. Societies which bankrupt the incentives to work, always collapse. Fewer and fewer people carry more and more of the burden, until the whole thing crumbles. It happened in Soviet Russia. It is happening in Greece and Venezuela.

Third, the combination of intrusive and coercive state authority, with social engineering and terrible-minded leadership, and the grinding-down of incentives, has resulted in an overwhelmingly documented record of human woe, unlike anything ever seen in history. These facts are not a matter of rhetorical flourish. The Holodomor. The killing fields of Cambodia. China’s Cultural Revolution. The desolation of North Korea and Cuba. The destruction of national economies. Gulags. Poverty. Hunger. Death. So much death. Death unending. The snuffing out of well over a hundred million human lives, during the 20th century alone. That’s nine figures to the left of the decimal, if you want to write the number on a piece of paper and look at it. Men. Women. Children. Starved. Beaten. Jailed. Tortured. Mutilated. Mass graves. Erased from history—because they were deemed to be “in the way” of progress.

Of course, America’s fresh crop of socialists don’t see it like that. Like almost all socialists, the dream of making Utopia is simply too irresistible to them. It doesn’t matter what happened before—nor what will happen again, because we forget history (and repeat history, on this subject) with soul-destroying regularity. America’s socialists have been told (often from the cradle up) that socialism is not only sustainable, but an unalloyed good. Anyone who objects is deemed obstructionist, or even outright dangerous—we are merely “in the way” of progress.

I fear that the United States is the proverbial frog in the kettle. We’ve been gradually adding components of socialism to our national fabric since the early half of the prior century. In 2016, we seem to want to throw caution to the wind, and give the state unbridled ability to “improve” our lives, by making our decisions for us. We have corrupt political parties who thrive on a bread-and-circuses model; for selection of governing personalities. Sooner or later, that gradually warming water is going to be brought to a boil—and cook us. There is nothing magical about the United States that will prevent all the horrors of the 20th century, from happening here too.

The state that “takes care of” you in the ways you desire, can also “take care of you” in a very permanent, very undesirable fashion as well.

I wish more of my countrymen understood this. Alas . . . socialism is the irresistible flame to which the well-meaning, ever-hopeful moths are eternally drawn.

I try to see a positive future. But it’s mighty tough these days.

A Star Wars review: The Force Awakens

Okay, with a full four weeks behind us — since Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted — I think I can safely discuss the particulars of the film, without being wary of spoilers. But, if you still haven’t seen the movie? Stop reading now.

(This SNL skit is totally canon! It has to be!)

On a scale of 1 to 10 (for the franchise as a whole) I’d give SW:TFA a solid 7 — with Empire Strikes Back at 9, and Revenge of the Sith at 2.

SW:TFA hit a lot of right notes with me. The acting was solid, there was a fair balance between practical and CGI effects, and I think they were smart to give the relationships in SW:TFA a very dysfunctional 21st-century sensibility.

I mean, Han and Leia were clearly a train wreck. As fairy tales go, that’s a lousy way to plot their relationship. Return of the Jedi was a very happily-ever-after finish to the first three films. But if we examine who these characters are, realistically, it’s pretty obvious that they were headed for some rough times, following Jedi. Neither of them was what we might call good parent material. Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) was probably more of an accident, than he was planned. We’re not even sure Han and Leia were married at the time. With the re-rise of the Republic, duking it out with the remains of the Empire — and the founding of the Resistance — there was precious little time for settling down and raising a family. Han and Leia were probably grateful to pawn Ben off on Luke, the way some parents might send a sulking, troubled boy to a military academy. In the hope that Uncle Luke could straighten the kid out.

Except, Ben (the Force-sensitive emo basket case) wasn’t so easily steered away from the Dark Side. Unloved and unloving, he was probably a major thorn in Luke’s side. So that, try as he might, Luke could not get the kid to turn around. Probably, the harder Luke tried, the more Ben plunged into his anger — at having been raised by a shitty set of parents, who never gave him enough love and structure when it counted. So that when Luke tried to fill the role of surrogate, Ben’s frustration and hatred were already a large component of his general state of mind.

This is all, of course, armchair psych analysis. But when writing bad characters, it’s important for any writer to really crawl inside the bad guy’s head, and figure out why he is the way he is. I liked that we were given a lot of strong signs, pointing to Ben’s apparently unhappy childhood. Kylo is filled with rage, and a need to control. That kind of sentiment doesn’t come from nowhere.

