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.

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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.

The Year Without Politics?

Everybody seems to hate it when Christmas decorations show up in the stores before Thanksgiving. Me? I hate it when we’re talking about the next U.S. Presidential election a full eighteen to twenty-four months away from the actual poll date. I mean, come on, seriously? Methinks this particular election (and this particular office) is literally blown out of proportion. The President is not — or at least shouldn’t be — an all-powerful individual who can make sweeping changes in a mere four years. What Congress and the Senate do actually has more impact on our day to day lives. So how come we’ve been rolling with the Election ’16 media frenzy since January of ’15?

Honest to goodness, I am sick of it. I am sick of the whole thing. Especially since nobody being pushed by either the media or the two big parties really gets me out of my seat right now. The only guy who got me out of my seat lately, was Romney, and before that . . . Perot. So obviously if I feel myself getting excited by any particular candidate, there’s a good chance (s)he’s gonna lose anyway.

My Facebook friends have also noticed that I am dialed up extra-cranky about the cultural Chekist infestation that’s plaguing social media right now. I was prepared to launch into a lengthy tirade about the whole schizophrenic mess, but (irony of ironies) Bill Maher did it for me!

Now, nobody can accuse me of fondness for Maher; he’s far too much of a raging anti-theist. But I think he nailed it right between the eyes with his Halloween 2015 commentary. It really says something when a chap like Maher is going off on the Politically Correct. His point at the end is especially apt. It’s something I’ve been saying for awhile now: the cheap “virtue” of internet slacktivism, is no virtue at all. It’s just self-righteous no-effort self-huggies for people who don’t want to break a sweat, nor get their hands dirty. You want to make the world better? Get off the damned internet and go do something that takes work. Otherwise, you’re not helping anyone, or anything.

Which takes me to Sad Puppies — or, rather, the people who fought against Sad Puppies with every fiber of their being. Because when the Hugo awards went off-script, it was literally a catastrophe so terrible and great that the Puppy-kickers pulled out all the stops to challenge Lord Vox in the Ritual of Desecration.

Me? Sad Puppies burned up my political fuel on a personal level. It’s one thing to pay attention to and argue about politics on the national scene, but Sad Puppies was both heated and contentious, and it took place right on my doorstep.

Certain people thrive on that kind of stuff — they eat political fights for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It gives them energy. Not me. I find politics draining. I felt (and still feel) it was worth it. But the baton has passed to others — and I am fully confident that Kate, Sarah, and Amanda will carry the banner high, and acquit themselves handsomely. If the vitriol they face is anything like what I faced last time — and there are plenty of indications that it will be — I am glad they are tag-teaming between them! In the words of Emmett (from Silverado): “You’re in it now, and it’s gonna get mean.

Which reminds me of an anecdote I once heard, about the glory years of the Soviet Union — before the world found out about all the horror that was committed by the Soviet state. It was said that Lenin (perhaps also Stalin) were so fully steeped in politics, that they even dreamed politics. For them, the Soviet Revolution was not just a waking thing, it was front and center in their unconscious lives as well.

Frankly, I find that notion more than a little creepy — and it may explain part of the reason why the Soviet Union (as happens with all Marxist states) turned out to be such a grotesque train wreck. Those men literally lost themselves to their political obsession — and innocent people suffered and died as a result.

I look at the social media agit-prop spilling across my screen every week — plenty of stuff that would make Lenin and Stalin smile — and I want to just . . . switch it all off.

The CHORF war against all things canine will continue whether or not I drop dead next week. The Republicans and the Democrats will keep playing flag football for the White House, with the media acting as one-sided referees. My social media feed will continue to be populated with high-volume, low-density blather about how Bernie, Hillary, Ted, and Ben, will all ruin the world — unless good people rush to stop them! It’s a state of perpetual crisis, fostered by the pols and the lobbyists and the activists and the fanatics, who want us forever teetering on the edge of a fearful abyss — lest we go back to thinking life is actually okay. People who aren’t in fear, can’t be maneuvered to do things the activists and the pols want us to do.

So, consider this my one-man vote against the politicization of everything over the next fifteen months.

Do I care about the election? Sure. Do I care about Sad Puppies? More than ever! And I will be cheering for Kate, Sarah, and Amanda! They’re going to have their hands full.

But this coming year . . . I am going to devote my full attention to things much closer to home. Being on the other side of the planet (from loved ones) has reminded me in a big way how lucky I am to be able to wake up every morning and have my wonderful little family. By the time I get back to the States next year, my heart is going to be very, very far away from the hollering and shouting. And I may just keep things that way. Again, politics are draining for me. I talk about them because I feel I have to, not because I want to. And right now, the “have to” is being displaced by a very strong desire to just let the typhoon pass over me.

