Friday, July 27, 2007

Expensive Unfinished Roads

Austin now has toll roads, and they are horrible. I hate them.

I do not have a problem with the idea of paying a toll to use a road. It actually makes pretty good financial sense if it is taking you to a job and can get you there significantly quicker, well why not?

Oh yeah one other problem -I do not think the government has any business making people pay tolls who paid for the roads to begin with. In Austin the big complaint was the idea of people getting "double taxed."

Basically we are paying for the construction and maintenance of these roads with gasoline taxes, but then to use the road you have to give them additional money. What this does in effect is, it keeps most of the people off the toll roads who actually paid for them to be built.

Meanwhile we are not really being "double taxed" actually we are at the very least being "triple taxed," and very likely quadruple taxed or more. That is because the toll road builders are getting their money from multiple sources including state level funds (this is presumably from the gasoline taxes), and county level funds (these would come from sales tax's funding bonds on the county level).

Now its also possible they are getting funds county level from ad valorem and property taxes. I doubt at least the property taxes part given how highly contested school money is these days, but I know at least the money is coming from multiple places in the county budgets which likely means multiple sources of funding.

What that means for us is that we pay for these roads every time we pay that extra 3 percent of sales tax. So if you buy gas anywhere in Texas you are paying for roads that the state will not let you drive on without you forking out additional funds, meanwhile if you buy any product in travis or williamson county Texas you are helping to pay for roads that the state will not let you drive on without demanding additional funds from you.

All of this would be actually tolerable if the roads were well designed and/or well priced. They are not. You might be thinking well if I need to get somewhere I will just stay on the frontage road, that way I won't have to pay the toll I will just have to put up with all the stop lights.

To combat this problem the frontage roads of the toll roads were designed to end at fairly random places, and then immediately start again. In application that means you are driving along and you have the option of either getting on the toll road or turning down a nearby road that will take you in different direction from where you were traveling.

Last night I found myself accidentally on the frontage of a toll road -it shunted me down a neighborhood road that was in the opposite direction of the direction I had been trying to travel to begin with. Meanwhile the roads have already opened in spite of the fact that they are unfinished. So if you actually get on them you find yourself forking out a 1.50 to stay on a road that ends a mile down the road.

Austin's toll roads have intentionally confusing signs, and intentionally confusing frontage roads. One day I was driving home from my fiance's sister's house. She lives off of the same road that we do. But a section of that road has been turned into a toll road, then the toll road splits from it and goes off in a different direction.

So I am trying to get home which used to be just a straight drive down 620 from her road to mine. Not today, I attempt to go home down 620 and I get to these signs that say toll45 with a right arrow. Well I do not want to get on the toll road so I try to turn the other way thinking I will find some part of the frontage road to get on that will skirt the toll section.

That isn't what happened, turning the other way put me on the same toll road going the opposite direction of my home with no option of getting back off. The frontage actually forced you onto the toll road. Well luckily this part of the toll road wasn't charging this particular night so I didn't have to pay anything but I am trying to find an exit so I can turn around.

The next exit I come across is the mopac exit. Once again all I want to do is exit so I can loop around and come back the other direction. So I get off on the next exit. What happens? The next exit is another toll road or rather a section of a road that was extended and then tolled. The rest of mopac is not a toll road.

So does getting on mopac give me any option of exiting the toll system? No. It immediately puts me on the toll part of mopac and then brings me to a toll plaza where they demand money from me. The whole mile or so I am on this road I am looking for a way to exit or turn around but there is none.

All you can do is go to the toll plaza where an actual person is waiting this time wanting 75 cents. Immediately afterward there is an exit (surprise!). So I get off on that exit. Then I notice a sign saying parmer lane next exit. Well I live near parmer lane so I figured I should drive down the frontage to parmer and then head back to my neck of the woods.

Does this happen? Sort of. It turns out completely unbeknownst to me that the left two lanes of the frontage shunted you back onto toll road. Well I didn't know this probably on account of the fact that it was dark and there were no signs to be seen indicating such. At least not in the little stretch of frontage I was on.

