Book Review: Red Queen

It should come as no surprise that I like a good bit of speculative fiction that is a bit heavier on the science than filled with handwavium. Therefore, when I stumbled across Jeb Kennison’s The Substrate Wars series, I was hooked. The first book in the trilogy, Red Queen, is definitely worth a read if you haven’t checked it out yet.

The series starts following a nuclear attack on Manhattan that led to a single party pretty much dominating American politics. The premise is not too far fetched and shows some of the problems that can come from having a political monoculture in universities and the media. A rebellious group of college students gets together and through a breakthrough in technology, develop a way to get away from the oppressive environments on Earth.

The books are short and the characters, while somewhat Mary-Sue-ish, are still likeable and believable. If you’re looking for a good adventure in sci-fi that deals with technology that we would actually recognize, then this trilogy is definitely worth the $7.00 all three books will cost you. I give it a solid three-and-a-half rainbow farting zebricorns. It loses one-and-a-half for the Mary-Sue characters and the black-and-white nature of the way it treats the good guys and the bad guys. Still, it’s readable and well worth the time.

— G.K.

Tribalism and Distance

Tribalism and Distance

Or “Oy vey, the problems that can crop up when you share one semi-but-not-completely tongue-in-cheek picture on the Book of Face.”

There is one fundamental aspect of all humans everywhere regardless of culture, gender, sex, religion, skin tone, hair color, ability, or intellect and that is that we are all lazy sods who want to do the minimum contribution to the mass of society it takes to satisfy us and then be left alone to do our own thing. Sure, some of us are perfectionists and will insist that our minimum be to a higher standard than someone else’s but that’s not a given with most humans. Honestly, unless we know someone beyond just their name, we generally don’t spend much time thinking about them. We’ll help out our friends and family (after all, my parents have helped me and my sister out a lot when we needed it) in a heartbeat because we know those people. We might even go to other folks we know who don’t directly know a friend of ours who’s hard-up at the moment and ask them to pitch in to help out.

That’s how society functions at its most basic. It’s a web, of sorts, a kind of distributed network where not every person (or node) is connected directly to every other person (or node). It scales well enough so that people can understand that they are part of a family, then a tribe, then a nation, and finally the entire human race. The problems creep in when one rank of the web is mistakenly assigned a part that would go better to another rank. It’s taken us a long time (almost embarrassingly long) to figure out which rank should have which task. For instance, for a long time, armies were held at the tribal level. That worked out okay when people were still spread out in sparse groups (the hunter-gatherer phase). Then they started forming nation-states and the ones that were the most successful at maintaining stability — internal and external — were the nations that moved control of the armies up to the national level. In places where armies were held at the familial or local level, things were unstable. Civil wars and in-fighting were much more frequent. This is part of why feudal Europe took so long to recover from the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire. It’s also why organized crime and gangs are such a problem — they aren’t beholden to anyone or any particular set of ideals other than “we want shit others have” and so have no check on misuse of their martial powers. The military is beholden to the government and the government — be it the President or the Queen or the Pope — decides when and where to use it. If the people don’t like their decisions, there are ways to deal with it. A military unit that goes rogue and starts invading places or harassing people is a military unit that is going to be hunted down by the whole rest of said military and hanged from the nearest set of trees.

Another example is dealing with other nations. For way too long, that kind of stuff was held at the tribal level with one local chief (or lord or earl or whatever fancy name they want to call themselves) might have a peaceful relationship with a foreign power while another chief wanted to go to war with them and the king (the head of the chiefs) might just not care much one way or the other. Look at Scotland if you think I’m making shit up. The Scots were buddy-buddy with the French for a long time while the English fought with the French so frequently that I’m half-surprised the wars finally ended. Even after Scotland became the senior partner in the United Kingdom, the Scots were closer to the Continent than the English. Even today, the Scots would prefer to stay part of the European Union while the English want out. This is probably going to be the issue that finally breaks up the union and I don’t think either side is going to be happy with where they end up.

