The Villain is Not Always a Person

This question came up on Facebook the other day, when someone was looking for examples of books without definite antagonists. Many folks said that in stories like The Martian (and another recent book you might have heard about), the antagonist — the villain, if you will — is Nature. Man against the elements, as it were.

This morning, in the latest in his Writing Wednesdays series, Steven Pressfield wrote:

Sometimes the villain is entirely inside the characters’ (almost always the protagonist’s) head.

The villain can be a fear, an obsession, a desire, a dream, a conception of reality, an idea of what “the truth” really is.

That’s an interesting thought.

What this means is that the ultimate antagonist is not a man-eating shark or a monster from space. It is an idea carried in our own heads (we’re the heroes, remember, of our own lives) [and the] turning point for us … comes when we see through the Wizard’s curtain and reject this idea once and for all.

Food for thought!

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Are We Headed Back to the Moon?

On the way home from some errands — which included delivering a signed book, grabbing lunch with my lovely bride, and getting a haircut — I heard on the news that President Trump is supposed to issue (or possibly already has) a space policy directing NASA to start planning for a return to the Moon. I’ll be interested to see what happens with that!

Also, while I was stopped for a freight train passing through downtown Cary, Larry Correia posted a plug for Walking on the Sea of Clouds on his Monster Hunter Nation blog. Thanks, Larry!

Sarah Hoyt mentioned the book on Instapundit last week, and of course there was the National Space Society review that compared the novel to early Heinlein and Pournelle. Between all that, I hope we can generate some pre-Christmas buzz!

Thanks for spreading the word!

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A Surprising and Humbling Comparison

“… as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction …”

As I mentioned in this past week’s newsletter,* that’s what a reviewer for the National Space Society wrote about Walking on the Sea of Clouds. I never thought I’d have my work compared to someone of Heinlein’s stature — and the reviewer didn’t stop there:

Although as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, it is not Heinlein, despite many Heinlein tropes. It seems closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. The style is clearly Rinehart’s own, both readable and involving….

Walking on the Sea of Clouds is the type of story seen too rarely today. It captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again. Those who seek to explore space will read this and say, this is what pioneering space would and should be like.

Not just Heinlein, but Pournelle also? As you might imagine, I was blown away by that!

You can read the whole review on the National Space Society site at this link. I’m given to understand that the review is also supposed to appear in an upcoming issue of their print magazine, Ad Astra.

Success
Being compared to a Grand Master of Science Fiction is one way of defining “success.” (Image: “Success,” by {Flixelpix} David, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

What does all that mean? Maybe nothing more in the grand scheme of things than that my story resonated with at least one reader. But: if you know any science fiction fans who might appreciate a story of survival and sacrifice on the Moon, but either hasn’t heard of my novel or is unsure about whether it might be for them, you can point them to that review. I’d sure appreciate it if you did!

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*You can subscribe to my newsletter here.

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Seeing the Good Before Pronouncing Judgment on the Bad

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

In an essay on Goethe, Scottish philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881) wrote,

We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment of any man or thing it is useful, nay, essential, to see his good qualities before pronouncing on his bad.

I like that. Very few people are so reprehensible as to have no good qualities, and when we concentrate so fully on the bad that we ignore the good, it is a very short step indeed to denying the good altogether.

Many of us diehard partisans who snipe incessantly at Presidents or public figures of any kind would do well to take that to heart. That is, if what we are seeking is “right judgment” as opposed to, simply, judgment.

Mahatma Gandhi I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won't presume to probe into the faults of others
(Mahatma Gandhi quote image by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Something to think about. Have a great week!

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Fan Appreciation, “Power Rangers” Style

I told this story in my newsletter, but in case you didn’t read it there:*

Last month I attended the Fayetteville ComicCon, where I had a table on “Authors Alley” and tried to interest as many fans of superheroes and comic books as I could in a certain hard science fiction novel (ahem) and genre-related music. I was moderately successful, and the whole effort was worthwhile, but the most interesting part came from observing the people at the booths across the aisle.