Which made Han Solo’s death — at Ben’s hands — the best scene in the movie, in my opinion. Without it, there is nothing to anchor SW:TFA to the larger family drama stretching all the way back to when Darth Vader boarded the Tantive IV at the beginning of the fourth (first, for my generation) episode. Ben clearly wants to throw himself over fully to the Dark Side, and Han clearly wants to try to find some way of getting his son back.

Speaking as a father, those few moments when Han and Ben are face to face, that made the film for me. Because even though Ben is a mess, and has been doing some terrible things, Han Solo is still a decent man. And a decent man looks at what has become of his son, and he asks, How did I screw my son up this much? Let it go this far? What am I prepared to do, to try to salvage what’s left?

When Solo says, “Anything,” I believed him emphatically.

Han doesn’t even struggle much, when Ben runs his father through. Just cups Ben’s cheek with a fatherly palm — as if to say he still loves Ben.

Now, if you’re not a parent, this might not key so hotly for you. I really do think being a parent sets this scene apart, from almost any other scene I’ve ever experienced in any of the other Star Wars films.

For Han, he’s looking in Ben’s face, and seeing the eyes of his five year old child staring up at him. Vulnerable. So much pain and hurt, between those early years, and that cat walk in the center of Starkiller Base. And Han felt responsible. Solo was ready to give his life for the sake of his boy. That touched me in a very personal place.

As the saying goes, you never stop being a parent.

So of course Ben has to off his dad, thus becoming Kylo Ren permanently. It’s the singular act of Ben’s young life, up to that point. The one he hopes will erase all doubts. Thus making his later chest-beating — during the forest fight with Rey — reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

As for Rey, we were served a steady diet of question marks. Is she a Kenobi? Is she a Skywalker? It seems like a fifty-fifty proposition at this point. I personally would love for her to be a Kenobi, just because I think that would make for some wonderful symmetry with this whole series. But the how and the why of Rey’s abandoning on Jakku is a real humdinger. It was obviously necessary, for reasons not easily discerned. She certainly seems to have emerged from her childhood damage in much better shape than Kylo. Surviving as orphans on a desert world seems to do the Force-sensitive a lot of good, if Luke (in the originals) is any indicator. But what’s Rey’s connection? What was the whole vision in Maz Kanata’s cellar about? How about the memories from being dropped off on Jakku in the first place?

Personally, seeing little Rey screaming, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” was hard for me to take. Great, brief moments of acting on that little girl’s part. Hit me right in the feels. So much so I had to ask, “What terrible thing would force me to dump my own daughter, at that age, on a barren, hostile planet?”

I guess the next two movies will help us find out.

Again, I gave the movie a 7 out of 10. Not perfect. No way. But then, nothing — after over 30 years of waiting for some true sequels to the originals — was going to make SW:TFA perfect. All of us have wondered, and there have been the Expanded Universe books and series (now scrapped.) We have all, I suspect, also written our own personalized scenarios in our hearts, and in our heads; about how things worked out. Like I said, Jedi served us a very fairy tale ending. The Emperor is dead! Vader is dead! The new Death Star is destroyed! The Imperial fleet has tucked tail and retreated! Han and Leia are going to be together! Luke is finally a Jedi!

Except, fairy tale endings don’t lend themselves well to sequels. You have no conflict upon which to construct more story. SW:TFA needed conflict, and that conflict had to be rooted in the events of Jedi. So, the First Order rises from the — assumed — competition between the remaining, loyal Imperial generals and admirals, to salvage their power. Some of the galaxy has gratefully gone back to the pre-Rebellion days, when the Empire did provide a kind of order. Tyranny, sure. But order. Some people want and need order, above all else. With the Empire down, the galactic economy and political situation must have been a pure mess. The First Order offers structure, and a chance for stability — even if they are iron-fisted about their work.

As a writer, I feel like my job is not to back-seat-drive another writer’s work. That’s usually something a lot of critics do — their ranks being replete with frustrated and failed writers. If I am examining a piece, and especially if I am examining a piece that’s been successful with a broad audience, I am seeking clues to that piece’s appeal. What made it tick? What was the general audience reaction? What was my own reaction, and does it square with most everyone else’s?