So by the time I realize I am headed back to a toll station wanting my money there is once again no way to turn around. There goes another 75 cents. So finally I get to parmer and start my 20 minute drive home. Oh and by the way my fiance's sister lives all of about 10 minutes away from us. In fact it used to be about a 5 minute drive before they stuck in the toll road. Now we have to get on a narrow one-lane frontage road, and sit at a long stop light we did not used to have to sit at. Why?

Oh thats because otherwise we would have to get on the toll road and pay 75 cents to get off on the very next exit which is maybe a mile from the entrance of the toll road. In other words they converted a section of 620 into toll road. In order to use that very short section of road that would bypass the one-lane high traffic frontage (that also did not used to be that narrow) we have to pay 75 cents. Oh and by the way before it was voted to turn this into a toll road, and before the rest of the toll road was built this section of 620 had already been improved to bypass that stop light and there was no additional fee for using it.

So now instead of decreasing the time of our trip it has effectively doubled it.

As it turns out the sign that had said "toll road this way" that had originally caused the confusion failed to mention that you also had to turn that way to keep going down 620 in that direction.

So $1.50 and about 45 minutes of my life were wasted because of the intentional shittiness of the toll road signs and frontage roads. But of course they have every reason to make the roads confusing and force people to get on them who innocently turned the wrong way or missed the exit they were supposed to get off on, or perhaps who are just confused about how the frontage roads were designed and what lane they were supposed to be in.

That way they can make money off of people who get lost or confused by their signage. Meanwhile this particular toll system is designed to charge you according to how many miles you use. What does that mean in application? Well unlike traditional toll roads that charge you at your entrance to the road this one charges you at multiple points.

They have "toll plazas" placed every few miles down the road. Then they have tolls at some entrances and some exits. What this means in application is that to drive down the toll road without their little textag you have to stop and pay the toll to get on, stop and dig out change to pay the toll when you come across a toll plaza, and then stop and pay a toll when you get off. Of course approaching toll plazas, frontage roads and exits tend to disappear so that you cannot avoid having to stop at the plaza.

Part of why this is so ridiculous is because most of these toll roads aren't but about 4 to 5 miles long. In theory you are supposed to get charged something like 18 cents per mile, but the toll plaza's charge people the same amount regardless of where they got on.

I have personally been charged $1.50 to drive approximately two miles of toll road. Why? Because I got on where the frontage road ended, and the frontage road ended about a half mile before the toll plaza. Meanwhile the toll road ended about a mile beyond the plaza. So including the ramp I might have gone two miles on that road. 75 cents per mile.

Also there are little segments of the toll road that only allow people to use them who have a textag. The txtag though free right now is going to start carrying a charge. A 9.95 activation fee or some nonsense. So to use the exclusive txtag sections of road its going to cost you ten bucks plus the toll.

With a txtag they set up an account and then charge you every time you pass through one of their toll stations. The toll stations are all designed to be incredibly inconvenient unless you have a txtag. In fact that is the point of having the exclusive areas. The exclusive areas force all the other motorists off the road, or risk getting ticketed and fined.

They take a picture of your license plate when you pass through one of the toll stations that way they can send you your fine in the mail.

So there is this pristine section of mopac expressway now that is brand new and tolled. Because of this hardly anyone uses it. At least not when compared with the rest of mopac. The rest of mopac has heavy traffic most of the time.

The rest of mopac is falling apart. Not only that, it very badly needs more lanes given how many people use it all the time. This is basically a major north/south expressway in austin. Its most congested area is not in the northeast where it has been extended and improved but the northwest segment, central and south.

There are areas of mopac, areas where it has its highest congestion that drop down to only one lane. Meanwhile most of the congested section is riddled with pot holes, filled-in cracks, and precariously narrow ramps and exits.

Unfortunately its hard to get adequate money to fix these kinds of problems because the state explicitly favors improvement projects that use tolls.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The NeverWar

So once there was this war.
It wasn't our war,
It was never a war
but we had a treaty
So when the invasion started
it became our war.

But not a war, NeverWar

It became our friends,
our neighbors, our blood.
It ended they said.
But not really.
Wars don't end that neverWere.

In reality it stopped being
our blood and became our bombs
bombs dropped from the sky-
on farmers, on children,
on targets of strategic importance.

It became an embargo
a little myth we called "containment"
where we tried to starve out the people,
deny their basic needs,
to poke at their leader

Obviously this was violent
but it was neverWar
Wars don't end that neverWere.