Authors Alley was set up directly across from three actors who had been in various iterations of the Power Rangers franchise: Nakia Burrise, Jack Guzman, and Alyson Kiperman Sullivan (pictured below). Over the course of the weekend I had the opportunity to watch each of them interact with the fans who stopped at their tables to chat or get autographed pictures, and I came away very impressed with each of them.


(Image from http://instey.com/alysonkipermansullivan.)

Without exception, every time a fan—and especially a young fan—came to one of their tables, they paid strict attention to and were fully engaged with that particular person. It didn’t matter whether the fans were young or old, whether they were hale and hearty or arrived in a wheelchair or walking with a cane, these actors remained attentive and surely made those fans feel special. They were present in the moment in a way that was so complete and so palpable that I will reference it from now on as a measure of how well I do in interacting with people at conventions.

And I admit: I generally don’t do very well in those situations. I’m fairly introverted, and find it taxing to be “on” at these events. I would much rather retreat and let my interactions be more limited, but that’s not really an option. (In fact, at that particular event I was guilty of abandoning an interaction with someone; I sent them an apology afterward because I felt bad for having not given them sufficient attention.)

So, until I see a better example, I consider those Power Rangers — Ms. Burrise, Mr. Guzman, and Ms. Kiperman Sullivan — to have reached the pinnacle of fan interactions. Toward the end of the ComicCon I told each one of them separately how much I appreciated the way they treated their fans and how impressed I was. They seemed to appreciate that I noticed and that I told them so, but I don’t think they appreciated my comment as much as I appreciated their examples.

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*Why don’t you sign up for my newsletter? I’ll send you several thank-you gifts for joining! Use the form in the sidebar to the right of this blog post, or this link.

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Authors: Don’t Lie in Your Cover Letter

Or, to be a bit more charitable, don’t exaggerate.

Why do I even have to say this? Because of a cover letter I read today, in which an author claimed that their work had been nominated for (among other things) a Nebula Award.

Nebula Award Logo

A simple search turned up no record of that author having ever made the Nebula ballot in any category: novel, novella, novelette, or short story.* (Sure, it’s possible that they had written something under a pseudonym that was nominated, but that would have been an important detail to mention.)

Pro tip: Having someone tell you that they nominated your work for a Nebula does not equate to being a Nebula nominee. That title applies only to work that made the final ballot.

Pro tip the second: The person who’s reading your cover letter probably has a computer and knows how to do a search, so your lie — or your exaggeration — is likely to be discovered. And when it turns out that you weren’t actually on the ballot for that thing you claimed, your credibility and reputation suffer.

You’re better off not including a cover letter at all than to send one that’s so demonstrably bad.

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*Or even script, back when that was a category.

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I Tried to Write a Poem to Express My Gratitude

I tried to write a poem to express my gratitude
But I got lost in lines and beats and rhymes and a dismal attitude
So I threw it out and started over, plunged headlong into the verses,
And turned my gaze on all the ways my blessings far outweigh my curses

That’s the secret, that’s the mystery, that’s the never-ending story
Not to pretend that in the end we find misfortune less than glory
But to count the good more thoroughly and embrace the coming days
With confidence and a constant sense of thankfulness and praise

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues
(Image: “A thankful heart…,” by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, to one and all.

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Let the Light in You Shine (New Video)

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is Dabo Swinney’s birthday, so I took a look at one of his many inspirational quotes. Coach Swinney is the second-winningest head football coach in Clemson history, trailing only the legendary Frank Howard, but along with success on the field Coach Swinney has emphasized preparing his players for life beyond football.

Today’s video is a little different from others in the Between the Black and the White series, in that I broadcast it live on Facebook in the morning and only later transferred it over to YouTube. As such, it’s a little poorer quality than my previous videos and doesn’t have the title card and credits and whatnot. Anyway, here it is:

Here’s the quote from Coach Swinney, in case you don’t want to watch the video:

Let the light that shines in you be brighter than the light that shines on you.