I said up top that SW:TFA hit the right notes, for me. It provided a healthy amount of spectacle, twined with nicely-written drama. There was enough meat on these bones — which I didn’t find with the prequels — that the movie kept me suspended in a timeless state for the duration. That’s usually my bottom-line gauge. Did the movie make me forget the clock? Few movies do, these days. But SW:TFA did. And I was grateful for that.

But I also thought the film erred in a few ways. Such as giving Phasma almost no dialogue. And in gifting Finn with a thousand-yard stare that didn’t mesh with his position as a relatively inexperienced combat troop. I mean, for a guy whose job it is to burn the galactic shitter, he sure became disillusioned with the horrors of war mighty quickly.

Now, it’s not unheard of. Humans, as a rule, struggle to kill. Failure to pull the trigger is a documented phenomenon in every war since World War One. Many men simply can’t bring themselves to do it. Even hard men, who’ve endured hard training. But Finn talks like he’s dropped on two dozen worlds, and seen far too much death and blood for his taste.

That’s something I’d have expected from Phasma, frankly.

Which makes me ask: how did the guy who burns the galactic shitter wind up on a combat insertion in the first place? Was he replacing somebody who went to sick call? Is the First Order that short on guys, that the shitter-burner has to put down his matches and his can of galactic diesel, in order to draw a weapon and go out on an op?

Speaking of which, the clone nature of the vaunted Imperial Stormtroopers seems to have been scuttled. I mean, all through the original three films, we never got any indication that any of the Stormtroopers are clones. The prequels made it clear that they were, but now the First Order is changing things up? Or is Finn merely part of a series, derived from one of many different samples? How about Phasma? Also, how about the black-uniform officers? They don’t seem to be clones. We’re never clear on whether or not the Empire promotes up, all the way from Private.

For the next film, I’d like to see more of Phasma, and more of Poe Dameron, frankly. His character’s satus is largely implied, by reputation, but we don’t see or experience much of him. Will this be true for the next two movies? Is Poe merely the new Wedge Antilles? Seems like you could do a lot more with this guy. Fill in his story. He’s the Resistance’s top fighter jock. And he’s not a kid, either. What’s his journey?

As for Rey and Kylo . . . it’s all but certain that these two are going to be saber-battling until the end of the third and final movie in the latest trilogy. Rey as the heir to Luke, and Kylo as the heir to Vader. Will Kylo turn back to the Light Side at the end, as Vader did?

I know a lot of people have hated Kylo’s mopey petulance. What kind of bad guy is that? Vader was a scary, imposing mofo. Kylo makes you want to pick him up and dangle him by his ankles, with his head in the toilet, while you flush repeatedly. (See the video at the top of this post.) Frankly, I think it’s fitting. Kylo is a neurotic, unhappy soul, who wants to bring “order” to the galaxy, thus living up to his grandpa’s legacy. In other words, he’s just like all the children — on modern college campuses — who are angry at the universe, and who expect the universe to change for them, otherwise they need a safe space to run to.

Hitler and Stalin were also neurotic, and expected the whole universe to change for them. And they were some of the most evil men — along with Mao, Che, Castro, Pol Pot — the world has ever seen. Ever. They were also, in their own minds, the heroes. Of their own stories. Which Kylo is too. In his world, it’s the Resistance who are the bad guys, because the Resistance means the Republic, and the Republic means Mom and Dad, and dear God let’s not go there again, because it makes Kylo want to thrash a computer workstation with his lightsaber.

Nice work, Abrams. And nice work, Disney. If you can do this well with the next two movies, and also the auxiliary spinoffs, I think the Star Wars franchise is going to be healthier and more enjoyable than it’s been in decades.

Speaking as a Star Wars fan, this makes me smile.

2015 becomes 2016

Had a whale of a year. The Chaplain’s War earned out in just nine months, in trade paperback and e-book editions. Made a nice splash on Audible.com, too. Netted the family a surprisingly robust royalty check, just in time for Christmas. Consistently earning four and five-star reviews. Got a pile of sweet letters from some gradeschool kids who were read my story, “Astronaut Nick,” for the holidays — and enjoyed it quite a bit, to hear the anecdote of the reader. Fan mail is always amazing, but fan mail from youngsters is priceless. Better than diamonds or gold, I tell you. And I am (of course) contracted for more, with Baen. Hard to find any bad in any of that. 2015 was awesome. Only real bad thing has been being away from family over the holidays. Especially my little daughter, who isn’t so little anymore. I confess to shedding a few tears about that on Christmas eve.

