Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Liberty’s getting very sleepy

Liberty swings like a watch on a chain. Forces like individualism push on the needs of society, privacy pulls against security and the watch sways up, down and up again. We can follow the movement with literature.

At one apex we see George Orwell’s 1984. I wanted to see what the other side, the Libertarian utopia, so I went about writing two novels. And I have learned two things. First, a world without governments works just fine. Second, one person’s ‘works just fine’ is another’s hell.

The Freeworld, as I envisioned in it The Milkman and The Link Boy (EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy) is set in the near, post-government future. Corporations have foreclosed on debtor governments, disbanded them and bought each other up until only three mega-corporations remain. Everyone works for one of them, birth to death. It is a world free of laws. At least, the unnatural kind.

Natural laws are immutable - gravity, weak force, conservation of energy . . . the fundamentals of economics. In fact, when you fully loose economic forces from the hands of government, they are stronger and easier to see.

One of the first things I realized exploring a post-government world is that it pretty much works like the one we’ve got. People need to eat, drink and not die from dysentery. There is a buck to be made from each of those things, so demand will draw supply. Making such services available requires an educated workforce. Extrapolated out, one finds a world with schools and roads to reach them and power to light up their white-boards. By necessity, corporations in the Freeworld provide universal education, healthcare and even vacation time to create and maintain a workforce that is also a large customer base.

Then there are the things companies don’t need. Privacy? Nope. The company controls all communication and commerce. Personal choice? Algorithms are much better at determining your capabilities than you are, with the added benefit of filing in company needs. Guns? None. The odds of you killing someone the company educated and nurtured until he or she passed peak productivity is too great. Everyone knows liberty has a price, but the costs have changed quite a bit over the years. The tyranny of kings has long passed. We don’t face swords and cannon. We face someone taking our iPhones away or telling us our babies can’t have heart surgery. While not oil painting worthy, they are not small things. We succumb to those threats. No one wants to go backward.

There are places where liberty and the free market part ways. The market, after all, serves the market, not infant mortality rates or quality-of-life indices. Capitalism and Libertarianism are very different words, for reasons that are not always apparent. So I wrote two books for their appearance’s sake.

And because sometimes I think we’ve been lulled into thinking freedom for us, as individuals, is the same as freedom for corporations. The droning voice telling us that started with ‘your eyelids are getting heavy.’ We don’t remember that part too well.

I hope you at least remember my books. They are hypnotic.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Listen up

Hear excerpts from my new novel here 
You will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Guns are the new cigarettes

Smoking is cool. You only need to watch any five minutes of Humphrey Bogart on screen to know that’s true. Still, cigarette use in the US has been in decline for years. There are several reasons for this. Cigarettes are bad for you and everyone knows it. They have warnings right on the package telling you not to use what you just bought. Addiction therapies have improved.

More importantly, somewhere in there, smoking became less cool.

Since the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco companies have been forced to stop marketing to minors (Joe Camel retired to Key Largo) and restricted in their advertising and sponsorship activities. Cigarettes companies are pretty much forbidden from making smoking look cool. And it’s worked. In the year I was born, 42 percent of American adults smoked. Last year it was under 17 percent. Even fewer young people are lighting up.

This is a great example of a demand-side initiative. Supply-side stuff - like Prohibition – hasn’t had a lot of roaring success in America. We like having choices. (We don’t always like others having choices, but that’s a different article.) Supply constraints are not easy to start. An act of Congress takes an act of Congress, am I right? Senators and Representatives traverse the lobby and you know what lurks in the lobby.

Decreasing demand, though. That’s a different story. In fact, it’s all about the story.

Tobacco companies were major investors in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 50s. Cigarettes were featured everywhere, and not just on screen. The studio system that prevailed at the time meant major stars often shilled for tobacco companies off-screen too. When movies took a bow to television, tobacco sponsored America’s prime time.

Then they didn’t. In 1971, back when Congress had the ability to pass laws, they banned cigarettes from television. Smoking has continued its drop-off ever since. We don’t want to smoke as much because we don’t see our personal Humphrey Bogarts with a cigarette in hand.

In Bogie’s other hand was something else he made cool: the .38 special.

I like guns, as I like motorcycles, wood chippers, catapults and nearly anything mechanical. There is no explanation for this, as none is required. I understand how important firearms are to America. I can tell you how unimportant they are to fiction, in any form. They are as cool as cigarettes, and we need them in print or on screen about as much.

