More Thunderf00t nonsense.

This blog comes with a trigger warning, folks. Because a) it’s about Thunderf00t – and every single one of his videos should have a trigger warning – and b) Thunderf00t is going to discuss the topic of rape…Yeah. I’m right there with you. (Edit: Here’s the horrible horrible video. My apologies for forgetting to link it.) I asked a friend of mine, a respected feminist blogger, to have a look at this entry. Being a dude, I wanted to make sure there was nothing important that I missed. The edits I made based on her suggestions will appear in blue. 

If pseudo-intellectual bullshit were a power source, we could solve the world’s energy crisis and still have enough left over for a trip to Pluto simply by tapping Thunderf00t’s god awful videos. Let’s start by clearing up a few misconceptions. Thunderf00t likes to present himself as a rationalist, a man who follows where the evidence leads no matter what the conclusion. In fact, he is anything but. He voices opinions that are not in any way supported by scientific inquiry, and he uses the facade of intellectual discourse to justify bigotry of the most vile sort.

Last year, he decided to do a vlog called “teach them not to rape” in which he discusses a promotional video that suggests we should teach men not to rape women instead of focusing on what the woman might have done to “bring this on herself.” Basically, he objects to the feminist slogan “don’t teach me what to wear; teach your sons not to rape.”

His argument is essentially as follows. “The largest straw-man here is that we don’t teach our children not to rape. Bullocks. Yes we do. We also teach them not to murder or steal.” Yeah, okay, buddy. But you’ve clearly missed the point of the slogan, which is that looking at a woman who has recently endured a sexual assault and trying to determine what she might have done differently is only making the situation worse. Approaching a woman – or a man, for that matter – who has recently endured an assault and saying “this could have been prevented if you had simply done _____” places the blame for the incident on her shoulders. And worse yet, it takes the focus away from the perpetrator of the crime, essentially absolving him (or her) of any wrong doing. Now, I get that people who pull out that tired old line “what were you wearing?” aren’t trying to say that a rapist is not responsible for his misdeeds. However, using that line of reasoning takes the focus off the rapist. Not intentionally, but the effect is the same nonetheless.

His next point is to claim that the slogan “don’t teach me what to wear; teach your sons not to rape” is logically equivalent to “don’t tell me to put a lock on my door; teach your kids not to steal.” And no, it’s not. For one thing, a locked door represents a physical barrier, whereas attempts to police women’s clothing are essentially a type of psychological deterrent. “Make yourself unappealing, and no one will want to rape you.” The problem with a psychological deterrent is that, unlike a physical deterrent, the effects of employing it are extremely hard to measure. For instance, here’s an old reddit where guys talk about how much they love the sight of women in sweat pants and hoodies. And there’s evidence that suggests dressing in sexy outfits may actually be a deterrent to rape. And I quote: “While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing.” You will find it on page 145 of the study. Now, Thunderf00t, are you going to follow the evidence like a good little rationalist? Or are you going to keep squawking about how women should dress?

His next fallacy goes like this. “People have different sexual drives, and the idea that you will simply be able to educate people out of their sexuality is unlikely to be successful. Take a look at all those Christians who believed that homosexuality was wrong and that all you had to do was educate people out of it.”

Rape is not analogous to homosexuality. Homosexuality is about who you are attracted to. Rape – when it is motivated by sexual desire – is about how you express that attraction. I can’t control whether or not I’m hungry. I can control whether or not I rob a grocery store to get food. The two situations are in no way analogous. My friend pointed out that rape is not so much about sexual attraction but rather a desire to dominate the victim through violence. I’ve always believed as much myself.

The reason I didn’t point this out in my first draft is because, after a half hour of Googling, I honestly couldn’t find much data on the subject. I came across several websites that claim a study from UC Berkley demonstrates that rapist are primarily motivated by a desire to exercise power over their victims. However, none of these sites provided links to the actual study. Then I came across an article by a woman who identifies herself as a third-wave feminist, and her thesis was that most sexual assault happens in the form of date rape, and that the perpetrators seem to be motivated by a desire to have sex by any means available. After that, I wasn’t sure what the consensus on this topic was, and I didn’t want to make any firm claims without knowing for sure. I’ll follow up and see if I can get some data from her. If I can, I’ll share it.

