Friday, September 06, 2002

Vacation Bible School

More properly, The Vacation Bible School Fiasco. I say "fiasco" because I'm sure it was for the people running the school.

I try to picture the experience from their perspective. Two heathen children [twins! which has got to be a sin, somehow] of around, oh, age 10ish, show up one summer who have -- really -- NO CLUE WHATSOEVER about this Christianity stuff. No, really. Really. It's difficult to picture in America but squint hard and bear with me. No. Clue.

Not having any idea what we were getting into at the time, when Matt asked us if we wanted to go, we shrugged and said, "Sure".

So, heathen godless children, who've never seen the inside of Sunday School in their entire heathen godless little lives, much less know what Sunday School is, show up at this place for "vacation bible school".
We're going to pray to Jesus, now. Bow your heads.
Come again?
Jesus Christ, our lord and savior.
Jesus Christ? Wait, you mean, that guy my stepdad yells at when he hits his thumb with a hammer?

And we're going to what, pray to him? What's that?
Well, you ask him for stuff.

Does he have stuff? Why would he have stuff? He's dead. And this is a dead guy from 2000 years ago -- it's not like they had TVs back then.

You people are engaged in a bunch of seemingly useless acts.

Every time someone opened their mouths it was to inform us heathen godless children of some new, frankly incomprehensible, fact, that apparently made perfect sense to them. Being moderately bright children growing up in not the full-tilt boonies, but out in the woods -- we knew from experience that dead stuff doesn't come back to life. It stays dead, decomposes, and there's a gross smell. So, this coming back after three days business, oh, that just reeks of some "zombie" episode from The Twilight Zone. Pun intended.

What I remember about the experience best is the sense of utter and total confusion about the whole thing. There's this big old guy with a long white beard who lives up in the clouds -- well, where does he go when it's not cloudy, then? And then this dead guy stapled to some big sticks who died for my "sin" things. Bad stuff, only I haven't done the bad stuff yet, and it's not at all clear why he should get punished for my bad stuff.

This makes no sense.

And could someone please explain why I'm cutting fish out of construction paper? For children who've internalized the ideas of conservation of mass and energy at a tender age -- the tales of loaves and fishes sound like sheer fantasy. Or science fiction. I mean this is the point at which I'm liable to open my heathen godless little mouth and say "you people are making this up, aren't you"?

Pretty much the only thing I recall us being good at was memorizing bits of this Bible thing -- although I do recall being concerned that since I didn't understand everything we were being told to parrot, I might accidentally say something not entirely true. And I may not get this sin business, but lying? That's wrong.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

the Beginning of the Future is Here

The first commercial lunar mission has been approved and is scheduled for launch in 2003. Trailblazer is a basic probe intended to capture biblical proportions of video up close and personal, during a lunar surface atlas survey. Trailblazer is on a one-way trip, after completing its mission -- which will include some even-more-detailed video of specific areas [Apollo landing sites and polar regions] -- will crash in a selected location and end it's glorious! wonderful! future-affirming! little life.

I am almost speechless. I've been waiting for the first commercial venture -- the first indication that outer space -- not just low-earth orbit -- can be business. Because that's what'll get humans off the planet. Not government space races. I'm so thrilled by this I can't actually type without fumbling.

I also have the distinct impression I attended a conference in LA with Karsten B. and saw a presentation from these people. I'm probably wrong.

More on the company, Transorbital:

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Science Fiction as Romance

There. That ought to raise an eyebrow.

An intriguing article by Debra Doyle posits that SF novels fall in the category of "romance", a term guaranteed to make SF-girl-cootie-fearing readers run screaming from their dark glowing computer screens, into the night.

Heh. Heh. Heh.

Fear not, Doyle simply [simply? simply!] brings up the dictionary definition of romance as involving heroic, adventurous or mysterious adventures in remote times and places, a definition that fits SF quite well once you think about it.

The bulk of her remarks address realism, and in SF, the two primary areas where one can strive for it -- physical realism [where "hard SF" shines] and psychological realism [where, to put it midly, "hard SF" can often fail to shine]. Great stories -- SF and otherwise -- can exist where either one or both of these are not met...the decision to not strive for physical or psychological realism is as valid an artistic decision as to strive for such. That's not her point.

What Doyle notes is that two ideologies are butting heads in an effort to look for methods of improving SF as a genre. One is a push to be more like "modern realistic prose fiction", and the other to recognize that SF is "romance", and to model that form. That's not the same thing as sprinkling sex croutons all over one's fiction, because romance, remember, in this context is not sex or personal relationships per se, it's the heroics, adventure, and mystery, in a different time and place. The whole point of an sf or fantasy story is to ask what-if?

What if we colonized Mars?

What if it was a gazillion years in the future and the sun was going out?

What if a girl followed a white rabbit down a hole?

To deliberately and consciously seek out/create a remote time and place to set adventures in. That's unrealism at its very core, none of which absolves an author from keeping their let's-pretend world from being internally consistent -- it seems counterintuitive, but in order to get a reader to believe in your off-kilter world, you must answer the other side of the what-if, and then ask and answer again.

I think Doyle has hit the nail squarely -- SF is romance. We don't read it to see Joe Blow, CPA, walk to work in the morning looking at his loafers, thinking about his upcoming divorce...unless of course it's 2173 and he gets hit by a bus on the way to work and has his brain transplanted into the body of a surgically modified dog with a larynx and oppposable thumbs and then has to steal a spaceship with the help of his soon-to-be-ex so he can get away from the HMO before they repossess the dog's spine because a now-dead genetics researcher hid a new form of life in an inactive viral shell in the dog's spinal cord somewhere, only now the "inactive" virus got turned on after exposure to some nasty solar radiation during the escape and so Joe the Dog is fighting to keep control over his body from the new "intelligence" trying to spread through it.

That, friends, is an adventure in a remote time and place.

I might just have to write that story, too.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Now Appearing: "A Footfall of Cats"

Peridot Books Vol XVI is out and includes a fantasy, "A Footfall of Cats", by yours truly. This is my first [of many, one hopes] fiction sale.