In other words, this motherf***er needs a dandelion break!

Feeling their way to The Force?

Have you seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII? (Of course you have!) Beyond the delirious joy of seeing Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa return to the big screen, I was left with a question that’s lurked in the back of my mind ever since I saw the original three Star Wars films over 30 years ago: in the absence of a Master, how does a Sith or a Jedi discover his or her aptitude for the power?

Now, I know the Expanded Universe books have tackled aspects of this question, but from a pure film standpoint, we’ve never seen the question addressed directly . . . until now?

Kylo Ren (red warbly crossguard lightsaber = immediately bad!) and Finn (pleasant blue lightsaber = immediately good!) would seem to be the first new Dark and Light Force users to arise since Luke Skywalker himself — who is conspicuously absent from both the latest trailer, and the official movie poster. Barring some kind of reveal (entirely possible) the operating assumption is that both Kylo and Finn are “feeling” their way into their roles, as users of the Dark and the Light sides of The Force. (Leia Organa appears to have remained a muggle by choice; again, barring a reveal.)

Presumably this is similar to how it all happened in the first place, for the very first Force users, way back in the history of history. Somebody had to be first.

But if it’s possible for Kylo and Finn, why not lots of other people? The small percentage of Force-sensitive sapients in the Star Wars Galaxy would not have diminished dramatically due to the events of either the original movies, or the events of the prequels. Only known Jedi were slaughtered, not potential Jedi. And while the Emperor seemed to be seriously stingy with his delegation — Sith are fantastically few and far between — the Jedi order had no such restriction. Hell, they formalized their education and set up a damned school, and a council, and everything.

So, what triggers a Force-sensitive person into exploring his or her (its?) abilities? And how does this exploration differ from what we saw Luke go through? And why aren’t the Force-sensitive popping up all over the place, playing little parlour tricks on the muggles of the galaxy? Just because they can? The movie subtitle is, The Force Awakens. Did the death of Palpatine and then, Vader, cause some kind of cosmic Force shockwave that dimmed or diminished The Force for a period of years?

Again, there is what the EU says happened, and there is what the new film is going to establish.

I know, I know overthinking it; and without much evidence to go on, either. But when has this ever stopped Star Wars fans from speculating? (grin)

What does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Two pieces crossed my desk this week, each of them tangentially connected to the other. Both of them discuss what I’d call the more unfortunate side-effects of adult fannishness. In the case of the one, the article-writer is essentially complaining that adults who were born in the 1970s and 1980s have so thoroughly coopted kid culture, that today’s kids are kinda getting squeezed out of the picture. Everything that used to be made explicitly for kids, has been all-growed-up and is now pitched to an explicitly adult market: video games, comic books, TV cartoons, etc. It’s a billion-dollar consumer party, and kids — anyone below the age of 16 — aren’t necessarily invited. The other article-writer engages in no small amount of self-praise because of the fact that he’s skipped paying bills and even skipped buying food, so that he has enough money to attend his favorite science fiction convention(s) — because you’re not a real fan until you’ve suffered and sacrificed for your street cred. It takes the maniacal dedication of an aesthete to make a fan (mundane) into a Fan (caps-f).

Now, I am the last guy in the world to jump up on the “You’re doing it wrong!” soap box. I generally say, hey, whatever floats your boat, it’s your life — you go ahead and live it.

But not paying bills? Not buying food?

I think 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 has something to say about all of this:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I’ve had enthusiasms all my life. Just about everybody does. Such as rooting for a favorite sports team. Or loving a favorite movie. I’ve also let some of those enthusiasms go, simply because I haven’t had the time — all-growed-up! — to keep pursuing them. Like scale model airplanes. From age 9 through age 16, my bedroom was festooned with replica fighters and bombers. In my late teens and early twenties, I switched over to scratchbuilding starships from the Star Trek universe. But even that hobby took a back seat, as the demands of being a responsible adult increased. Taking on two careers (civilian and military) followed by, eventually, three careers (batcave job: author) meant making choices about where to devote my time. And this was on top of having a marriage and a family to look after, including church responsibilities.

But at no time did I ever fool myself into thinking that a mere enthusiasm should take priority over real world commitments and necessities.

