Pt. Being…

radial-30One of my habits – bad or not – is a tendency toward complexity. In the late 80s my coworkers and I were asked to fill out the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. It was not made a requirement, though some on the team viewed it as such. I was intrigued by the concept of sorting personality types into sixteen broad categories based on what seemed to be a relatively short questionnaire.

Of the categories, my personality type turned out to be ENTP* which means, according to the “test”, that I could be expected to be primarily interested in understanding the world. The MBTI also suggests that I enjoy debate and playing devil’s advocate.

tangled

Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers did not go on to say that I’d be attracted to intricate charts of relationships such as social media webs** and find visual thesaurus entries fascinating. If they had guessed that I would have these affinities they’d have been spot on.

Etymology and other fields of origin study are a large part of what occupies my musing when not seeking to craft entertaining worlds or unusual sculpture. My great grandmother once told me that to begin gaining a skill or cultivating a talent was to “first admire it”. I cannot remember not admiring eloquence.

But – as it turns out – having a silver tongue does not depend on strict adherence to every rule of grammar or an ever-expanding vocabulary. Effective communication can only be measured in terms of audience comprehension. I’ve always regarded “dumb it down” as a chore for myself and an insult to others. “Make it more accessible” seems more like a mission and a courtesy.

This is not to say that I won’t pause from time to time to hunt down a very precise and/or obscure word. There is a PDF of C. S. Bird’s Gradiloquent Dictionary on my hard drive. Somewhere in my collection of books is a physical copy of The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler. (I was once accused that I felt I was a superior person based on owning a copy of the latter.)

I will probably always find phylogenetic circular cladograms nearly equivalent to sacred geometry. I do, however, have to remain vigilant in keeping the famous advice of Clarence L. Johnson in mind. He, better known as Kelly, was the engineer who headed the Lockheed Skunk Works from during WWII until 1975. It is believed that he originated the principle of “Keep it simple, stupid.”

all

The MBTI structure indicates the types are based on preferences. Although my extrovert score is very high, it isn’t a constant. INTP is the introvert mode and that state is described as having the motto of “eschew obfuscation”. Sometimes that can feel like what I’m doing – all while trying to make an actual point. This means a lot of reminders to myself after enjoying the exploration of what may be to return to mission and work of what can be. That is enjoyable too.

venn


* ENTP people draw energy from interactions with people and tend toward the abstract while relying on logic and objectivity. We also like to keep our options open. That sounds more like me than Sagittarius.

** I haven’t found an app or add-on that can build the “hairball” illustration of 1,672 interconnected Facebook friends.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a reasonable approximation of the MBTI, if you’re curious.


 

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rex quondam…

For roughly two weeks, I have been pondering the concept of anarchy. In the present political climate of the United States I have heard members of both major parties accuse the other side of wanting anarchy. One calls their rivals proponents of lawlessness, the other follows suit. It does not matter if one side is correct or if neither argument has a foundation in fact. What are they actually suggesting?

Apart from this conflict – one that may have no resolution – there may not actually be any such thing as lawlessness and, therefore, no anarchy as the term seems to be understood à l’esprit de l’époque. If every human being is individually comparable to a nation then each person’s code of conduct amounts to their body of laws. Where a number of people choose to follow the same code, the result is a culture.

It is not irrational to propose that we all follow such a code whether consciously aware of it or not. The patterns that drive the sociopath and psychopath may be deduced. The criminal may be profiled. Such patterns and profiles are evidence of a code.

A completely chaotic environment is imagined of so-called failed states. History demonstrates, however, that society will resort to some form of might makes right after a collapse of the previous order. A warlord seizes power and imposes his or her code. A strict new system of law is implemented. Kant called this despotism. He offered the formula of a dominant force in control of the people without providing any law or for any freedom as barbarism. That’s precisely what most seem to think anarchy is.

Anarchy is actually the same as a republic, again following Kant, with one exception. An anarchic state rejects the use of force. The term originally implied the absence of a leader. There seems to be a tendency in human nature to demonize any person or group that make different choices about facets of a code of behavior – whether that’s a foreign power, a minority group or subculture, or an outlaw. Instead of being challenged to offense by other options it might cause less societal woes if the challenge accepted it to reexamine past choices.