Looking to 2016, I have a multi-faceted plan to spend a lot less time on social media, a lot more time reading recreationally, much more time with family — a new car will aid greatly in this — in addition to re-integrating with the household when I get home from deployment. On that note, my wife and I are going to be focusing especially on co-diet and co-exercise, to begin the process of reshaping our at-home lifestyle for long-term sustainability. Nobody lives forever. But the changes Annie and I both make, now, could be the difference between us enjoying our (eventual) senior years, and hating them. My desire is to be the 70 year old biking up Little Cottonwood Canyon, not marooned in an easy chair, made prisoner by arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

2016 is also the first year of a rather ambitious five-year writing roadmap, including overdue projects, long-dreamt-of projects, stories I both need and want to tell, new experiments in marketing and fan outreach, as well as making good on some promises to both myself, and to other people. 2010-2015 was an amazing stretch for me. At least in comparison to all the years from 1992 (when I first imagined becoming a pro) to 2009 (when I won Writers of the Future, in November.) I’ve got my feet firmly established. Venues. Audience. All of it. If 2010-2015 was the burning of the first stage, 2016 sees that first stage fall away, and the ignition of the second stage. If all goes well, the second stage should put me into orbit. I am looking forward to all of it.

Of course, nobody can eat a whole side of beef in one sitting. Over at Mad Genius Club, I put together a piece about New Years resolutions, and how not to make a liar out of oneself. I think most New Years resolutions fail for two key reasons. First, we don’t understand the difference between a goal, and a dream. Second, we don’t anticipate setbacks, bad days, road blocks, etc. In order to achieve a thing, we must understand what it is we’re capable of actually effecting or influencing in our lives. And in order to reach a large goal, we have to hit small goals over an extended period. That extended period should include enough elasticity (in our plans) for bumps, bruises, and the drama of life.

2015 certainly had its fair share of drama, of which I was a willing participant. Some might even say, pugilist? But we all have to pick and choose our battles.

One of the reasons I am imposing some new rules for myself (for social media) is because I am dreading the 2016 United States Presidential election. Or at least, the run-up to said election. I am pretty sure no matter who wins, half of America will consider it the end of civilization. I already went on that carnival ride in 2012, and don’t need a repeat. Especially since none of the present frontrunners thrill me. I will cast my vote, and hope that (somehow) everything will work itself out as it should. This faith isn’t easy right now. Both my father and I agree that there’s a great deal wrong with Washington D.C., almost none of it easily rectified. But then, getting back to my circle of influence — the things I can actually control — there’s no point spending all day raging into a keyboard about politicians who don’t care.

I wish everyone else — my many friends, my readers, my family — good luck with your New Years resolutions, goals, plans, ideas, etc. My church always offers some smashingly good thoughts on this subject. I know I’ll be referring back to these basics when the inevitable missteps and setbacks occur. It really isn’t about starting off with a bang, that counts. It’s getting back up off the mat, each time life knocks you down.

Sad Puppies and the future

Many people have already seen George R. R. Martin’s optimistic (and well-intended) commentary at his LiveJournal. However, just as with George’s hood ornament Alfie awards (also well-intended) there is more than one way for a thing to be perceived. My perception — and I am not alone in this — of George’s desire for an end to the rancor, is that George still seems to think that a) the rancor was flowing almost entirely one-way, from the Puppies’ side to the Trufan side, and also b) none of the Puppies are themselves fans. Not Fans (caps f) and certainly not Trufans. No. Puppies are still an outsider bunch, who carry an outsider’s stigma.

There is also a bit too much parentalism in George’s tone: dear kids, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, now wipe those dirty looks off your faces and come give your mother a hug!

As long as that’s George’s take — and he’s certainly not alone in this — then attempts at reconciliation will be difficult at best. Because as long as Puppies are deemed to be subservient, second-class citizens within the field proper, the emotion that spawned Sad Puppies, will remain. I don’t know anybody who easily accepts being a second-class citizen in her own country. Especially not after certain people within George’s beloved community — including certain individuals at George’s own publisher — moved heaven and earth to slanderously and libelously smear all Puppies indiscriminately.

Also, consider the carpet-bombing of the Hugo awards in August. And the infamous wooden asterisks — the CHORFholes.