Charity is the biggest example most of us can think of for “an act that belongs to one web but got tossed up to another to the point of it no longer functions well at all.” Back when it was held locally, pretty much everyone who needed charity could get it. It also had the function of forcing society to remain somewhat more tightly knit by reminding those who were on it that they owed gratitude to those who provided it and reminding those who were well-off that there’s a price to pay for status and benevolence is that price.

Was it perfect? Nope. Is it perfect now that we screwed around and assigned a local-web function to the national-web level? Oh hell no. Thing is, many of the imperfections from the past era had to do with the fact that life, in general, sucked for everyone back then. Orphans starved or died of disease at just a slightly higher rate than non-orphans. Poor women lived just a few years less than their wealthier counterparts. Medical care, whether you were George Washington or some random Irish guy consisted of being cut to let the bad humors out. These days, though, everyone has access to clean water, indoor sanitation, vaccines (vaccination is so cheap that we do — rightly — fund it to keep companies making them even though the profit-margin is practically nil), and education. Aside from vaccination, all of these things are pushed down to the level most appropriate for them. Water regulation is a state matter in the US. So is education (for the most part). Building codes are municipal. And, imperfect as they are, they mostly work better than they would if they were delegated up or down. It would be a complete waste of time for DC to try to figure out how homes in Mississippi should be built or to try to demand that all homes in the US be built to the exact same code. It would also be incredibly stupid considering the sheer variation in local climate, average seasonal temperature and humidity, and population density. Could you imagine the outcry if idiots in Flora, MS started telling the morons in Los Angeles that they had to allow at least fifty feet between habitations to allow for proper water run-off on adjacent properties? Or if the dingbells living on the Gulf Coast tried to tell the doorknobs living in Manhattan that they needed to have ceilings that were at least 12′ high and all buildings had to be wood-framed to allow for give during thunderstorms and tornado outbreaks?

That would go over about as well as a lead balloon.

So why are we doing it for charity? Do the sods in Michigan have any clue what the needs of the poor in Jacksonville, Florida are? Do the tossers in Queens have any earthly idea what it’s like to be poor out in Cheyenne? Do they know if it’s tied in to local economic cycles or is this a structural problem leading to generational poverty? Does it have to do with lack of access to education due to budgetary shortfalls, poor teacher training, or scarcity of population? Could the issue be cultural in origin? Do they know? Do they care? Nope. Because this is so far outside of their local-web that they can’t imagine it anymore than I can imagine or sympathize much with what it’s like to grow up a gay dude in Japan. Instead, they throw money at the problem and absolve themselves of actually having to analyze and deal with it. It’s not like they know those people, after all. And money helps everything, right?

It helps about as much as mandating 12′ ceilings for all.

It also leads to other problems. After all, if the national government’s job is to provide charity, then why should we bother giving to local concerns? Eventually, you wind up with a lot of national or international charities and only churches doing anything local. There’s also no status given for paying taxes or helping in local charities. Back before we went stupid on this, one of the main ways for the wealthy to sort themselves by status was for them to be involved in local benevolent concerns. And yes, it was a good idea to have the wealthy running them because they knew how to handle money and how not to get ripped off. Anyone who doubts that should take their savings out of the bank and hand it to the first guy they see on the street and then get back to me in a year with the results. Unless you happen to be insanely lucky, chances are you’re going to be broke.

There’s also no penalty for not giving to charity or not participating in local organizations. Used to be, if you didn’t, then you really didn’t get invited anywhere and people looked down on you — especially if you were well-off. Your sons might not be allowed to court women from other good families and would have to either be eternal bachelors, go abroad (and rumor would go with them), or marry down. Your daughters would require a higher dowry and would have to prove that they hadn’t inherited your tight-fisted ways. But these days, no one cares. Be as tight-fisted as you want — there’s no downside. After all, you pay your taxes and that’s enough. Maybe if you want to show how pious you are, you advocate for higher taxes (and then do your best to minimize your tax burden by creating an LLC, giving it ownership of everything — cars, homes, etc — and then claiming a low salary from it to file on your 1040 so that you get the lower tax burden from the LLC and can even qualify for a refund on your 1040. And yes, every blasted actor out there, I’m lookin’ at you. Assholes).