Then one day someone poked back
someone from the same hemisphere
so we escalated our NeverWar.
We sent our blood back.

Thus the Antiwar folk got to protest
the new NotaWar. but to protest
they had to pretend the
NeverWar never happened
Wars don't happen that neverWere.

They had to suppose
dropping bombs on civilians
was not a state like the NotaWar
but a state of "containment"

a state more desirable
than the new NotaWar.
either option involved
the secret of collateral

Of untold thousands,
civilians, dying,
dying to be liberated
eaten up in the dust

Of our NeverWar.
Wars don't end that neverWere.

We pay for it still.
Confusion is all we have left.
Do we owe them?

The people we bombed for so long
Do we owe them protection?
Should we rebuild what we destroyed?

Are we still an occupying army?
are we at war, were we ever?
The NeverWar never ended.

We escalate, we invade,
we step back, we bomb
we starve, we kill
We escalate, we stabilize

We'll never end the NeverWar
Wars don't end that neverWere.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

(Poem) Among Friends

If I cannot stand among friends.
If I cannot stand up for what I feel is right
who am I?
If I cannot challenge my family
for a wrong for fear of division
and distress,
How can I stand among anyone to do the same.

Shall I speak among strangers
who know not me
who have no means of
truly hurting me
to whom I have no alliance
no bonds, nothing to lose.

Shall I speak among them
in whom I have staked nothing
to whom I owe nothing.

Shall I stand up for truth
among those who care not that I exist,
but not among those who matter to me most.
Then am I not a coward.

Do I not sell these strangers
false pretenses, false passion.
Am I not a hypocrite.

If I cannot among my friends,
risk every relationship I have
every friend, every solace,
every social bond and value,

If I cannot stand among them
to advocate a new world.
How dare I stand among strangers,
in hopes of changing their's?

Friday, July 13, 2007

More Sci-Fi Meta-Posting

I know I said narrative and point of view were next, but I find myself randomly inspired to discuss some other issues instead. I came across an old issue of Reason from last year the other day and got to reading about Octavia Butler. She died about a year ago after falling and hitting her head.

She was a very talented science fiction writer or so I am told. I was familiar with her due to many references I had seen to her books, and because I had seen her interviews at least once on TV. I never read her stuff because the themes struck me as pessimistic.

It seemed as though she often created worst-possible-scenarios that arose out of the present state of things. However after reading more about her I sort of wished i had. This is because I realized after reading the article that she wrote on many similar themes to what I have written about. I found myself relating her in a sort of obscure way.

Her work reminded you that you can be very sci-fi without having a focus on either science or technology. Sometimes explorations of future societies are more about social ideas, and how social structures can conflict, and evolve.

As I am a fan of character-driven fiction the social themes strike me as being an important realm of science fiction that I certainly do not intend to neglect.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Trouble with Atheism

So I am investigating this college the other day, due to the fact that it is relocating near me. It turns out to be a very explicitly and intentionally christian university and thus one I would likely be uncomfortable attending due to my own atheistic beliefs.

But it got me to thinking. The school has services every weekday morning. Services where students can join their friends and colleagues in prayer and "worship" (that generally means highly affected singing).

Then I remember this documentary I saw a few years back which basically argued that religion was a way of binding communities together. It created not only common beliefs, but a common identity, and a common experience of the spiritual. Which arguably was a mass hallucination but if you can have a deeply moving experience as a community wouldn't that bind you closer together even if it was a completely invented experience.

So I got to thinking imagine how closely knit a college community would likely become if most of the students regularly attended some of these services rather than just going their own way as they might at a standard secular school.

Atheism while it can bring people together to a degree has no real means of offering that sort of experience and community bonding. This may or may not be a good thing, however I find myself wondering if popular religions did sink into obscurity would we find ourselves needing some sort of cultural replacement?

Secular mass, group chanting, yoga (lol)? The other question that bugs me is would it be better to create a secular religion that incorporated atheism as a core belief or given the problems so inherent with religions would it be better to discover a means to disconnect our social bonding and social rituals from religion entirely, and let it fall by the wayside as a relic of our past?