I think that’s good advice, even for the vast majority of us who don’t have many opportunities to stand in the spotlight — actual or metaphorical. I’m sorry to say that when I’ve had such opportunities I haven’t thought too much about the light I could bring with me, the light I could let shine though me (or out from me). I hope to do better at that, this week and into the future.

And I trust that you will let your light shine bright as well! Have a great week!

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(Possibly) Related Videos:
Brave Knights and Heroic Courage
We Are All Leaders
Stand Tall in Troubled Times

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I’ve Only Been Saying This for a Freaking Quarter CENTURY

What’s this? Labeling certain students as “gifted” might have a downside?

Through personal conversations with her students, [Stanford education professor Jo] Boaler began to see how being labeled “gifted” or “smart” as children stunted even these bright and successful young people….

It’s hard to feel sorry for Stanford students, many of whom have had amazing opportunities not offered to peers precisely because someone recognized them as smart, but their experiences do call into question the practice of labeling in the first place.

Wow, if only someone had pointed out potential problems with sequestering certain students and labeling them as “gifted” — oh, wait, I did that, in the first edition of Quality Education. Granted, I put the topic in an appendix entitled “The Gifted and Talented Myth,” which in retrospect wasn’t the best place to highlight it, but it was there.

In the new edition, the subject of “gifted and talented” programs takes a more prominent position in four short chapters instead of one lengthy appendix.

Gifted and talented education usually is not limited to letting students with special aptitudes learn at a faster rate. These programs often remove some few students from their original classrooms, place them together with other “gifted” students, and focus more attention on their efforts. The students are told explicitly that they are part of the “gifted and talented” program, and become increasingly aware of differences between themselves and other students. But at what level does a student simply have a better grasp of a subject as opposed to being “gifted”? The differentiation is not always clear.

There’s more, of course, but that’s enough to prove today’s point.

I admit, it’s gratifying to find someone agreeing with something I said a quarter century ago. But it’s also incredibly frustrating, and rather makes me feel like:

Picard facepalm

What a way to start the week.

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P.S. If you want a FREE copy of the introduction to Quality Education, you can get one by signing up for my newsletter (you get two other free gifts, too). I’d also be pleased if you would pick up a copy from Amazon.

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Christian Carelessness

That phrase in the title connotes a lot, doesn’t it? “Christian carelessness” — we experience it every day … and some of us, despite our best intentions, practice it every day.

I ran across the phrase in E. Stephen Burnett’s post, “Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Human Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For”, in which he addresses “the most well-intended Christian carelessness about” popular culture in whatever form it takes. He writes, for instance,

Why not discuss popular culture—human stories and songs—in terms of human creativity being a gift from God? The way some pastors talk, popular culture is some alien (even if “harmless”) thing unrelated to God. But if God gives this gift (of popular culture-creation), then He, not us [sic], defines the terms of how the gift is best used—to glorify Him, to guard against idolatry, and to make sure we get the most joy out of using the gift in the ways He has prescribed.

Why not explore how Jesus has built the work-rest rhythm into the universe, starting right in Genesis 1? Why not consider how stories and songs are part of being human, whether they’re shared around a campfire or enacted on your tablet screen? Why not allow the possibility that Scripture seems to allow—that we will create cultural works in eternity?

I love that, but I keep coming back in my mind to the idea — and the challenge — of “Christian carelessness” in general.

For people who claim to be Christ’s representatives on Earth (“Christian” means “little Christ,” does it not?), we are often quite careless in how we represent our Lord and Savior, in how we interact with each other and the world around us, in how we think and speak and act. And by “we” I primarily mean “I” am often quite careless.


(Image: “A Careless Word, A Needless Loss.” US World War II propaganda poster, on Wikimedia Commons.)

And beyond that, I come back to another way to think of carelessness: specifically, that of caring less than I should. I am guilty, and I daresay most of us are guilty, of caring less when Christ would have us care more. That’s not to say that we have it in ourselves to solve all the problems we face or to correct all the evils we see in the world, but when we turn away from them or pretend that they don’t exist our “Christian carelessness” condemns us.

Lord, help me — help us — to care more, and to be more careful.

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