After all, it’s not like it’s your problem, is it? It’s the nation’s problem and that means that the nation — namely Someone Else — should have to contribute to fix it.

Will moving charity back to the local-web make it perfect? No. Nothing will make it perfect because the minute you throw humans into the mix, you’re going to get imperfection. Will it make it better? Not immediately. It’s been almost three or four generations that we’ve been screwing this up. We’ve axed a lot of the local customs. It will take generations to rebuild the local customs that put pressure on people to contribute and to show gratitude. It will also take a long time for us to understand that, in this, Jesus had it right. The poor will always be with us. What we really need to do is figure out what the various causes of poverty are and try to see what can be done at the local-web level to fix them, scaling it up only if it’s necessary to do so. Some people are poor because they make stupid decisions. Some are poor because they were never taught how to handle money. Some are poor because they can’t work. Some are poor because they don’t really want to work at a level that would take them out of poverty. Some of these issues we can fix. Some, we can’t.

No matter how much money from however far away is thrown at it.

— G.K.

World Building 101: Institutions

Okay, so after everything you’ve already considered, it’s time to start looking into the major institutions in your primary society and any in secondary societies you’re planning to have your characters interact with. The biggies are government, social classes, and individual institutions. If you’ve managed to stay awake through most of your high school history classes, you’ll already have a fairly good idea of most of the major forms of government and variations you can make on them so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. Social classes will generally tend to flow from both your form of government so I’m going to let those pass for now as well. However, individual institutions are where you can have the most fun.

The family unit is the primary individual institution. What is marriage like in your world? Is it a religious thing? A cultural thing? A contractual arrangement? Do you have two-party marriage only? Polygamy? Do you allow for multiple wives and multiple husbands? Can you have both in a multi-party marriage? Are they all married to everyone else involved or is it strictly only to those they wanted to marry with? How are children reared in a family? Is divorce or separation allowed? In what cases?

After the family comes the guild or tribe/clan structure. Do you have guilds for different professions? All or particular ones? Is membership required or optional? How are small towns or villages governed? Larger towns or small cities? Is there a religion? More than one? How intertwined is it with the government? What is the priest class like?

Then there’s the individual economic sphere to consider. Are there shops? Are they large or small? Single-product or multi? Is there an open air market? Is it daily, weekly, monthly? Are prices set or is haggling allowed? What about medical treatments? Are there hospitals or do priests handle the healing? Does your world have plagues and outbreaks that force quarantine?

How are crimes handled? Is there a professional police force? Trial by judge or jury or both? How is evidence given or collected? What’s allowed as evidence? Are there formal rules or is it informal? Are there jails? Are convicts sold into slavery? Executed? Branded? Some other punishment?

Finally, are individuals allowed to travel across national boundaries without needing any kind of permission or is travel pretty much free and open? What about settling abroad? Can someone born in nation A become a citizen or subject in nation B? What are the requirements?

You actually will find yourself having to deal with almost all of these as you write. Even if you’re not planning on doing a lot of world building, these kinds of things will show up in your story. Since almost every story is about individuals, you are going to see more individual institutions in play through a narrative than you will major institutions (though you do still need to keep tabs on those).

Next week we’ll step away from world building a bit to look at how others have done it and what they’ve done well and what aspects could use some work.

— G.K.

Book Review: Magna Carta — The Birth of Liberty

Most of you who know me know that I did my undergrad degree in history and Classical languages. However, I don’t think I’ve ever done a book review of one of the history books or biographies I’ve read (and I have more than a few in my library). That’s going to change this week. Just recently, I read Dan Jones’s Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty. If you’re interested in British or American history, this book is a good one to add to your list. It does a great job of covering the problems that King John created with his misrule of England and his off-and-on wars to try to win back territories his brother Richard held on the continent. The focus of the book is on King John and, in many ways, it could be considered more a history of his reign than a treatise on the Magna Carta itself.

That said, Jones does a great job of explaining the history and the attitudes of the English nobility that gave rise to the creation of the Magna Carta. Where most other European countries had less liberty accorded to the nobles, the English had a lengthy history of certain prerogatives among the nobles and restrictions on what the king could do. Jones does a good job of explaining what those were and why the nobility were so upset over John transgressing the boundaries of “acceptable” behavior for a king.