Why I Hate The Global Warming Debate

I am not a republican, I am not in favor of pollution, I am not a christian, I do not believe in any supernatural phenomenon, I am not on the payroll of any international corporation, I am not especially fond of the activities of many large businesses, and I am vehemently opposed to mixing government and business matters.

Furthermore I have always been interested and a student of various sciences at least since I was about 8 years old. While I do not claim to be an expert on any of them I very strongly believe in the scientific method, in the importance of science to further our knowledge and understanding of the universe, and I try to keep up to date on what is going on in the science world. I love reading science magazines (SEED is my current favorite). I have also always been a math geek so I also occasionally find myself exploring issues in theoretical math, and following the stories of newly solved problems/conjectures with interest.

I say all this because those who are now termed "global warming skeptics," people such as myself are almost always characterized as ignorant, conservative, part of some industry lobby, paid off by some large company, Christian, mysticist, and or irrational.

I consider myself to be a very scientifically-minded person. I am that guy (okay girl in my case) who likes to point out to people that string theory is not really a "theory" in the scientific sense, and explains to my co-workers and friends the newest developments in gene therapy. I was the one in high school fervently defending evolution, and on occasion the big bang theory. I even spent some time in college debunking some of the more spurious internet sites claiming firm proof against evolution.

I say all this because at one time I believed in anthropogenic global warming. I took at face value the idea that what we were being told was being supported by scientists, and was clearly the truth. This was when I was approximately in middle school. When I got to high school I started noticing a bit of inconsistency in the whole issue. That is when I began to question. I did not doubt it as of yet I just began to point out to people certain obvious flaws in the argumentation we were being presented.

Now I am not talking about flaws in the straight scientific reasoning. What we encounter at school was many steps removed from scientific reasoning. We were subjected to long assemblies, videos, slide shows, articles, reading material etc. that were usually dooms day scenarios promoting some activity that sounded fairly benign like recycling.

What I noticed was that some of the material was trying to scare us on the basis that if nothing was done we would end up with a world-wide desert planet, a very hot desert planet. Some of the presentations told us we would end up with hot jungle planet, some said the global warming would initiate the return of the ice age giving us ice planet, and finally of course there was water world. While water world was the least likely scenario this is the one we encountered most often, because back in the early 90's for some mysterious reason people actually believed that the likely result of global warming would be water covering everything but the highest mountain ranges.

So this is what I began pointing out to people: Have you noticed that if the climate gets warmer in the future it will be attributed to global warming (in this context I do mean anthropogenic global warming). If it gets cooler it will be attributed to global warming. If it gets rainier it will be attributed to global warming. If it gets drier it will be attributed to global warming. Or to put it simply if our climate changes in the slightest in the next century that change will be considered proof of human-caused global warming regardless of what that change is.

When I got to college my I started framing my concerns in a much more scientific way: If our planet is considered to have a dynamic climate, that is it is not considered static or it is normal for changes to occur over time, and any change in the future will be considered to be a result of human-caused global warming how could this "theory" possibly be considered falsifiable.

This is important in science. If a hypothesis is not falsifiable it cannot be proven wrong (nor right) and is considered to be a non-scientific concept. For example all psychic and supernatural phenomenon is considered to be non-falsifiable.

Now I am not arguing that the actual scientific evidence out there supporting global warming is non-falsifiable. I am still at the point of relaying what was mainly laymen argumentation and debates. Basically the kind of thing you encounter in mainstream media and around college campuses.

This issue made me start investigating the issue more, and focusing on actual scientific magazines. I was told by a British graduate student who was convinced that the U.S. was going to cause the UK to be under an ice sheet by 2050 due to our carbon emissions that scientific American had definitively proved global warming in a recent article.

I found this article at the library, I found other SA articles about global warming online, and I could not find one at that time that definitively "proved" global warming. I was only looking back within the span of about 5 years so its likely I did not go back far enough, however even the article he referenced was actually about potential effects of global warming.

All the ones I could find were about the effects of global warming. All of these articles presumed that anthropogenic global warming was not only true, but went so far as to state that there was a well established consensus on the matter. Usually they did so by starting the article with "In this day and age few scientists would disagree that anthropogenic global warming is a big problem..."

My initial investigation spread out to other magazines, and other media sources. I searched for articles on the internet, I checked out many articles in Discover, I watched many documentaries, both of the scientific and not-so-scientific variety on the topic, and I even perused a few scientific journals I was able to get access to at school.