Batman – no guns. Wonder Woman – no guns. Most of the Marvel universe? For every gun in a scene, there’s somebody kicking it free or waiting for a reload, because arrows, repulsers or smashing with green fists is way more interesting than point-and-shoot. You want to watch Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris in a duel at 20 paces? Hell no.

There were plenty of guns in the top ten grossing movies of 2017 (so far) but none were the feature. Webs, a lasso, swords (light or metal), claws and cars were the big draws. I wonder if Hollywood can’t push the needle. Nudge it in the direction it’s already heading. Deglamorizing guns doesn’t take them away, but it may make them less a source of identity. Less important. Less ubiquitous. By the laws of mathematics, less likely to go off.

Guns are tools, after all. They were never supposed to be fashion accessories or objects of worship. They are not “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Star Trek: Disco

Disco was the revival of dance music. The rock and roll of that began to take hold in the late 60s was for listening, not engaging. But people like to dance so disco grew into the void.

The current Star Trek void has spawned something similar: Star Trek Discovery. And just like the dance music, it’s as easily maligned as it is catchy.

Star Trek Discovery is a prequel, set 10 years before the original series. So I hate it. It’s a closed box, antithetical to the whole theme of Star Trek. It’s also short-sighted, literary and figuratively. The writers need to bend and twist to keep from crossing into future timelines that are not only canon, but beloved. Yes, it’s great seeing a young Serek, but we’re never going see anything beyond Beyond.

There are no ‘ah ha’ moments worth the price of prequel. Even one as beautiful as Discovery.

The pilot looked great. Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin were fresh and fantastic. The design language is a little neon for my tastes, but the details were enthralling.

“It would be unwise to confuse race with culture,” was my favorite line from episode 1, and raised the value of the enterprise (small ‘e’). It made the show worthy of the mantle.

Maybe that will continue. I’m not sure I’ll know. It’s all in the delivery. As in, whether I feel like adding CBS All Access to my list of streaming services. Which makes little sense. It’s not like CBS doesn’t already broadcast into my house. Through an antenna of all things, the savior of all cord-cutters everywhere. The device that is old, with new life. Like . . . I don’t know . . . help me out here . . .

If I were in Europe, I’d watch Disco on Netflix. As it is, I probably watch Saturday Night Fever again.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Going Deep, South

In the months before my birth, my father worked for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. A skinny kid just out of college with a strange, ethnic name. A Yankee. He went down to the deep South to help make sure everyone eligible could register to vote.

He was not supplied a sidearm or Kevlar vest. Just a paper card stating his name and authority given him by the federal government. That’s how he went to rural Alabama to suggest to some that their lifelong convictions about blacks and Jews and anyone else they might not like weren’t squaring with the rest of America. We were, as it states in our Declaration of Independence, all created equal.

Not everyone who took on such a mission lived to tell their story. In fact, my father never really told his. I’d ask, and he’d deflect. I came to learn that he felt sharing his stories carried a tone of self-aggrandizement. He did not go on some grand adventure. He did not go seeking glory. He thought African Americans should be allowed to vote. He was a Conservative and that, once upon a time, was a Conservative value.

I wish he was around to ask all kinds of things, but mostly, lately, I’d love to ask him what he thought about Confederate and Nazi flags, the new KKK and the threat to 52 years of progress. He’s not, so I guess it’s my turn. All our turns to reach down, grab onto the ideals at our cores and decide what we are, as individuals and citizens.

We all need to go deep.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Helsinki and Me

Yep, I'm going to Helsinki to bask in the wonders of science fiction and fresh seafood. I will be working while I'm there, as exhibited by my schedule. I'm just a little bit excited that anyone wants to know my opinion on anything.

My WorldCon schedule.

Thursday, Aug 10, 7:00 PM
Impact of Awards
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM | Messukeskus, 209 Moderator Caroline Mullan | Teresa Nielsen Hayden | Daryl Gregory | Ran Zhang | Michael J. Martineck

Friday, Aug 11, 3:00 PM
New Publishing
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM | Messukeskus, 206 Orjan Westin | H-P Lehkonen | Michelle Lovi | Gillian Polack | Michael J. Martineck

5:00 PM
So You’ve Decided to Self-Publish. Now what?
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM | Messukeskus, 215 Moderator Deborah J. Dean | Francesca T Barbini | Jonathan Brazee | Annie Bellet | Michael J. Martineck