Overall, if you’re interested in learning more about the last of the Plantagenet kings and the first major document drawn up to place checks on the sovereign — a concept that would later be expanded upon both in the United Kingdom and the United States — this book is a great place to start. It earns a solid four out of five rainbow-farting zebricorns for its comprehensive coverage of the topic and its approachability for the non-historian.

— G.K.

Gravity

Gravity

Welcome to a semi-stream-of-consciousness type post wherein you get to see just a little bit of what goes on in my brain when I’m not forced to focus on something mundane. No, I’m not a physicist and I don’t pretend to be. I doubt I could ever hack the math to be one but I find the field interesting and spend an inordinate amount of time reading up on it because I’m weird like that.

Okay, this is not a review of the film because I’ve not seen it and have no plans to do so. No, this is my somewhat errant and wandering thoughts on gravity itself — the force that both binds and repels everything in our universe.


Newtonian gravity: still a better love story than Twilight

Newton, probably the greatest genius that humanity has ever known, was the first to accurately describe the effects of gravity and to deduce that they were caused by mass. The greater mass an object has, the greater its gravitational pull. Also, gravity is actually incredibly weak — two objects are attracted to each other by a product of their mass but by the attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them or F = G(m1 * m2)/r². Einstein later proved that gravity is an attribute of curved space-time which we all know from the whole “put a bowling ball on a mattress — the ball is a big-ass object and the mattress is space-time” thing.


Earth is the bowling ball, btw.

If you never did that, then you had a crappy childhood.

Gravity is also the force that hasn’t yet been unified with the other forces — electo-magnetisim, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. It’s something that physicist have been having fits over for a while now since quantum theory can handle the other three but gravity seems to throw a spanner in the works. Gravity also impacts time. The closer something is to a heavy gravity field or the deeper in a gravity well an object is, the slower time moves for it.


The secret to immortality? Live on a planet orbiting stupidly close to the event horizon of a black hole.

It’s a fun thing to think about if you’re as whacked in the head as I am.

But what, precisely, is gravity? Yes, it’s a force. Yes, it bends things in space-time. Yes, it has to do with mass and it can screw up time from a local perspective (go watch Interstellar to see what I mean). But what the devil is it? And why is it probably the first force discovered and described but the last to be unified with the rest of the lot (sorry — I’m slipping into British mannerisms because it’s late and I just finished watching The Imitation Game which is awesome and you should go watch it right now).

I’m beginning to suspect that gravity is playing on a much larger field than our universe and that it is not a native force here. It’s more like an invading force that stems from somewhere else. Electro-magnetisim and the nuclear forces are very much natives to our universe. But gravity is the guy from Corsica who comes around, invades places, and makes everyone under his command drive on the right side of the road. Gravity doesn’t just impact time: it’s the cause of it. Without it, we would live in a flat and static universe. Actually, scratch that, we’d live in a flat, static, and unimaginably hot universe and we probably did (we being the tiny quarks that compose everything, including our bodies and the electrical impulses firing between and among our neurons). Then comes gravity and all of a sudden: BAM! Since matter wasn’t uniformly distributed, it had something to screw around with. Clumps formed and attracted more matter to the bigger clumps and crap began spinning and the next thing you know, a few hundred million years go by and we have galaxies and stars and stuff. Gravity also caused space to expand faster than light (the inflationary period which may very well still be on-going and yes, space can go faster than light without violating any laws of physics).


This is your universe without gravity invading it. The other is your universe with gravity being dumb and invading Russia in winter. Any questions?

But gravity didn’t arise here. It’s a force coming from somewhere else in the multi-verse or mega-sphere or whatever it’s called these days. We can detect its influence on our universe but I don’t think we can place it with the three other forces because it’s not just non-local; it’s completely foreign. It’s like it’s part of the bulk that our brane/universe rests on. Maybe like a kind of gel — like the kind you find in an ice pack. Where there’s a lot of matter, it presses down on the gel which, again, thanks to Newton we know will cause the gel to be pushed and bunch up elsewhere.