What did I discover? First of all the documentaries and articles that were skeptical never had trouble finding and presenting respectable scientists who were experts in the field they were commenting on, who disputed the current "evidence" and interpretation of said evidence on global warming. Now I have no doubt that these scientists are likely a minority given the current atmosphere surrounding the issue (no pun intended), but they are not quacks, nor industry hacks, nor republican lackeys. Credible dissent exists, and those credible dissenters all believed that there were many more dissenters out there who were afraid to speak up because of how badly dissenters got defamed (as hack, quacks, and lackeys)(also dissenters tend to lose their research grants or are not likely to be given them in the first place).

I also found that about 90 percent (obviously I am making an estimate here) of the material I encountered supporting global warming had obvious, glaring errors in it. The reason I say 90 percent rather than 100 is because I do not pretend to have the capacity to adequately determine whether certain data figures in articles in certain journals were accurate or not. I just know I always encountered written results that in my brain did not always match what the rest of the article seemed to be saying.

My point is just that I encounter this so often it is almost a running joke with me. I am honestly not looking at this material with an eye for mistakes. The mistakes are much more obvious in media productions that did not arise out of the scientific community however they are still there in Scientific American and everywhere else.

For example a recent article I was reading in a science magazine which shall remain nameless (though I can certainly point you to it if you are interested) suggested that carbon dioxide from china would cause acid rain in the U.S. I was baffled by this. I had never heard of CO2 causing acid rain, how could that be possible?

After a little investigation online I discovered that there was research indicating that it was normal for CO2 molecules to be separated within the atmosphere and fall to earth as very slightly acidic rain. However the acidity was not greater than the average acidity of regular rainwater, and it was possible the carbon-laced water was beneficial to the soil.

In other words it was not what is meant by the term "acid rain." In fact acid rain was originally defined as rain with a lower pH than that created by this exact CO2 process.

Anyhow the errors are more obvious in media productions. Watch 20/20's next global warming piece and you are sure to notice a few. Usually it is rife with statements about how the earth will have more storms with heavy rainfall, more clouds, and yet be a drier, hotter climate.

The PBS series "Voyage to Planet Earth" attributed deterioration of the Louisiana coastline to rising sea levels. They even went so far as to suggest that some of the trees sticking up out of the water must have been on land once. You want to know why this is absurd? It is absurd because long before the global warming debate ever even began the Army core of engineers visited Louisiana and basically "fixed the Mississippi." That is, rivers tend to meander and flood. Thanks to systems of dams and levees put in by the Army Core of Engineers, the Mississippi no longer floods annually, and no longer meanders.

This is great news for nearby towns that could be very quickly taken out by a river changing its course. However it was very quickly discovered that it was bad news for the coastline which was replenished via silt washed downstream during floods. With the inability to get new silt deposits on to the wetlands of the Mississippi delta, and the continuing flow of water through this area the coastline started getting washed away.

This effect was discovered and explained a long time ago. Its cause is known. Meanwhile it is also fairly well known in Louisiana that trees do in fact grow in water. Louisiana's Bayous are full of trees.

Meanwhile the news specials definitely proving that human caused global warming have caused the number intense hurricanes to increase almost always lack that crucial bit of argumentations that actually link the humans to the phenomenon. I saw a whole special once that claimed to "definitively prove global warming" and even had supposed former skeptics renouncing their skepticism with the new findings. The show was based on research that showed a correlation between increased sea-water temperatures and an increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes. Where was the crucial link that proved humans made the water warmer? The issue was not even discussed. It was taken as a fact.

Meanwhile credible climatologists will tell you that it takes many hundreds of years for a known climate change to impact oceanic temperature by just a couple of degrees. This data actually comes from ice coring among other places. They can show how a huge volcanic eruption changed the average global temperature, dropping it by 10 degrees or something of that sort. Meanwhile a few centuries later the ocean water temp also lowered a couple degrees.

I could go on all day. Honestly. I can email anyone who is interested articles in scientific American that present evidence that clearly indicates x, which could dispute the notion of global warming, that are concluded with paragraphs that literally state the exact opposite.

Imagine summing up an article for a well respected magazine with statements to the exact contrary of all the evidence and interpretations you have just presented.