The anarchist has a bad reputation that may only be deserved if the objective is to tear down a government and no replace it with something to address the functions of government.

For some time the work of T. H. White has been bumping about in my mind. In his tales of King Arthur the central figure is transformed by Merlyn into a variety of different animals. Each species and how it lives is a metaphor for a form of government. The goose serves as the emblem of anarchy. Young Arthur is to learn alternatives to might makes right by these experiences and he ultimately prefers the ways of geese.

The cause of war, White concludes, is twofold: dividing people by borders and making resources harder to reach will result in conflict. The goose is tolerant to a point – until another seeks its food or progeny. Each member of a flock of geese takes a turn on land as a sentinel while the others feed and as the tip of the v-formation in the sky. The position of “leader” rotates in all situations. Borders are circumvented and fresh resources are discovered by flight.

Camelot for anarchy

Arthur might never have become king. While living as a gander he learned to prefer their society to that of humans or that of any animal Merlyn forced him to examine. Just before the old wizard restored Arthur to human form the future king had proposed marriage to a goose named Lyo-lyok.

Given that, it’s a wonder King Arthur didn’t have a goose on his shield or banner. And given all of the above, I’m not convinced lawlessness can exist. Some of these musings and some other parts of T. H. White’s work have gone into the socio-political environment of Astral. There likely won’t be geese, though.


faites attention à le prelude…

Procrastination is the only thing we can do that we don’t put off to a later moment. Lack of action or progress is immune to that particular bad habit. Theories about why we delay generally distill to fewer than ten reasons. As this pertains to writing there are four essential factors.

• Will [___] be good enough?

There’s really only one way to find out. This is the virtue of making an effort. This element of procrastination has three main branches: A] Perfectionism, B] “Do I have the skill/talent to do this?”, and C] “Will anyone else find this interesting?”

Writing may not always result in gold but it does always count as practice. Don’t worry about an audience until the work is finished.

• As cool as I think [___] is, how do I know I still will x months from now?

I tend to rely on the notion that an actually good idea will return in due time. They’re never really forgotten and will have been refined (by the subconscious) during a hiatus. To a certain extent this is precisely the backburner on which A Song Heard in the Future sits.

For reasons that I assume are obvious my sense of heroism and patriotism tends to peak near mid-Summer. If a lull in writing hits then, I’ll harness my own emotion to explore what might cause characters to derive a sense of satisfaction – national pride or otherwise.

Though I don’t find myself subject to Winter doldrums many people on whom I rely as sounding boards do. If this causes a snag in inspiration or refining, I’ll spend snowy days pondering new locations.

If we learn something new everyday we can apply ourselves anew to a work-in-progress on a daily basis.

• I’m too busy for [___].

Arthur Golden worked on Memoirs of a Geisha for six years, research and writing included. J. R. R. Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings in several phases and over more than a decade. Pauses are justified and to be expected; they can be useful. What matters is returning to the effort.

• I’ll never be able to do as well as [___] again.

In all honesty the likelihood that any author (myself included) will produce a work that will sit next to the work of Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, or Madeleine L’Engle is probably rather low. If any work-in-progress stands such a chance, how can there be any justification for not devoting every feasible waking moment to its completion?

And if it’s really that good, and you don’t write it, do you really want to see someone treat nearly the same material and do it badly?

Additionally, there are plenty of authors who are famous for a single book. Sylvia Plath wrote only one novel. Harper Lee, until very recently had a single book to her credit. In Plath’s case, she wrote poetry; work on a novel can be done between other writing. With regard to Lee’s “sequel”, it is now known to have been an early draft of her more famous work.

The answer to each of the above is the same: Recommit. Allow yourself to be compelled. Welcome it and your demanding Muse. Neglect of their role as psychopomp for your dream projects only makes them more relentless and subversive in their prompting.

Note: Two other potential factors are not considered here: A] “I don’t know where to start/what comes next?” and B] True depression. In the first case, do consult your muse and in the second, please consult a physician.