Crap like this is probably why G shouldn’t be allowed to read anything by Michio Kaku.

And yes. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I’m left to my own. It’s either this or whether or not I could dig deep enough to find something fissionable in my yard and I think that the world would prefer me not to develop my own backyard Manhattan Project.

By the way, you’re welcome for that.

— G.K.

Sorry about last week

Sorry about last week

Last week was the final week of a class I was taking so I spent most of it studying or working on my Final Project for that class. When I wasn’t doing that, I was working and when I wasn’t working, my brain was exhausted so I just played Civ V.

This week will be better, though. I’m working up tomorrow’s post already and have some good stuff planned for Wednesday and Friday, too.

Thanks!

— G.K.

World Building 101: Human Universals

World Building 101: Human Universals

Yes, Virginia, there are some common universal traits that go across every culture, every religion, and every civilization in human history. These are things that are so ingrained into us that we will tend to obey them without thought whether our skin is as pale as an alba blossom or dark as pitch, whether Dr. House would call us danglers or say that our genitals are aesthetically pleasing, or even which particular deity we do or do not pray to when we’re in the foxhole with a grenade sans pin.

Some of these are taboos that we don’t even really have to think about: don’t have sex with your kids, your parents, or your siblings (and stfu about the pharaohs because that’s the sole exception I can find that was practiced with regularity). Don’t kill your immediate family. There is a mystical being watching you so nothing you do is perfectly hidden and if you make this being mad, things will go bad for you. Other universals have to do strictly with the fact that, on average, males and females are different in a biochemical sense. Social differentiation tends to follow this biochemical lines where men in tribal to late-Industrial societies tackle jobs that require use of their raw strength while women tend to go for jobs that maximize their dexterity and are within their (somewhat lesser) raw strength (and believe me, it takes some serious strength to be a farm wife. Most of those ladies could probably bench-press and dead-lift more than an Army Ranger today!) You don’t see a lot of women in African tribes running out on the savanna chucking spears at antelope and you don’t see a lot of men sewing altar cloths or weaving rugs.

So, those are the general universals. That doesn’t mean you have to use them in your story. Instead, look at them. What are they? Two of them are “don’t screw with your family” and one is “there is something beyond you.” Finally, the physical differences simply say “if there are differences, society will tend to do its best to find a way to make maximum use of it; if you want everyone to be identical and interchangeable, society will treat them as such but you had better be prepared for real equality in this case and not the cobbled-together crap we have right now.”

I’ve seen the last one turned on its head. Probably the most well-known example is the society on Angel I in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a world where women evolved to be larger and stronger and men were shorter and more dexterous. Another example is from the Wheel of Time where, since men who channel go insane, women have generally played a larger role in both channeling societies (the Wise Ones, the Windfinders, sul’dam and damane, the Ayyad, and the Aes Sedai) and in ruling in general (Randland runs heavily towards queens since there’s always a risk that any given man could turn out to be a channeler — especially if he’s from a bloodline that has practiced cousin-marriage). This works out to the entire civilization tending to trust women before men.

In economics, there are also some universals. I have yet to find a religion that says “ya know what, if your neighbor has something, it’s cool to beat the shite out of him and take it.” Since religion tends to be the first highly-developed aspect of human culture (even government tends to stem from religion early on), yes, religious views of trade and ownership are important. We can see that there are several religions that out-right forbid things like interest on loans or that regulate, quite strictly, who can be charged interest and how much can be levied. Religions also develop and under-gird most early tax systems (tithing, for instance). However, every religion that I have been able to find has established that trade has to be somewhat voluntary and that equal value has to be exchanged. Yes, yes, religions also teach that a bounty is to be spread around and that the poor should be given charity — usually that stuff comes from the institution itself using the wealth it has taxed (or tithed) from its followers. This giving is generally voluntary (meaning that there’s no punishment beyond shunning for failure to do so). So, when setting up an economy that is more advanced than bartering, you might want to consider what particular universals you’re going to have and where they’ll stem from.


Don’t you dare judge me over the kinds of things I store in my brain.