Okay, there is more but I need to break this up a bit so that will be all for now.

Blog Goin-on's

So I spent many hours yesterday trying to fix the blogroll. You may have noticed. You one or two frequent visitors. Unfortunately I have in the neighborhood of 500 links. I am testing each one. Googling the blog if nothing comes up to see if maybe they have moved elsewhere. Updating any links that list a new site for their blog etc. Also I came up with categories so that the links would be more navigable.

So if you visit to discover your blog is in a category you do not really care for let me know. I may be kind enough to move it. It is hard to determine on some of the blogs with an obvious political slant whether to list those as political blogs or as culture blogs. I hate to call something "libertaria" just because a libertarian wrote it when it is actually more of a culture blog.

Not that "libertaria" is bad I just know some people are not aiming for a political affiliation/label so I hate to stick them in one if I do not have to. Anyhow I am willing to cooperate in most such link moving requests, however, keep in mind if you do not link to me and I link to you your opinion on where that link "should be" may not carry an especially large amount of weight around here.

That being said it really is not a big deal. It is worth noting however that I do consider objectivists to be a part of libertaria and I know they often object. Let me reassure them that I am familiar with the objections and I will only move your blog if you really do blog more about culture than politics and libertarian related themes.

Anyhow this is all still a work in progress that I anticipate will take many weeks to finish. In the meantime blogs have already occasionally been moved to the wrong category by accident so keep in mind that the fluctuations have not yet finished and what you see now may or may not be the final categorization etc.

Also the side bar is getting adjusted quite a bit. Stuff moving up and down, back and forth. I just want to see how I like stuff.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Narrative Vs Dialog

Lets talk a little about narrative and dialog. Dialog is just what it sounds like. Characters talking to each other (though in theory you can also have a monologue or a dialog in which a character is mainly just thinking to himself).

Narrative is that part of the story in which the narrator/writer tells you what is going on. Both of these elements can be over used, underused, and misused. I mention this because I have found myself over the years developing odd rules for when to use narrative vs dialog that when actually used did not make a whole lot of sense.

There is a time and a place for both and not really a great deal of hard and fast rules for when you use whichever one you use. There are really just people like me who go about saying stuff like "I cannot believe they used narrative there."

Let me give you an example of this. In high school, I had to read Pride and Prejudice. If you like reading other people's conversations that do not really go anywhere and take their precious time advancing the plot then this is absolutely the book for you. It takes place in the English countryside (19th century) among a society of people too rich to be laboring in the fields and too poor to be aristocrats.

Most of the plot is conveyed in very long-winded conversations. Though in fact it seems that the women of this time and place had little else. ::Spoiler Warning - Not that I recommend this book to anyone ever....::: So you follow the main character from dinner to dinner to ball, to writing letters to her friends, to visiting relatives and conversing over dinner, to chatting over brunch, to reading a letter from a lord who has fallen in love with her, to a few more letters and conversations, and finally to her deciding she loves him too and telling him as much.

The trouble is that while all the other major events of the story are conveyed in dialog the climatic moment when the heroine tells her chosen that she loves him is conveyed in narrative. So instead of hearing the finer details of this epic conversation, which you work through a very long-winded book to get to, you get something along the lines of:

They decided to take a walk together. After they had made it a little ways down the garden path she looked at the lord and told him that she really did love him....

This is not verbatim, just roughly what I remember. Anyhow, it was a let down to say the least. So if there was a rule to be taken from this it would be something along the lines of "If dialog is a crucial part of the style and character of your story and the climax happens in conversation, please, for the love of god, share that conversation with your audience."

Still I found myself with one story trying to convey everything in dialog. The setting, the conflicts, and even the physical details of the characters. This basically amounts to having some character at some point comment on everything that you have decided is pertinent to share with the audience.

"Wow! Look at that sunset. Isn't it beautiful? The way the orange sinks into the yellow which blends into pink. And the thin silvery clouds reflecting the pink and gold on the bottom side while maintaining the same silvery gray on their topside as the calm ocean beneath them."

"Yes it is lovely but not as lovely as your startlingly brilliant long red hair, deep green eyes, and delicate white skin. Which of course perfectly compliments your long legs, slender waist and ample breasts..."