The underlying point is that homosexuality is in no way analogous to rape…And it bothers me that I even have to say that. Stupid Thunderf00t.

“Even if something is against the law, you’re a moron if you don’t take simples steps to protect yourself from that crime.” Yes, but as illustrated above the so-called precautions you suggest don’t actually do anything to minimize the risk of rape.

Thunderf00t lists the following as an example of what he calls a gray area. “It was fully consensual to start with, but as we went at it, the sex was just awful. And at the end, I asked him to stop, but he finished anyway.” That’s not a gray area; that’s rape. Thunderf00t, are you actually of the opinion that once you’ve begun having sex with a woman, you are automatically permitted to continue having sex with her until you’re finished regardless of what she says? It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re three seconds from an orgasm, if someone says, “I want to stop” and you ignore her, that’s rape.

“Sure I chose of my own volition to get drunk off my face, full in the knowledge that such intoxication in a public place was going to make me more gregarious. Sure, I fully consented at the time, but in the hard light of the morning, I decided that I wouldn’t have done it if I were sober. Therefore, it was not consensual.”

Yeah, this is a straw-man.

Because no rape victim is going to open a statement with “Sure, I fully consented at the time” and then conclude it with “Therefore, it was not consensual.” If the person in question believes that the sex was non-consensual, they’re going to say something like “he took advantage of me while I was drunk.” And if you take advantage of someone when his or her judgment is impaired, that’s rape.

“You can’t go out and drive drunk, then be free from all responsibility for your actions by saying ‘yeah, I wouldn’t have driven that way when I was sober.” I just had this conversation with a friend the other night. The two situations are not analogous. When you go out and drive drunk, that’s something you’re doing to other people. When someone convinces you to have sex while you’re under the influence of alcohol, that’s something that someone else has done to you.

“What common sense precautions can be taken to reduce your chances of being raped.” The thing about common sense…it’s so often wrong. Hence this blog. His first point is that women who don’t want to get raped should avoid alcohol use (or at least moderate their intake), which I will not bother to address because I’ve already addressed that point.

Next he talks about the need to avoid submissive body language or body language that conveys vulnerability. The problem with this line of reasoning is that body language doesn’t work that way. In many cases, our bodies react to an emotion long before our conscious minds have identified it. By the time the thought to moderate your body language pops into your brain, it’s already too late.

“Wasps are smaller than humans by a factor of a million.” The average wasp is about five centimetres in length. The average height of an adult man is about 172 centimetres. Humans are bigger than wasps by a factor of 34. Which means that Thunderf00t’s last statement is wrong by a factor of 29 069. This is ultimately irrelevant to the discussion, but I would just like to illustrate how little Thunderf00t thinks about what he says before he says it.

Moving on.

“Your choice of clothes is a statement about yourself. And while most date rapes seem to be crimes of opportunity, there are nonetheless actions that you control exclusively. For example, if you dress and act erotically. If you put on the body language of foreplay: the strong eye-contact, the tactile touching.”

Random aside.

Tactile touching? Do you also have something to say about the wet water and the quiet whisper? Jesus. See what I mean? This guy does not think about what he says. It’s all pseudo-intellectual bullshit. He talks this way to sound intelligent.

Continuing.

“If you telegraph such information, but actually have no interest in such things, you are increasing the chances that someone will misread the signs as interest or sexual initiation.” First of all, why don’t you just use the word flirting? Second of all, so what? “If you flirt, someone might mistakenly believe that you’re into them.” And that’s a problem because… Don’t get me wrong. It’s a bad idea to flirt with someone when you’re not the least bit attracted to him or her because you might hurt his or her feelings, but how is that relevant to Thunderf00t’s point?