A Venn diagram – more commonly called “those overlapping circles” – illustrate how distinct aspects of a situation combine to create variations. When one is completely enclosed by another it describes relationships like “While all squares are rectangles not all rectangles are squares.”

Venn-stuff

Though I’ve never seen it done, they could also be used as a checklist to circumvent procrastination. In converse, addressing each factor outlined above make the Venn approach a process of elimination rather than permutation

It may seem ironic to post here about procrastination when Astral is not yet finished. When not musing here work on the far future, detective novel is and has been in progress. Venn-in-reverse is offered here as a reminder to myself not to worry, not to fear. The mission and message are cause enough to continually recommit. For the most part, I’ve only been taking breaks to sculpt, attend/vend at shows and conventions, and note ideas to address – yes, later.

Let the Muse court you. She’ll bring you flowers.


🌷

3, 2, 1, impact…

I found that I’d grown fond of asking the question, “Are there any films that take place entirely within one room?” It wasn’t entirely clear why. In preparing for this  post I found a list of over 100 movies the compiler claims satisfy this query. Of these, I’ve seen barely 10% but none of them precisely tell me the answer is “Yes.”

Most of the movies on the list fall into the jump-scare horror and/or torture-porn buckets. However, the best example of almost one-room stories among those films I have scene would be Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954). Even in this some of the action does take place elsewhere.

Why ask the question?

The central reason is one of motion – as it turns out. Movement is essential to drama. If nothing moves, we have a painting. They can, in a sense, tell a story. They can certain move us – emotionally. But that’s not really the same thing.

Movies can be art in and of themselves. A few spring to mind pointing that out. Segment 5 – Crows – in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Warner Bros., 1990) and Episode 10 of Season 5 – Vincent and the Doctor – in new NuWho (BBC, 2010). Oddly enough both of these examples involve van Gogh.

The quintessential presentation of it, in my opinion, is Cameron at the Art Institute of Chicago.

moved


“This I thought was very relevant to Cameron—the tenderness of a mother and a child which he didn’t have.”

“I used it in this context to see – he’s looking at that little girl – which again is, a mother and a child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him (Cameron), the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”

John Hughes


Seurat’s work was begun in 1884 but took two years to complete – placing it a century before the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Migration-Tree-plan

The chart here is part of various “visual outlines” for Astral. This doesn’t only show each of the 62 interstellar colonies of Earth but the factions

As an outline, to me it shows the despair and paranoia of one of the villains. The chart demonstrates some of the incredible obstacles faced by a large portion of the society Astral examines. In making this image more than one scene coalesced for me that I hope will illustrate – in the writing – the suffering of one particular faction stemming from the policies of the powers that be.

Every journey will have obstacles; sometimes it starts with misplaced keys. Any trip might begin in a mix of fear and hope.

Toward the end of May I wrote about woe and joy in travel and quoted Dr. Henri Poincaré with regard to hope having somewhat more weight. He also once said, “The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.”

This is true both of writers and their characters.


the needs of the many…

There are probably no authors setting out to have a star or planet named in their honor. That said, very few would decline such homage. Asteroid 4659 and a crater on Mars bear the name Roddenberry. The creator of Star Trek likely didn’t include earning this sort of acknowledgement while developing the series.

Gene Roddenberry did, however, attempt to get the science right. He consulted scientists and engineers on a somewhat regular basis. He was also a student of his times and wanted to present entertaining adventures about the future blended with relevant social commentary. Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, famously tells a story that each episode was meant to be a modern morality play.

Countless people recount that original Trek inspired their choice of careers while not necessarily having achieving Roddenberry’s dream of humanity at peace with itself and unafraid of its future in mind. This phenomenon is not limited to math and technology either; I know of at least one lawyer who found the trial of Spock in the episode “Menagerie” fascinating enough to prompt study of jurisprudence. The humanism and idealism of Star Trek are very important facets of my long-standing desire to write and make art.

arrowhead

Many fans consider the reboot of the franchise to be less than worthy of the title and have branded it – somewhat pejoratively – as the “Abramsverse” or “NuTrek”. Paramount and CBS have recently attempted to get ahead of these descriptions. They’d like us to call it “The Kelvin Timeline”.