An analysis of the post-Hugo numbers identifies a 2,500-vote block of individuals who seemed to think the best way to annihilate the infamous forces of the Kurgan — Vox Day — was to accept Vox’s challenge to play chicken. Now, I warned everybody that chicken is the Kurgan’s favorite game. But that 2,500-vote block went ahead and played the game anyway, nuking five whole categories, and cheering themselves in the process. It was their finest moment. It was also precisely what Vox Day wanted them to do, because it gives Vox his pretext for further assaults on the Hugos in future years, while also radicalizing and alienating many people who wanted nothing to do with Vox, but who did want to see justice done at the Hugo awards proper.

And the CHORFholes? A straight-up dick move, covered by a fig leaf of charity. Sorry, there’s no excusing that one. The CHORFholes were a deliberate insult, done deliberately, and there is no way possible to put enough lipstick on that pig to make anyone who received the insult — loud and clear! — believe it was not an insult. I don’t think George knew about the CHORFholes. I suspect strongly that this was David Gerrold and some snickering Trufans, being too-cute-by-half. Only, it was ugly. About as ugly as watching the annihilation of the categories, by people who think burning down a thing, is the equivalent of saving or celebrating that thing.

Is anyone else struck by the fact that we’re living out a They Might Be Giants classic?

Now, I don’t hold George R. R. Martin responsible for David Gerrold, nor the people who worked together to conduct the CHORFhole, nor do I hold George responsible for the 2,500-vote block bombing. George is on record opposing the game of chicken with the Kurgan, and he said he hated the results of the block bombing, in the editor categories specifically. (Note: George, I think I can speak for every Sad Puppy when I state that warm-blooded human beings with souls hated what happened in the editor categories.) So I don’t think George has to answer for the burner-downers.

I’ll say it again, for emphasis: I do not hold George R. R. Martin responsible for the burner-downers.

I bring all of this up, however, to demonstrate — for George, and any other onlookers — that there have been some horrendously poor decisions made on his “side” of the fracas. And until or unless some accounting is made for these horrendously poor decisions, I can’t see attempts at reconciliation — with the Sad Puppies — producing much fruit. Because almost nobody on the Sad Puppies side has ever received anything like an apology that is worth a damn. Far from it. What Sad Puppies gets, is being blamed for Rabid Puppies, and being treated like the Rabids and the Sads are no different from each other. It’s Putin bombing the Syrian opposition, to get at ISIS. Putin doesn’t give a damn because Putin only cares about Assad, just as the 2,500-member block bombers and CHORFholers only cared about “defending” the Hugos — from people who have just as much right to participation, as anyone else who’s in this field.

Many Sad Puppies find Vox Day and the Rabids to be revolting. It didn’t save any of the Sad Puppies from being treated as synonymous with the Rabids — which is (again) exactly what Vox wanted. And, to be truthful, it’s what many CHORFs wanted too. As long as the CHORFs don’t have to reckon with Sad Puppies honestly — as long as Vox gives the CHORFs an excuse to be zealously hateful toward all things even remotely canine — the CHORFs will happily use that excuse, and hate with a clear conscience.

Knowing what I know about the personalities behind the CHORFholes and the block-bombing, they will never, ever regard any of it as a mistake, because for them, it’s been blood sport from day one. All is fair in love and war, and for the block-bombers and CHORFholers, this was absolutely a war. Before, it was a cold war — when they could treat the not-quite-good-enough-fans like shit, and nobody said or did much about it. Sad Puppies became an exercise in second-class citizenry demanding full participation and recognition, which caused the block-bombers — and the CHORFs, with their crybully accomplices — to launch not just a wide media slander campaign, but a deliberate destruction of the Hugos proper; in direct violation of their own stated principles. Remember how many people were so upset at Sad Puppies, because Sad Puppies was supposedly a block vote, and block votes are bad?

So, while I respect George’s sentiment — I truly do think his heart is in the right place — I think George still isn’t recognizing the full scope and nature of what’s gone on, and how what’s gone on has its roots in the deeper divisions which trace back through fandom and science fiction publishing for decades. This isn’t a fight that manifested from nothing. 2015 was all of that shit — years and years of it — boiling to the surface, and it was ugly, and a giant amount of that ugliness was on the Trufan side, and now that the block-bombers have given Vox Day his pretext for an all-out assault on the Hugos, I suspect what’s going to happen is that Vox will keep fucking with the Hugos — regardless of what anyone says or thinks — until Worldcon literally has to shut off the faucet. Make the Hugo a juried award, or at least cordoned off from direct public participation — voters being screened and vetted. Because it’s obvious (at this point) that the defenders of Hugo propriety do not want everyone being able to have a say. Too much of the “wrong” people, and the village will get burned down; so as to save the village.