What the hell is your point here, Thunderf00t? Are you actually making the argument that all forms of flirting count as tacit consent to have sex? Do you honestly believe that every woman who smiles at you, who makes strong eye-contact with you, who happens to be wearing a low-cut top when she sits next to you on the bus wants to have sex with you? Are you really that stupid?

Has it never occurred to you that women might go to bars, might meet people and flirt with no intention of taking it any further than that? Have you never done that? Have you honestly never flirted with a woman with no intention of sleeping with her. I know I have. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done that. Flirting can be fun; it can be pleasant, and it can be a stepping stone to greater intimacy. But it is most certainly not a pledge to have sex, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows as much.

His next point is that flirting is “the equivalent of saying you will buy someone dinner at a very nice restaurant, and then when the bill comes saying ‘Well, I didn’t mean that; I just enjoyed seeing the gratitude in your eyes, when you thought I thought you were special enough to take you to this restaurant.’ But for the record, how would that make you feel if it happened to you?”

Okay, so let me get this straight.

Thunderf00t feels that women who flirt with him but don’t take it any further than that are lying to him. And it’s particularly bad because they made him feel special until he learned the cold, hard truth. He thinks that flirting with no intention of taking it further is a form of misleading another human being.

No, Thunderf00t. You’ve misunderstood what flirting means.

Ninety percent of the time, flirting means that someone finds you attractive enough to chat with you and see if there’s any chemistry. It’s like when a prospective employer calls you and says “You have a great resume; would you like to come in for an interview?” It doesn’t mean you got the job. It just means they’re open to exploring the potential of a more permanent relationship. Yes, there are times when flirting can be used to deliberately lead someone on, but in the vast majority of cases, any misunderstanding is perfectly innocent. Sometimes people get mixed messages. It’s not a crime. What you’re saying is essentially “don’t interview me if you aren’t going to give me the job.” Fine. Then no one will ever interview you.

“Sending mixed messages will increase the number of awkward misunderstandings.” Yes…Sometimes people – women and men – send mixed messages. Do you know why that is? It’s because they have mixed feelings! Maybe someone is a little bit attracted to you. Maybe a small part of her wonders about the possibility of taking it further. It doesn’t mean she has agreed to have sex with you!

Finally about choice of clothing. Thunderf00t insists that wearing revealing clothing sends the message that a woman is looking to have sex. I don’t think that’s true in all cases. But even when it is true, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with the first moron who crosses her path. My friend pointed out that, in some cases – not all – a woman may dress in revealing clothing with the goal of having sex. And that’s okay! The decision to purposefully seek out sex should be respected just as much as the decision to abstain, and this is equally true for both men and women. Too often, we hold women to different standards than we do men. Women who actively pursue sexual encounters are vilified. This is called slut shaming. It’s a terrible thing because it essentially says that a woman’s sexuality must exist within very narrow parameters that she doesn’t get to define. In other words, her sex life is more about pleasing other people than it is about pleasing herself.

Men get the flip-side of this double standard. Where women who actively pursue sex are vilified, men who do not are belittled. Again, it’s essentially the same problem. Someone else tells you how much sex you should have, and by extension, how much sex you should want.

Thunderf00t seems to think that if a woman does advertise that she is looking to have sex, she should be willing to have it with anyone who makes an offer. One thing I didn’t point out in my first draft, which I probably should have, is that Thunderf00t calls flirting  “the body language of foreplay” implying that he really does see it as a prelude to sex. I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s wrong. 

A woman has every right to actively pursue sex, and she also has the right to decide whom she would like to have sex with. 

So, there you have it.

Why did I feel compelled to respond to this? Because sometimes people say things that are so atrocious they demand analysis and response.

_______________

Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Available on Kindle and in paperback.

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And on Kobo as well.

http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b

How NOT to sell your book.

After publishing Symbiosis, I’ve come into contact with a lot of other authors – some traditionally published, some indie – who have created some really great fiction. However, I have noticed a few disturbing trends in regard to how some authors present themselves on social media. So, this week’s writing school is going to be about how not to promote your book. Yeah, I know I promised an article on pacing. It’s in the works; don’t worry. In the mean time, here are the things that indie authors need to stop doing.