Chris Pine is the second actor to portray Captain Kirk. He has been quoted as giving the following response regarding the franchise shifting away from speculative futurism in favor of presenting an action thriller.

You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses in ‘Does the Federation mean anything? And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?

— Chris Pine, à la SFX Magazine

Star Trek was fond of Shakespeare references and there’s one that perfectly sums up the problem with the Abramsverse and the attitude expressed by Mr. Pine: “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The last log entry by Kirk was wonderful fan service at the end of The Undiscovered Country and should now be interpreted by CBS and Paramount as exactly how fans would like to see Star Trek handled – rather than catering to a formula while implicitly demeaning the audience.

This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of a new generation. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one has gone before.

As part of a recent presentation by Claire Legrand, Megan McCafferty, and Leanna Renee Hieber all three authors recommended that any authors in the audience write what they loved reading as children. Write what they wanted to read.

Best Faction map

In broad strokes I plan to cover some of the same ground as Star Trek did: the destiny of humanity in space and to what extent human nature might be baggage carried along the way. It seems fair to say that a writer must be the first fan of his or her own work. So I’ve charted my world(s)-building – applying a different rotation to the same field of real stars used for the Arrowhead interpretation. Astral’s interstellar factions overlapped each other in a previously posted map. That’s not the case in this new one.

At a convention I once attended both Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry recommended that whatever I might wish to see in Star Trek I should write and tell Paramount. I never did follow their advice but I may hide it under the guise of thoughtful speculation and all the things the Federation still means to me.


матрёшка мозг…

The idea of a matryoshka brain combines Freeman Dyson’s most famous concept with an almost unimaginably large and powerful computer. A Dyson sphere would be a megastructure completely enclosing the Sun capturing all of the solar energy while simultaneously providing an interior surface area many times that of the Earth. Presuming a radius of one astronomical unit (AU), the distance between the Sun and Earth, the area of the inside of the shell would be about 550 million times the planet surface.

Robert Bradbury (presumably no relation to the famous sci fi author) proposed that in addition to absorbing all the power the Sun emits the enclosure would also be one massive computer. Assume a circuit panel about the size of a sheet of printer paper. It would take roughly 4.5 quintillion such panels to cover the inside of a 1 AU Dyson sphere. Using only today’s computing power the capacity would be mind-boggling.

A hard sci fi author by the name of Charles Stross added another feature. He has imagined that minds could be uploaded to such a computer. It has since been the subject of some speculation that an intelligent species somewhere in the multiverse has made all three of these technological advances.

All this to say that the virtual environment provided by a matryoshka brain is one of a very few in which minds similar to our own might not have some form of hierarchy. There are many variations of the notion that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” An organizational chart is what keeps everyone from giving orders to everyone else. There’d be too much confusion. Mutually assured insubordination.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a matryoshka brain would be indistinguishable from a hive mind. It also isn’t a foolproof method for skipping the leader-and-subordinates system. However, a computer with this much power would in all probability be omniscient about the activity of each component mind it hosted.

A matryoshka brain unimaginably far in the future. Astral is set only about 550 years from now. Today’s sociopolitical climate has become a bit obsessed with unfettered individual liberty. A month or so ago I overheard a mother trying to determine why her child was getting terrible grades in school. The frustrated student eventually said, “But you told me to never let anyone tell me what to do.” In and of itself that’s a bit of a paradox but that’s another story.

While considering this and working on world-building for the novel, which is part police procedural thriller, I wondered if authority would still be divided over different tiers of officers. In a pseudo-hive mind there’d probably be no crime; if you know what everyone is thinking anything illegal could ostensibly be prevented à la Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. He alreadyrank covered the idea of using precognition in circumventing crime and I’m going down a very different road.

So — one of the main characters of Astral is, in fact, a police officer. She does report to someone and supervises a team of seven others. She does wear a uniform and it does contain some circuitry. The exact capacity of this tiniest final doll in the metaphoric nested computer chain isn’t going to be treated here but I have been looking for a reason to have rank displayed on a special screen woven into a uniform for about three years now.

