January 26th, 2012

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How America Loses Jobs

Companies like Apple export jobs.  They do this because they can take greater advantage of foreign workers, who can be worked harder and paid less.  The middle-class jobs are pouring out of America.  Upper-class jobs are few, and require expensive degrees.  What's left are scrabble jobs that won't support a family and aren't satisfying to a person of even average intelligence -- cashier, janitor, that sort of thing.  

When you have a whole lot of people with not enough money to live on, looking at a dead-end job or no job at all, that is a powder keg.  Historically speaking, it's going to blow up in your face.  When that happens, the people on top tend to get smashed to hell.  Might could be someone should do something about that before it gets too far.
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Update: Plunge Magazine

Plunge  magazine has passed the 30% mark in fundraising.  It's currently at $605 of the $2000 goal.  Woohoo!  It looks like plenty of folks want to read genre literature about queer women.  JOB CREATOR!  I'll be the Line Editor if the funding comes together.

Visit the Kickstarter page to donate or follow the project's progress.  I have also updated my home page with a blurb about Plunge  magazine.

For those of you interested in writing for Plunge, submissions will open in July.  Meanwhile you can read a draft of the submission guidelines on the website.
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Labor Abuses

Here's an article on risky work conditions in the factories that supply America's gadgets.  (Apple is the example again, but there are plenty of other corporations doing similar things.)  Factories often skip on safety and care of workers because that's profitable, and tend to go on doing that until outside forces compel them to take better precautions.  A lot of people are more concerned with profits than with the health and safety of human beings.  We fought this battle in America, won better working conditions ... and American businesses have largely said "Fuck that!" and moved to countries where worker injuries are just part of the cost of doing business.

I don't like relying on gadgets that were built by disadvantaged workers.  It's not just bad for them, that kind of thing always causes trouble eventually.  The end does not justify the means; the means determine the end.  
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Cutting Out the Megacorps

Essential products often cost more than many people can afford.  Large corporations don't care about that, as long as they have enough buyers to sustain their profits; they are all about profit, not about meeting people's needs.  But sometimes it's possible to make and sell things at a much lower price.  Here's an example of an Indian man who invented a cheaper sanitary napkin.  This guy's determination is impressive.  We need more like him. (Link courtesy of siege and haikujaguar.)
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10 Writing Rules to Consider

Here's an article with a breakdown of some written and unwritten rules about speculative fiction that should be broken. And my thoughts ...

1) No third-person omniscient.
Variable. My first-readers nagged me away from doing this. As a reader, though, I like it. The main drawback is, as was explained to me in the only writing workshop that was of any use, "Most people spend their entire lives in one head: their own. Jumping around confuses them." I have no way of relating to that, so I just nod and humor the limitation most of the time.

2) No prologues.
Variable. If you need one for a given story, use it. A concise prologue is better than blathering through an unnecessarily long setup, or leaving readers wondering what's going on.

3) Avoid infodumps.
Valid insofar as it means "Don't bore your readers with long explanations." Ideally, information can be worked in seamlessly. When there's a lot, consider chunking it as an encyclopedia entry to somesuch; those sometimes work. Do not simply leave important details unexplained. Confused readers may find something else to read.

4) Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.
Nonsense. Anything can be a series or a standalone. The mainstream stuff is just the opinion of a rapidly shrinking number of people.

5) No portal fantasy.
More nonsense. Many of the classics are portal fantasies. Like any other motif, it can be done well or poorly. Fish-out-of-water stories are at the top of my favorites list, and chucking some poor slob through a portal is a great way to achieve that result.

6) No FTL.
Still more nonsense. You want to write or read science fantasy, go for it. You want hard science, just look into quantum physics. There's more than enough wiggle room to fit your plot through if you are careful.

7) Women can't write "hard" science fiction.
Downright offensive bullshit. Stab it with pencils and beat it to death with merry bundles of cash.

8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.
Dependent on subgenre: this rule is valid for Low Fantasy but not for High Fantasy and most other subgenres.

9) No present tense.
More valid than invalid, but not an absolute. It's a literary technique that works well for specific types of stories, but not so well for general use. Many readers find it awkward to read and would rather read the usual past-tense instead. Don't use it unless it's really needed.

10) No "unsympathetic" characters.
A poorly phrased expression of valid concerns.  1) Make sure the readers have someone to root for.  If all your characters are assholes, nobody will want to spend time with them.  1b) Don't make villains so sympathetic that readers are torn between sides to the point they'll be unsatisfied with the ending no matter who wins.  That way lies throwing the book against the wall.  2) Make sure characters have motivations for what they do, even if the reasons are crackpot ones.  If the actions don't make sense, that tends to annoy readers.  3) Engage the readers in caring about the characters.  If the readers don't care, they will quit reading.  

Note that it's easier to do this stuff with sympathetic characters than with unsympathetic characters, and that doing it also tend to make even evil characters more understandable and thus more sympathetic even if readers don't want them to win.  If you've got a good supply of sympathetic characters, they can carry one or a few unsympathetic characters.  If the cast is all grayscale (anti-heroes and conflicted villains, etc.) then a completely unsympathetic character may capsize it.


Finally, look how many of these "rules" are really just fashion statements.  They're backlashes against the fact that people have overdone a lot of good motifs.  This especially applies to 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8.  As a writer, write the stories that grab you and won't let go, regardless of how they fit -- or don't fit -- current fashion.  Those are the stories most likely to grip an editor and readers with similar force.  As a reader, read what you like.  Don't let anyone tell you what you "should" like.  They're your eyeballs, you choose where they go.
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Cosmology and Alignment

A friend of mine is writing a series of essays on what the upcoming 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons should be like.  This one covers "Cosmology and Alignment."  Since D&D has evolved into a game engine that serves multiple settings and has multiple iterations, I support the "toolbox" approach over "this is how it is."  Why?  Because that's how gamers usually treat their shelf of books anyhow.  They're going to throw together stuff from half a dozen sources anyhow.  A game engine that incorporates flexibility is thus more appealing to gamers.  A proprietary game with unique setting and rules can get away with "this is how it is," because people play those when they're bored with wider-focus games.  But the bigger and more diverse a game gets, the more it needs to accommodate the flex factor.