Look, everybody scripts her own existence. No one person’s life is ever going to be lived exactly like any other person’s life. This is the beauty of free agency. But being a free agent doesn’t mean having a free pass from adulthood. Paying the bills and putting meat’n’taters on the table are so basic, so completely fundamental, they shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. This is rudimentary maintenance stuff, like brushing and flossing. If you actually have to decide whether or not you’re going to buy groceries and pay your power bill, versus spending that money on a convention . . . I’m going to gently suggest that not only is this not noble, nor does it elevate you above others, you in fact may have a serious prioritization problem that goes way beyond the silly hubris of declaring yourself more-fannish-than-thou.

Meanwhile, I do think my generation (we’re crossing into middle-agedness now, oh noes!) and the generation after mine, have a legit problem with extended adolescence. All over social media lately, I see people joking, “I had to go out and adult today!” or “I can’t adult today, I just don’t have it in me,” Where adult is a verb meaning, “Doing the unpleasant chores of the real world, which all grown-ups have been forced to do since the beginning of time.” Which is really kind of sad, considering the fact that most first-worlders live lives of astounding convenience and luxury, compared to their great-grandparents. We live much longer, we generally don’t have to worry about diseases like polio, and many of us sit in comfortable chairs behind comfortable desks, only having to log eight hours a day, a mere five days a week. Yet we talk as if this is a nigh-unbearable burden — a psychically crushing and existentially soul-destroying purgatory. Because reality won’t let us follow our bliss every waking minute of every day, all week, every month, each year.

I suspect our generational clinging to the loves of our childhood — comics, video games, cartoons — is a coping mechanism. And coping mechanisms can be good, so long as “coping” does not become synonymous with avoidance in actual practice. Real life doesn’t go away. In fact, the more a man avoids real life — escaping into his enthusiasms — the larger the problems of real life loom. In past eras, men who couldn’t deal, typically descended into pointless violence, or crawled to the bottom of a bottle, or simply ran away; abandoning wives and children. In our era? Adults who can’t deal may find themselves utterly lost in an enthusiasm, such that real life is just an annoying distraction. The enthusiasm itself becomes a replacement for reality — a secondary, preferable world. Could be a MMORPG. Could be the convention circuit. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. When the thing becomes more important than fundamentals — paying bills, taking care of yourself, and also taking care of family — you might have a problem. Dare I even say, a serious problem?

Now, lest I be accused of being a fun-hater, I want to emphasize that I am not saying we should all dump our enthusiasms and live a completely hairshirt existence. But I believe there’s got to be balance. And I do think there are times when we — all-growed-up, in body if not in spirit — have to put away childish things. At least until we’ve successfully reckoned with real life to the extent that we can plop down in that mythic beanbag chair, pull out the video game controller, and enjoy some well-earned R-and-R; knowing that the bases have all been covered.

I also think we can afford to let some things remain kid-friendly. We don’t have to drag every single damned thing we loved when we were kids, forward into our disillusioned middle age, where the sunshine of youth gets clouded over by the grimdark of maturity. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Cartoon Network productions such as Regular Show, Adventure Time and Chowder so much, is because they work for my daughter as well as they do for myself and my spouse. The jokes, the situations, the references, all of it operates at two levels. Which, if you think about it, is also true for much of the classic animation of yore. Example: the Looney Tunes shorts were originally written and produced for adult theater-going audiences. Not Saturday morning cereal viewers.

Regardless of whatever sort of balance each of us strives to achieve, it’s important to remember that the total universe of enthusiasms is an egalitarian universe. You like football. I like basketball. Somebody else likes baseball. You like Skyrim. Your friend prefers World of Warcraft. I prefer my throwback video game from twenty years ago. You attend a lot of conventions. I attend a few conventions. Our mutual acquaintance attends none. And it’s all good. As long as people are taking care of the fundamentals — doing what needs to be done for house and home — I think it’s no-harm, no foul.

The problem is when things get out of balance. When an enthusiasm becomes an obsession. When we get so caught up in our formerly childhood passions, we take over the landscape and crowd out the real kids. When we begin to depend on others to take care of our fundamentals for us, so that we can remain distracted by the alternate world of our formerly healthy diversions. And — last, but not least — when we mistake our out-of-balance obsession for proof that we’re better than the merely “normal” people who’ve managed to successfully keep one foot planted in the real world, while also being actively engaged in the fun of their choice.

And yes, I know, you can’t say stuff like this without making somebody angry — that’s expected. This is the internet. You can’t talk like this, and not make somebody on the internet flamingly mad at you.

My answer to the angry folk?

Let’s go back to the question I first posed: what does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Both of them tell us to get a life.

The will to work the struggle of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyranny of the Safe

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

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

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

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

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

You know my answer to all of that.

Stay irreverent, my friends.