The likelihood that police detectives will abandon rank in favor of consensus or telepathic gestalt any time soon seems as remote as a breakthrough leading to the imminent construction of a computer 200 million miles across. If you discover evidence to the contrary, please let me know. The uniform rank display will turn up somewhere else.


ceteris paribus…

Neither the future nor science fiction should frighten us. Both may raise questions; any lack of preparedness to face them is where fear should lie. Given that we pride ourselves on our intellect relative to every other form of life on the planet – what is there actually to fear?

One of humanity’s greatest powers, with due respect to the domestication of fire and the worthy and opposable thumb, is our capacity to craft definitions. We apply this ability even to ourselves. How we define ourselves is, in fact, one of our obsessions.

In terms of sci fi there are two forces that potentially imperil our comforting view of we humans: augmentation – either by prosthetic or genetic means. During the mid- to late 1980s the first of these defined a large part of cyberpunk fiction and gaming. Robots and cyborgs, however, are older concepts.

Hephaestus in Greek mythology and Ilmarinen of Finnish folklore are both said to have created artificial people. In the first case, these inventions were vessels for some of the aspects humans celebrate about themselves – most notably intellect and wisdom. The Scandinavian example presents a being deficient in what we seek from others. Most fictional androids fall into this latter category and that reflects our concern in defending our definition of being human.

There are nervous jokes made about potential robot overlords. Artificial intelligence is very rarely portrayed as anything but a cause for suspicion. Genetic engineering does not fare better and there are more examples from history to explain why. The idea of using an understanding of DNA to improve humanity is about a century old. Within a generation of the suggestion eugenics earned a bad name. It still summons overlords of a different sort and often paints the consequences as grim. Even basic cloning gives some qualms.

We want to be better creatures and we’re impatient with evolution. At the same time we’re afraid of what may result from taking shortcuts. Cyberpunk, the roleplaying game by R. Talsorian Games, warned of cyberpsychosis and marked the upper limit for augmentation by a loss of Humanity Points. Arthur C. Clarke warned us in 2001 (technically beginning in 1948 and revisited twenty years later) that AI can go dangerously, artificially insane far faster than any biological mind.

About two months ago, I asked a number of friends what aspects of animal DNA they would want woven into their own genetic code. In science fiction terms this is part of what’s known as wetware. The answers boil down to a few categories.

Improve what works well. A more efficient metabolism and better respiration system would be key examples. The most preferred feature from this set was the regeneration of lost limbs and damaged organs.

Increase what is not adequate. The wish to be stronger, faster, and more durable is not exclusive to professional athletes. Many answers here pertained to making our sense of sight far better than it is now, up to and including the ability to see infrared and ultraviolet light. None of the other four faculties called to mind by the word “sense” were among the answers although both proprioception and equilibrium were found to be a bit lacking.

Add cool new features. Without any apparent concern for sensory overload, some would like to sense electric fields, as can sharks and bees. The core of what it means to be a homing pigeon (and to any human who doesn’t want to rely on maps or GPS) depends on magnetoreception and this was also a desired acquisition.

Establish a better perimeter. The chameleon’s talent for camouflage, the signature of the electric eel, and all venomous/poisonous creatures were also envied along with claws and fangs.

It seems odd that no one mentioned immunity to toxins or disease. Also absent was mention of the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii). And, while plants were left out of the initial question, no one went outside the envelope to suggest something from that kingdom.

Cyberpunk’s Chromebook series offered about 400 pages of comparable features and benefits from the technology-based potential sources of human modification.

RememberIn another century, we would probably recognize humans by our definition of the species and culture. That’s only five generations from now — the great great grandchildren of Jane and John Q. Public. People from one millennium past are, all things considered, not that different from us. Would cyber- and/or wetware actually change the contents or just the packing material?

Until innovation extends a lifespan along with the capacity to find an answer, I’ll offer this with hope: We may define ourselves as human so long as we remember to do so.