This rather odd reaction was due to the fact that I had read some sci-fi stories at that particular time in which the author spent pages and pages setting up his story. He told you not only every little detail of the environment and what his characters looked like but explained the arising conflict in detail, perhaps went into the finer points of the local galactic politics or even detailed the characters genealogy.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There have been plenty of really great novels that have done this (lord of the rings comes to mind), and it actually makes it easier to jump right into the action if your audience gets a primer of what is going on and why you are calling your evil guys the "DORtinan" instead of the big bad evil guys etc. In fact if a story takes place in a disparate enough culture from our own some of that is likely to be necessary.

It is far less acceptable a device in short fiction than it is in longer works. In a short story you are likely to lose your audience if they have to read page after page of exposition detailing names and places that they have no way yet to actually connect with.

Believe me I have put down many books that did exactly that. So trying to establish a middle ground can be a tall order. You have to figure out what is and is not appropriate to be conveyed in narrative. What would better be revealed in character dialog, or perhaps in a letter or newspaper article they read that day.

How you determine that is dependent not only on the style of your work, but also on the point of view. Which will be coming very soon.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Great Meta Sci-fi Adventure

This is a new project of mine. I am trying to put together a broad set of instructions for writing sci-fi, and other fiction. I am doing it for myself more than for anyone else as a means of trying to focus my thought process.

Here is what I know about sci-fi/speculative fiction. There are different levels classified from "hard" to "soft," or visa versa. An example of soft sf is star wars. We call it this because the star wars trilogy is effectively a fantasy set in space. The technology, gadgets, guns, etc. have no real basis in science nor is an attempt made to scientifically explain any of them.

To be hard sci-fi a story must involve science. Though not everything has to have a scientific explanation there is a definite limit to what you can get away with, with a hard sf audience. IMO a good example of hard sf is the thirteenth floor. Though many hard sci-fi-ers would likely not consider anything that made it to the screen to be "hard" by comparison to their written counterparts.

To me the best sci-fi is that has a scientific concept, idea, or technology at the center of its conflict. For example in the thirteenth floor the conflict involved the necessity and lack of an ethical framework for dealing with simulated persons in simulated realities.

In other words when I write I do not want the science to be a backdrop or merely something encountered along the way. It should play some role in the conflict. Though there are also great psychological and speculative fiction that arises through the use of a more philosophic concept at the core of a story's conflict. These can be great tales as well. I am not opposed to that. In fact I do hope to create this sort of work one day as well.

The next issue to contemplate for me is adventure. It is not necessary to have adventure in a good scifi tale however I feel a certain nostalgia for the authors who once intentionally incorporated adventure into their work. Jules Verne and Michael Crichton come to mind. But alas adventure is not always going to be called for.

Thats all for now more on the great meta sci-fi adventure later.

Hello 2007

Yea! Blog redo...

Sometimes I think I am dirty. Not like in some sort of sexual way, I mean like I feel like I am tainted. I feel like my past defines me so much that I cannot escape from it. I look at myself and my siblings and I think can't I do better than this? Shouldn't I be doing better than this.

I feel underutilized. Like I am somehow this big underachiever. I left uga because I realized that the only reason I was in college was because I was afraid of what I would be if I did not get a college degree. Meanwhile I knew plenty of people who had gotten there 4 year graduated and worked in pizza delivery or magazine sales or something that really did not require a degree to get into.

It all started seeming like a big scam. Still I realize that I want greater things for my life than just massage therapy and mother (eventually). Yet I am having trouble really nailing down what those things are much less how I am supposed to achieve them.

I am frustrated with my own level of patience. I have been exploring writing sci-fi for several years now and I feel as though I have made considerable progress in that realm. However I have finished very few stories.

I start. I stop. I don't generally get to an end before losing patience with the idea. I feel like I have the discipline of a gnat. That is partially where the "dirty" comes in.

A part of my brain still functions with the skills and habits I learned growing up in a very dysfunctional home. These skills include a certain amount of escapism, a short attention span, little patience, limited awareness of my environment, and once again a lack of discipline.

When I run into that frustration I feel like some kind of inbred mongrel. This is where I ask myself pointedly do I accept and embrace what I am or do I try and change. Do I attempt to become something better. Or am I in fact being too hard on myself.