I don’t know how bridges get built from here. Most of the CHORFs and the crybullies will hate Larry Correia and myself forever. I knew in April that for me specifically, there would never be any kind of going back. I was, and would forever be, an outlaw in the minds of the CHORFs and the crybullies. And since the CHORFs and crybullies occupy numerous seats of prestige and influence within the SF/F establishment, this would relegate me to the role of desperado — forever riding the fences. I can get away with it because, as I told one critic, my career path doesn’t depend on me bending my knee to the SF/F establishment. That’s a big reason why I knew I was a good pick for running Sad Puppies 3 in the first place.

But the future of Sad Puppies isn’t in my hands. It’s not mine to say.

I will, however, hypothesize.

I suspect that in order for a genuine mending to take place, between your average Sad Puppy, and the SF/F establishment, there would need to be several things.

1) A very public admission by the establishment that the NO AWARD bombing of the 2015 Hugos was a gross error.

2) A very public admission by the establishment that the CHORFholes were also a gross error.

3) A very public apology from the establishment, for the deliberate conflation of the Sads, with the Rabids.

4) A cessation of the endless game of shibboleths and street cred checks, on the part of Trufans, as conducted against everybody else (looks hard at Steve Davidson.)

Frankly, I think the chances are slim to none that any of this could come to pass. And while some Sad Puppies might be wooed by enticements and promises of amnesty — we saw this leverage playing out over the summer — most Sad Puppies are not in the mood. They are, if I put my finger to the wind, quietly determined. And this is not a hot thing. It’s the old, tired sentiment of a people too long ignored, spurned, neglected, overlooked, even mocked and derided, who played by the rules in full view of the arena — so as to have their place in the sun — and were shut out and shouted down, by an establishment that pretended (falsely) that it was the afflicted party in the whole affair.

Meanwhile, I fully expect the quiet manipulators of Hugos past, to double down on that manipulation. I suspect the behind-closed-door games are going to be hotter and heavier than ever before. Now that they know there is competition from a competent body of people. I also expect the crybullies will continue framing the Hugos as part of their larger culture war — the Hugos are exactly that at this point, no question — which means they will have to attack future iterations of Sad Puppies, regardless of who is running the store. (aside: can the crybullies bring themselves to admit that women are running Sad Puppies 4? That’s a bit like asking zealous Democrats to admit there are black Republicans.)

I suppose it’s always possible that people just mutter to themselves, reach a hand over the fence, and hope somebody takes it — sans joy buzzer. This would require a kind of across-the-aisle, deliberate amnesia. A mass forgetting: that what has happened, has not happened. There may be a few willing to do it. But my finger to the wind (again) tells me that the Sad Puppies are not in a mood for forgetting. On the contrary. There is memory here — like wormsign! — the likes of which even God has never seen.

A Christmas Noun: The Unauthorized Spinoff – teaser trailer

CUE: soundtrack by John Williams.

ATMOSPHERICS: Camera viewpoint soars through space, eventually coming to focus on a single, fragile-looking planet — white cloud formations and blue oceans, decorated by brown land masses, which are in turn mottled by green forests. Camera viewpoint drops quickly down through the sky to the night side of the world, punctuated with the glowing light from towns and cities, eventually reaching a darkened mountain range.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

SCENE: Brad Torgers0n is cloaked in a use-worn, black shroud. He is standing at the rocky base of the CorreiaTech fortress, on formidable Yard Moose Mountain. His back is turned to the camera. It’s mostly dusk, with snow falling loosely around Brad Torgers0n’s shoulders.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: Nothing will stand in our way . . . .

ACTION: the cloaked shape of Torgers0n stoops over to peer at something in the rocks. It looks like grass. Camera zooms in to reveal bits and pieces of crumpled straw, covered in ranch dressing. Brad Torgers0n reaches out and reverently picks up a small handful of the vanquished remains of Straw Larry. Cut to a close-up of Brad Torgers0n holding the remains before his mask-covered face. The black-gloved hand slowly clenches; reverence turning to anger.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will finish . . . what you started . . .