1) Stop tweeting about your books everyday.

Let’s do a little thought experiment, shall we? I don’t know what most people’s Twitter experience is like, but I gain followers at a rate of about fifteen per week. Sometimes, when I’m particularly active, that number jumps up to thirty. The vast majority of my followers already know about my book, and if they were inclined to check it out, they would have done so already. They don’t need to be reminded each and every day that I am an author with a book for sale. Much less three, four or five times a day.

I find that making book-related tweets once or twice a week is more than enough to keep new followers up to speed on what’s going on in. Other than that, I use Twitter to connect with other people and build relationships. I tweet about things that I find relevant: current events, social issues and new scientific discoveries. I also join the conversation when other people tweet so they can get to know me. Does it lead to higher book sales? Sometimes – I’ve had a few people tell me they decided to read Symbiosis after realizing that I can carry on an intelligent conversation – but selling books isn’t the point. Building friendships is the point. Being part of a community is the point. I’ve met some great people who have kept me entertained, intellectually stimulated and morally grounded by sharing their ideas. I’d even call some of them friends despite the fact that we’re thousands of miles apart. In the end, I don’t really care if they buy my book. What matters is that I’ve become part of a community.

2) Stop putting the word “author” in your screen names.

You wrote a book, and that book is now in print. Congratulations; you’re an author. You have every right to the title, and no one is disputing that. But constantly reminding everyone of your status as a person who writes books just wreaks of desperation. Tell me something: does Neil Gaimon call himself “Author Neil Gaimon?” Does John Scalzi call himself “Author John Scalzi?” No, they don’t. And why? Because they don’t have to prove themselves to anyone, and neither do you.

Yes, I’m aware that that there is an unfortunate stigma attached to self-published authors. I’m also aware that, in many cases, the stigma is undeserved. I personally chose to self-publish after receiving a predatory contract from a traditional publisher. Predatory contracts are quite real, and I became convinced that even if I could go through all the hoops a second time and convince someone else to look at my book, I might just end up with another predatory contract, and that would put me right back at square one.

I tell you this because I am well aware of the fact that many people who go into self-publishing do so not because they lack the skills to tell a good story but because they’ve become fed up with the system. I’m also aware that living with the stigma is difficult. However, even with that in mind, it all comes down to one simple rule. If you want to be taken seriously when you sit down at the adults’ table, act like you belong there.

You don’t have to justify yourself to anybody.

If you come off as too desperate to prove yourself, people will assume that your work is unworthy of attention. People who are self-assured – who know they’ve done a good job – don’t feel the need seek out the validation of a title.

3) Stop thanking everyone who follows you.

Seriously, this one is infuriating; so knock it off. My Twitter inbox is full of dozens of PMs that all say the same thing. “Thanks for following me! You can check out my book at (insert link here).” Guys, there is nothing more impersonal than a form letter. Maybe some marketing guru told you that you should thank all your followers, but as one of your followers, I’m here to tell you that it’s not thoughtful; it’s annoying. You’re clearly just doing it by rote. In fact, you probably have Twitter-bot that sends the messages for you. Now if you want to personally research every Twitter user who follows you and craft a unique message for each and every person, I think that would be brilliant networking. Again, it’s all about building relationships. However, let’s be realistic for a moment. I think we all know that creating a personalized message for every one of our several hundred (or thousand) followers is impractical. Time is a finite commodity, after all. So just don’t do it. You don’t have to tell me where to find your book. Why do you think I’m following you? On the off chance that I don’t know where to find it, I’ll just look at your Twitter bio.

Basically what it comes down to is this: indie authors have a tendency to spam people with too many tweets about their books, too many impersonal messages and too many reminders that they happen to be authors. Knock it off. Doing that will not advance your literary career. If you want to make it as a writer, start building relationships.