Economics is one place where gaming things out can either be an eye-opener or can drive you stark-raving mad. For me, I usually do myself a favor and just use one from history. Trust me, when you’ve had three different systems with three different underlying assumptions turn into “Geez, this makes Stalin look like a Boy Scout,” you start to appreciate how great a job history has done of bug-testing and shaking the major problems out of economics for us (not to say it’s perfect yet but the systems we have now are fairly robust).


Yes, you will have to handle these situations in any system. You cannot ignore them if you want to write characters that people might actually understand. If you want to write about perfect angels, may I suggest LSD and starting your own religion?

Next week we’ll go into a bit more detail about workable ways to come up with different social institutions (things like marriage, the family, religious institutions, and basic local government) and the kinds of questions you need to consider in order to determine if something is going to work out the way you want or if you’re going to wind up with one of the aforementioned “Good Lord, even Stalin would consider this a bad idea” kind of situations.

— G.K.

Book Review: Forbidden Thoughts

Book Review: Forbidden Thoughts

If you, like me, have gotten a bit sick and tired of the constant “you must not think this” and “you must never say this” and “never offend anyone anywhere — no matter what” that permeates most of modern sci-fi, you’ve probably been looking for a good bit of satire to help you cleanse your palette. That’s where Forbidden Thoughts comes in.

Frankly, it’s hilarious. This compendium of short stories takes most of the silliness that has taken over our society from the Snowflake Generation and ramps it up to eleven. Anyone who isn’t a devoted member of the TrueFen will love this book. Anyone who is a devoted member of the TrueFen will think that the writers are insane and honestly believe that TrueFen think that unqualified people should be granted highly skilled jobs just to tick off the Diversity Checklist or that mothers should be able to kill their kids up to adolescence. To borrow a favorite saying of His Most Illustrious President, let me be clear — no one thinks that aside from the extreme morons on the far, far, so-far-as-to-almost-have-looped-around-to-the-left Right. However, good satire often does take the most extreme possible view and make mock of it. That’s fine in fiction even when it’d be fallacious in a debate (it’s the Strawman and/or reductio ad absurdum).

At any rate, if you’re looking for something that is funny, satirical, and is a damned good read, then Forbidden Thoughts is the book for you! Four out of five rainbow-farting zebricorns!

— G.K.

Wizard’s First Rule

Wizard's First Rule

Update: After posting this, I read Sarah Hoyt’s post today and it’s got an interesting take on the same problem. For her, it’s the elites who have gotten out of touch (and they have) and the people are seeing that the Emperor has no clothes and it’s creating a lot of problems for everyone. I encourage you to head over there and read her post.

I’ve been forcibly reminded of Terry Goodkind’s wizard’s rules over the past few weeks since the inauguration. The first of these rules sums up everything: People Are Stupid.

I’m not just talking about Trump voters or Hillary voters here. I’m talking about the ones on both sides who reduce everything to politics. The ones who are so religious with it that they’re shunning non-believers. These two groups are so incredibly similar that I actually have difficulty telling them apart. They differ only in which particular aspects of life they wish to dictate upon. Neither of them can imagine that any reasonable or rational person could hold an opinion that differs from their own. They’re so insulated in their bubbles that they actually fear those who question their religion. And I do mean “religion” here. Politics, for normal people, refers to “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” These folks aren’t political anymore. They’re religious and they will never question their religion anymore than a devout Muslim will question the existence of Allah, a practicing Jew will question the Exodus, or a Catholic will question transubstantiation.

Which brings me back to “People Are Stupid.” Right now, we essentially have two groups of nearly identical theocrats fighting each other for power. When one gets the reins, the other flips right out and the conspiracy theories start flying. These are the people who make me understand that Loki from the Avengers had a damned good point with his speech.


Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around this but it is very true. There are people — perhaps the vast majority of people — who desire subjugation. They want to be ruled with an iron hand. They want someone else to make the decisions, to tell them what is right, to dictate every aspect of their lives to them. They don’t want to sit down and do the hard and messy work of reasoning out a moral code. They don’t want to have to consider all the different angles and aspects of their choices. They don’t want to grow up. These are the kinds of people who flock to support monarchs, dictators of one stripe or another. One group wants to make decisions about who can get married to whom, keep things as they “always” have been, and not have to tackle questions that might possibly lead away from easily answers intuited during the Iron Age. The other group wants to dictate what people can think, what they can say, how they can feel about others, and to punish anyone who dares to be a square peg in their Round Hole Utopia. Both groups cite guys with beards who either wrote books or had books written about them, who claim that their followers are superior to non-believers, and that both groups will get to live a utopian existence. Both groups believe they are the more intelligent and that the other is filled with either Literal Hitlers, fools, or dupes.

Thing is, both groups are idiots. They just cannot see it. It’s not that they don’t want to see it, mind. It is that they, quite literally, cannot. The cognitive dissonance is too much for them so their minds shut down and they go to flinging insults at anyone who points this out to them. It was seeing people whom I had once considered intelligent do that very thing that made me realize that they do this not out of any kind of rational argument or strength of position or surety that the facts will bear out their view; they do this just like any devout believer lashes out when you begin pointing out inconsistencies in their religion. They did not reach this set of beliefs through logic or reason; they reached it through Teh Feelz(TM).

I actually feel sorry for people like that. They’ll never be able to change and they will always hold the rest of us back because they can’t understand that feelings aren’t useful. They also will never be able to actually convince anyone to adopt their views since they can’t articulate what they are, why they hold them, and what is good about them. They can only explain these things using invective and inflammatory language to contrast themselves to Those Other Guys. And God help you if you point out a potential issue with one of their core beliefs. Then you really get to see a screaming fit. This is why I’m beginning to think, in the interests of actually having separation of church and state, we need to chuck both parties out on their ear.

— G.K.

World Building 101 — Story Drivers

World Building 101 -- Story Drivers

Once you’ve finished asking yourself the major questions I mentioned in last week’s post, you’re in a fairly good place to start working on writing the story in your world. That said, though, before you get into writing too far, you will want to take a few minutes — maybe even an hour — to think about what events drive your story.

Yes, yes, there’s all kinds of cool things happening in your story. Otherwise, it’d be about as interesting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Still, all of these things that are going on in your story — battles, wars, arranged marriages, kidnapping, OMGEXPLOSIONS, whatever — all have their origins in things that happened before the story begins. Your characters will probably make references to historical or mythological events that are part and parcel of their culture but may not mean anything to the reader unless you take a second to explain it. You’ll want to develop these things well and have the shorthand references down before you have your characters do things like swear that they should pull a Seostaz* and claim the hill in the name of Zara**.

Robert Jordan was awesome at doing this with Mat Cauthon. After Mat went through the doorway in Rhuidean, he started making all kinds of references that even scholars in Randland wouldn’t have gotten. However, Jordan could weave those and the explanations into his story in a way few others can do — myself included — without data dumping.


If you get this reference, you are awesome

So, what do you do? Well, instead of having your characters say something like “This is another Antietam” and then going into a long explanation about what the Battle of Antietam was, try having them say “I feel like the Spartans at Thermopylae,” “But they won, didn’t they?” “Nope.” That right there tells your readers that the character feels like the underdog in a fight who did well enough that another character (unless that character is a moron) would think they won. No need to go into the whole history of Greece and Persia. Just a quick explanation that covers the high points.

You do want to be careful, though, when coming up with cultural references, historical events, and mythological references that you don’t find yourself going down too many rabbit holes. I generally keep to a rule of five — no more than five of each. If I find myself needing more than that, I know that I need to spend a lot more time building the history because I’m writing a story that spans at least five hundred years. Now, there are times you do want to do that. One of my sci-fi series I’m working on here and there is set 10,000 years in our future. I do have to develop a full history for that filled with wars, societies, religions, scientific advances, Dark Ages, and more. That’s not because every detail I sketch out in my backstory is going to come up but it is because I need to have all of this down cold so I can explain why two different groups diverged as much as they did.

Next week we’ll talk about the very basic universals found in religion, politics, and economics and why studying human history can help you develop a workable world.

— G.K.

*Made this up. No clue what it means.
**Ditto the above.