ACTION: Cloaked figure of Brad Torgers0n suddenly rises to his feet, throwing the remains down, and snapping out his opposite hand. The Log Saber™ deploys into Brad Torgers0n’s black-gloved hand, a tremoring beam of evil red energy springing instantly to life from the Log Saber’s™ hilt. A thrumming sound echoes around the base of the CorreiaTech fortress.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will show them the power of the Darkness!

ACTION: Cut instantly to a pastiche sequence of exploding TIE fighters, rubber nipples, soaring X-Wings, Powdered Toast Man jumping to light speed, the Millennium Falcon zooming over a desert landscape, and Mr. Horse declaring, “No sir, I don’t like it!”

A comment about Stolen Valor

So this piece of news has been floating through the military ethersphere. Stolen Valor has become a very hot topic over the past 15 years. It is a literal crime for someone to wear medals, tabs, or badges (s)he did not earn, just like it is a literal crime for civilians to impersonate military personnel. But we (in the various branches) read and hear about such cases all the time. And those cases generate a tremendous amount of anger.

As in all things, though, righteous passion can turn to zealotry. And zealotry can make even good men do stupid things.

The world is filled with poseurs. The world is also filled with people itching for an excuse to be assholes to other people, sans guilt.

My take?

Service records have been getting embellished since Alexander the Great. And probably before. Always, the ones who have done the most, tend to talk the least, and the ones who have done the least, tend to talk the most.

I have admired the military, and members of same, since I was a tot. One of the reasons I joined (after 9/11) was because I didn’t want to be sitting on the sidelines. I didn’t want to be one of the people who desires to know what the uniform feels like, but never put his hide on the line to earn one. I didn’t want to be that guy.

I also respond with the same answer any time anyone asks me what I do/did in the Army Reserve: paper pusher! (said with a smile and a laugh) I am fully aware of the fact I am on the dull end of the spear. I go out of my way to claim my cake-eating civilian-most-of-the-time status. Because the truth is, I like being a civilian most of the time.

And I like being able to stand up and do my little part in the giant machine, when called for. In this way, I don’t think I am any different from the original militiamen who left their farms to march with Washington, then went back to those farms when the marching was done. They weren’t soldiers for life. They were simply patriots when it counted.

And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be: a patriot, when it counted. No more, and no less.

I actually feel sorry for the guys (and it’s almost always men) who are so tied up in knots over their service records (or lack of same) that they have to embellish or lie. That’s a psychic wound that clearly cannot heal, and I believe it must be a miserable thing to stand in front of a mirror every day, chest pushing out medals you did not earn, or telling the world stories that aren’t true, knowing all along that you are a fraud.

Because ultimately, God knows it too. And that’s the man all Stolen Valor perps ultimately have to answer to.

Seasonal listening: Autumn and Winter

I’ve always been a very seasonal listener. I am not sure why. Certain music just “fits” with certain times of the year, and not at others. Probably because I happened to hear and enjoy a particular piece (or group) during a particular season, thus the experience and the season become intertwined. This is undoubtedly strange, as I am not sure I’ve ever known anyone who is seasonal about his music choices, like I am. Certainly my wife is an anytime, anywhere listener. A fact which has made me grit my teeth on occasion. “No, no, no! Tears For Fears is summertime! You can’t play Songs From The Big Chair in January. That’s madness!” Naturally, she just smiles and turns it up louder. So I go on about my business, nevermind the fact that what’s rocking on the living room stereo is against all seasonal music logic.

Out here in Deployment Land, seasonal music is more important than ever before. Because where I am at, there are no seasons. There is merely insufferable heat and humidity, followed by not-so-insufferable heat and humidity, with occasional days of, “This isn’t so bad . . . at midnight, when the breeze is blowing from inland.” There are no mountains. Nor anything that grows, really. It’s beige, and it’s flat. Once every three months, it might rain. A little bit. And I doubt there’s been any snow in this part of the world since before the end of the last Ice Age; if even then.

So, I retreat to my headphones, and thank the Lord for MP3. Troops of past eras were stuck with Armed Forces Radio, or whatever vinyl was spinning at the (then, equivalent) MWR. Or, if you go back far enough, no music at all.

Ours is a time of technological wonder and luxury.

My tastes tend to be somewhat eclectic — these are my dozen-plus “stuck on an island” choices, for this time of the year.