_______________

Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Now available on Kindle

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b

A Song of Ice and Fire – Predictability

A few weeks ago, we discussed the problems with tone in A Song of Ice and Fire; then I went out of town for a family wedding, launched a book and had my wisdom teeth removed. So please forgive my tardiness with this follow-up. It’s time I took you back to school. You need to learn the golden rule. (Will someone queue up the Moody Blues?)There are three major problems with this series: tone, predictability and pacing. We discussed tone last time; so let’s look at predictability. I’ll be discussing pacing next week, but I won’t be delving any further into A Song of Ice and Fire.

You’re probably wondering how I can call the series predictable when George R.R. Martin goes to such lengths to defy his readers’ expectations. Well the answer to that question is that trying to construct a story that consistently defies your readers’ expectations is a little like trying to convince someone to believe you when you say “I always lie.” If you always lie, then you were lying when you told me that you always lie. Similarly, if you’re constantly trying to defy my expectations, then all I have to do to predict your next move is figure out what I’m least likely to expect.

Anyone who has read enough fiction will eventually get a feel for how a typical story in any given genre will play out. In epic fantasy – the genre that A Song of Ice and Fire calls home – that story structure typically looks like this. A protagonist reluctantly leaves home in the service of some greater good. Along the way, she encounters some evil and then challenges it. She emerges triumphant; every last person in the kingdom cheers her name. The end.

Ned Stark left home in the service of his king. After taking his new job in the Capitol, he discovers a plot to kill the rightful king and put a bastard on the throne. Ned opposes the conspirators and lo and behold he…dies a gruesome death after being convicted of treason. The plot is successful, and now a psychopathic child born of incest sits on the throne.

That twist took many people by surprise. (including myself) I really enjoyed seeing a subversion of the standard hero story.

The problem is that a tactic like that is only unexpected the first time you use it. If you keep relying on that same plot device – the hero fails, and things get worse – it becomes just as predictable as the traditional story structure. The formula for A Song of Ice and Fire is actually pretty simple: figure out which characters are fan favourites and then expect something gruesome to happen to them.

A lot of people find Star Trek and its various spin-offs boring because no matter what happens in any given episode, everything will be wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end. The heroes are victorious 99% of the time. It’s predictable. But simply turning that formula on its head doesn’t make it any less predictable. If our heroes are always losing, that’s still pretty boring.

If you want to create suspense that keeps your reader on the edge of her seat, you need to create a mix of victories and defeats. Sometimes the heroes need to come out of a tense fight unscathed; sometimes they need to suffer a costly victory, and sometimes they need to lose. Badly. Your reader needs to know that this latest conflict can go either way.

So that’s it for discussions of A Song of Ice and Fire; I don’t like to spend too much time discussing other people’s writing. However, writing school will resume next week with a lesson on pacing. Stick around. It’ll be fun.

_______________

Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Now available on Kindle

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b

Debunking Dutko

So recently, I’ve been watching talks by atheist talks by people like Seth Andrews and Aron Ra, and I’ve learned some really fascinating stuff. What’s interesting, however, is that whenever the theists decide to debate one of these speakers, they inevitably fall back on a series of fallacious arguments to prove the existence of their particular god. I’m reminded of the constant stream of fallacies that MRAs and Gators brought out to refute Anita Sarkeesian’s videos. So I’m going to do the same thing here that I did there.

First and foremost, to avoid an ad hominem circumstantial, let me start by saying that it’s not entirely accurate to call me an atheist. I don’t fit nicely into any spiritual category; if anything, I’m a bit of an agnostic deist in that I think there is an intelligence embodied in the universe itself. However, I also believe that this intelligence is utterly unknowable and that no Earthly religion has ever or will ever do a satisfactory job of explaining it. That said, I do agree with atheists on topics like the scientific method and skepticism. So it really grind my gears when theists misquote scientists to advance their arguments. Here are some fallacies committed by Bob Dutko in his debate with Aron Ra.

1) Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

This particular theist argument goes something like this. “Science tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed. There is energy in our universe, and our universe has definite beginning. Therefore something supernatural must have created the energy.” Um…no. To be honest with you, if you’re going to misapply the Law of Conservation of Energy, then it seems to me the more natural conclusion would be to say that since energy cannot be created or destroyed and energy exists today, it therefore follows that energy must have always existed. That too would be a fallacy, but it flows a little more organically.

The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the amount of energy in an isolated system cannot change. There is some debate as to whether or not the universe is an isolated system, but even if it is, this faulty theist reasoning is easy to refute.

It’s generally accepted that the universe began in a state that we call a singularity, and in a singularity, the laws of nature themselves break down. Thus, the Law of Conservation of Energy might not apply to the universe in its infancy; for all we know, it is entirely possible that when the universe began, energy was in fact created out of nothing…by nothing. The random, spontaneous generation of energy from nothing all. At the moment, there is no scientific principle that says this is impossible.

2) You can’t create something from nothing.

This is a more general form of the Conservation of Energy argument. It goes something like this. “The universe is here now. The universe is something. Something cannot be created from nothing. Therefore something else created the universe.”

The typical atheist response is to say “Okay, and what created the something that created the universe?” To which, theists generally respond, “Oh, God is eternal” and leave it at that. However, I like to get a little more creative. (Pun intended).

When a theist tells me you can’t create something from nothing, I respond with “Prove it.” At this point, he usually looks at me like I’ve just sprouted horns or started speaking Swahili. I can see the confusion on his face. “Did Rich really just ask me to prove that you can’t create something from nothing? Come on! Everyone knows you can’t do that!”

Actually, no. No one knows whether it is possible for something to spontaneously generate from nothing. I had this debate with a young man in my twelfth-grade philosophy class. (Let’s call him Dave). At one point, Dave lifted his empty palm and said “Look! There’s nothing in my hand.” Then he winced really hard and grunted. A few moments later, he opened his eyes and said “I just tried to create a gold brick, and look; there’s still nothing in my hand.”

I smiled in response and said, “You haven’t proved anything. Because it was never the case that there was nothing in your hand.”

“What?”

“You wanted the brick to appear over your palm, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that means the space where the brick was to have formed is currently occupied by air molecules. You haven’t proved that you can’t create something from nothing. The only thing you’ve demonstrated is that you can’t transform something into something else simply by concentrating really hard.”

For those of you who think we should repeat the experiment in a vacuum, I’m afraid that won’t do either. A vacuum is still something, and it’s just bustling with energy. Space and time themselves are discreet quantities. True nothingness does not exist within the confines of our universe. Thus it is quite impossible to prove that something cannot spontaneously emerge from nothing.

Which is not to say that’s what happened, mind you. For all I know, this universe was consciously created by an intelligent being. My only point here is that you cannot use the laws of nature – such as the Law of Conservation of Energy – to prove that’s the case. Attempting to do so would be twisting the laws of nature to say things they don’t actually say.

If you believe in a god, then you do so on faith alone. Which is fine. Unlike Aron Ra, I do not believe that faith is in and of itself dishonest. What is dishonest, however, is trying to misapply scientific principles to justify your faith. It doesn’t work that way.

_______________

Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Now available on Kindle

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b

Symbiosis

If you’d like to purchase Symbiosis in paperback, follow this link.

http://bit.ly/sympaper

If you want to buy it on the Kindle, follow this link. (Note kindle has a free app for iPads, iPhones and other tablets).

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And if you want the kobo version, it’s right here.

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskob

A Song of Ice and Fire – Problems with Tone.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a terrible series. There, I said it. I’ve been planning an article on this topic for quite some time now; I was going to wait until I had finished more of my “how to” series, but in light of the recent uproar of Sansa Stark’s rape scene on last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, now seems as good a time as any.

Why am taking the position that one of the best selling series of novels in the last ten years is actually terribly written? Well, first and foremost, being a best-seller doesn’t guarantee quality writing. Fifty Shades of Grey topped the best-seller list in many different countries, but is generally considered to be substandard writing by both critics and casual readers. Twilight: same thing. No, I am not writing this just to piss off fans of Song of Ice and Fire. If you like that series, that is your prerogative; you have every right to enjoy whatever you like, and I’m not going to tell you’re wrong to feel that way.

This is a writing school blog.

When a bad book somehow makes to the best-seller list, it can have the unfortunate side-effect of convincing novice writers to use it as an example of how they should structure their own novels. Don’t write like George R.R. Martin. His books are rife with problems, and we’re going to explore just a few of them together.

Number 1: The Tone.

There are some people who complain that A Song of Ice and Fire is too dark, but that’s not entirely accurate. It would be more accurate to say that the series is too consistently dark. Tone needs to vary from one chapter to the next to keep the story fresh. Now, there are limits of course; in a grim series like Song of Ice and Fire, it would be completely inappropriate to throw in a fairytale love story. The shift in tone would be too jarring. But that doesn’t mean you want flat monotone either. Or worse yet, you definitely don’t want to take Martin’s approach, which is an attempt to constantly outdo himself in terms of how dark and edgy the series gets. “You thought I was hardcore when I killed the main character at the end of the first book? Well check out this scene where a guy rapes his sister over the corpse of their bastard son!” “Oh wait, you thought that was bad-ass? How about this sub-plot where a guy is tortured to the point where his captors remove his fingers and rip out his teeth.” There comes a point where it just becomes ludicrous.

Let me give you an example that might help put this in perspective. Think back to the Matrix. When the first film in the Matrix trilogy hit theatres, the Watchowskis were hailed as pioneers of new filming techniques, and they were praised for their brilliantly choreographed action scenes. So what did they do in response? They released two sequels with action scenes that were so over the top and corny, people actually laughed instead of getting excited. The Watchowskis forgot that action is a tool for telling a story; it’s not an end in and of itself.

Similarly, George R.R. Martin has forgotten that dark and gritty plot twists are a tool for telling a story; they aren’t an end unto themselves. Watching someone endure torture and mutilation in the absence of a story that gives those events meaning isn’t interesting; it’s just grotesque. Bear in mind that I am not opposed to depictions of violence or abuse in fiction; what I object to is violence and abuse without a purpose. Let me contrast this with an example of torture used effectively as a story point. Ironically, I’m going back to the Watchowskis for this.

V for Vendetta.

In that movie, Evey is a young television producer who meets the dark anti-hero V. Evey is terrified of her totalitarian government and finds herself making excuses for the administration’s rampant disregard for human rights. She doesn’t want to fight, so she justifies the atrocities she sees by claiming things are not that bad.

Then one day, Evey is captured.

She is subjected to scalding hot showers, beaten with stick, denied food and forced to sleep on the floor. Her clothing is burned, her head shaved, and she is forced live out her days in a cramped little cell with nothing but a burlap sack for clothing. While in her cell, Evey finds the journal of another prisoner written on scraps of toilet paper. Finally, she is offered a choice: she can either tell her captors everything she knows about the terrorist V, or she can die alone from a bullet to the head. Evey decides that she would rather die.

In that moment, she realizes that survival alone is not enough. Life is not worth living without dignity. Evey’s refusal to cooperate is more than just an act of defiance; it is an act of empowerment. Evey has reclaimed her dignity by demonstrating unequivocally that no matter what they do to her body, her spirit remains unbroken. She escapes the prison with a new moral purpose, an understanding that you cannot rationalize the actions of a despot, you cannot turn a blind eye to injustice. Each citizen bears some small responsibility for the actions of her society. Evey is ready to shoulder that burden. The torture furthers not only her individual character arc but also the overall plot of the film. You’ll find nothing similar in A Song of Ice and Fire. Torture there exists for shock value and nothing else.

The thing about this series is that there are so many things wrong with it, I could honestly do a dozen blog posts on Song of Ice and Fire alone. I’m debating just how deeply I want to delve into this – I don’t like to spend too much time discussing other people’s writing – but I can say for certain that this will not be the last article on this subject. We still have to discuss pacing and predictability. So, for now, let’s just leave it here, and I’ll see you all next week.

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Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Now available on Kindle

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b

May 19, 2015

This article ties in to last week’s blog; so if you haven’t read that one yet, you might want to start there.

Some people have remarked to me that I quite brazenly display my anti-establishment views, and that doing so might hurt my future career prospects. Well, let me give you the benefit of both my personal experience and a whole lot of research.

I’ve been hired by companies, lauded with praise, given formal recognition in some cases and then let go when they wanted to save a few bucks. Sometimes for shady reasons. I find it an odd coincidence that I lost my software testing job the day after I discovered an error that would over-estimate customer service fees. But I’m sure those two events are unrelated.

This is a system run by psychopaths. If you want proof of that, here you go. Even the managers who don’t score within the psychopathic range are quite happy to go along to get along. That’s how you become a manager; you learn to follow and enforce the rules no matter what you personally believe. And when you have a crowd of people who are willing to keep their heads down and their mouths shut, it tends to be the loudest voices that set policy. The loudest voices are usually the psychopaths.

They don’t care about me! I’m just a tool to achieve their ends. My health and well-being mean nothing to them.

I could make myself into the perfect cog in their machine, and it wouldn’t be enough. I could dress in the sharpest suits, speak all the buzzwords, stay late and go in on weekends. I could suppress my geeky side so that no one will think I’m weird and hide my political beliefs to avoid anything controversial. It wouldn’t mean a damn thing. They’re going to pay me subsistence wages, bully me to gain a better position in the pecking order and then terminate my employment the instant they find the flimsiest justification to do so. Because it’s not even about me; it’s about the just-over-poverty annual salary that I represent, and they’ll take any excuse they can to get that back.

They’re going to screw me over no matter what I say here; so I may as well say whatever I want. Let me put this in terms of cost-benefit. I know that some of my readers like to see things that way. Writing about these issues provides a profound benefit to me. It provides a sense of purpose, a way of coping with the feelings of helplessness that come from living in a stagnating society. I find more meaning in writing these blogs than in any of the jobs I’ve held in the last fifteen years. I am doing good here, and that matters to me.

So now, in light of the fact that hiring managers Google new applicants – and any one of them might find these articles and take issue with my anti-establishment views – I have to compare the benefit I get from writing these blogs to whatever benefit I might receive from appeasing said hiring managers.

Job security is an absolute joke in a system where the psychopaths are considered great leaders. They will terminate you just to save a few bucks. On top of that, workplace bullying is a threat to job security because one of the most common forms of bullying is to falsely accuse coworkers of mistakes. People tell me all the time that I have to learn to play the game if I want to hold on to a job. Guess what: I can’t play the game. I will never be able to play the game.

I’m geeky, awkward and completely oblivious to the political maneuvering of my coworkers. I have very little ability to anticipate how people will react to what I say or do. So I’ve learned to just do whatever I think is most beneficial and to hell with whether or not it makes me popular. The alternative is social paralysis. Second-guessing my every move until I’m too afraid to do anything. People like me – introverts who just want to be left alone – cannot survive in a system that requires constant social vigilance. And even if I could somehow adapt, automation is increasing at such an exponential rate that most white-collar and professional jobs are in danger of becoming obsolete.

Any job I take will, at best, be a temporary, unstable form of income. On top of that, it will almost certainly be a caustic environment that will chip away at my mental health. Put all these things together, and no… in my assessment, it is not worth silencing myself. That doesn’t mean I won’t apply for new jobs; it just means that if some hiring manager happens to see this and puts a black mark against my name, my honest answer is “Oh well.” Because I honestly believe that the only way someone like me is going to have any kind of long-term stability is to effect real, positive change. The best chance I’ve got for a happy life is to find like-minded individuals and work toward a common goal, hopefully making a decent income along the way. I can’t do that if I’m not honest about what I believe.

_______________

Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.

Now available on Kindle

http://bit.ly/symbiosiskindle

And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo

It’s had some great reviews!

http://bit.ly/1y00T9b