I’ve been looking at “The Crucible” all Wrong

H/T Vox Day:

Lori Coulson on May 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm said:
The one thing the Hugo packet has demonstrated to me? That there are a bunch of authors out there I never want to read again, and not only will I not read anything more by them, I definitely won’t be reading anything the “Evil League of Evil” writes, edits or publishes. After being wowed by “The Crucible” in High School and taking the lesson within to heart, I find I’m starting my own personal blacklist. And it makes me very unhappy that it’s necessary to do so.

I’ve been looking at that play all wrong. It’s not ACTUALLY anti-blacklisting. It’s against blacklisting the wrong people. But it’s totally okay to blacklist people when it’s NECESSARY.

In other words: It’s okay to blacklist people who aren’t me.

I’ve gotta re-read that play, man. What else have I been missing? Perhaps Miller also meant that lying to get people imprisoned is wrong, but only if it’s the wrong type of people. Innocent until proven guilty unless you deserve it anyway. Who knows what wonders a new SJW-ized reading will lead me to?

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The Hugo Novellas

“Big Boys Don’t Cry” is decent, and I’m only partly through it, but I didn’t “get” “Flow”. I’m not done with it yet, but so far it just seems kind of disjointed. I suppose it has its own style that can appeal to some.

But Wright’s three novellas – all three of them! – are clearly head and shoulders above the competition, and unless “Flow” or “Big Boys” improve dramatically”Pale Realms of Shade” will almost certainly be my choice. Next to “Awake in the Night” I think it’s the second best thing Mr. Wright has ever written. It’s extraordinary.

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Read the Five Hugo Stories

This was a very strong category.

The weakest story was probably “The First Samurai”. A cool story about a samurai who kills a mountain monster, but nothing about it marked it out to me as especially memorable. I still liked it, though. More importantly, if you get the Hugo packet you get the ENTIRE Baen book of monsters for free! That’s a great deal.

But my pick? Hmmmm…as much as I love “Parliament of Beasts and Birds” (it’s a great story), I might have to go with “Totaled”. It’s a cool, creepy story about a disembodied brain who works with her former lab partner to create a new invention before her brain degrades completely. My only complaint isn’t really a complaint. I, personally, don’t prefer stories that damned creepy.

I don’t mean that it has a creepy ending or anything. I mean the whole concept of it gives me the shivers. Reading it was uncomfortable. That said, it was also Way Cool.

Ask me tomorrow and I may change my mind.

“Turncoat” and “On a Spiritual Plain” were both good as well. I think “Turncoat” was my least favorite of the two, but only by default – I thought some of it was just a bit ham-fisted, and I don’t like that the title gives away the ending. But it was definitely entertaining, and I recommend it.

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Just Read the Miss Marvel Hugo Offering

*mumblemumble*I didn’t hate it, actually.*mumblemumble*

I know that’s technically the politically correct thing to say, but not in the circles I frequent.

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“God, Robot” Sneak Preview: An Excerpt of “Modified”

So as of right now my anthology “God, Robot” is made up of four stories, with five more on the way, which happily will bring the total up to my minimum of nine. To celebrate the good news, here is an excerpt of my short story “Modified”, about the creation of the first Two Laws Robot, and the challenge of programming the concept of God into its brain.

And why is this the excerpt you get, you ask? Because this whole section is being excised. Way too exposition-heavy. Some of the material may make it into the final cut though, and the characters remain the same.

Maybe you’ll be a fan anyway. Sci-fi fans are an odd bunch, and many seem to be okay with exposition as long as its suitably interesting technobabble. In any case, remember that this is only draft one, and enjoy this introduction into the world of “God, Robot”.

***

“Okay, gentleman, explain the process.”

Striker swallowed nervously. He knew very well that Linda Krawler didn’t need anybody to explain anything about robotics, and suspected she was only asking to make sure that Helix and he were up to speed. Striker was considered by most to be the greatest living robotics engineer, and his partner Helix the greatest programmer of robotic software, so Krawler’s demand for an explanation was vaguely insulting.

Then again, this was Linda Krawler. When she assumed everybody else knew less than she did she was nearly always correct.

Or, perhaps her intentions really were sincere. After all, she was a robopsychologist, not an engineer or programmer. She was the foremost expert at understanding and predicting robotic behavior, but it was plausible she only knew the basics behind how the behavior patterns became fixed in the first place. Striker supposed it didn’t matter – when Linda Krawler asked a question, you answered. Period.

“What we have in front of us is a disconnected android brain. This brain is still in its malleable stage. The neural pathways have not yet been set, and we can still manipulate them to our liking. This allows us to have a relatively simple means of altering the robot.”

Krawler nodded. “Go on.”

“The neural pathways of this brain have already been arranged in accord with the three laws of robotics. If we finished programming now and set the software into its final form, the three laws would be permanently set, and the robot would be completely harmless.”

“But…”

This time Helix cut in. “There are two new laws we need to set into the brain. My job is to write the laws in a form that the robot brain can process. When I write the program, it creates a modified image of the robot brain on my screen, and Dr. Striker uses this image to physically mold the brain so that the neural pathways are set up in a way that allows the robot to make the proper mental connections without malfunction.”

Striker cut in again. “After we configure the brain we will ask it a series of basic questions to ensure that the laws have been properly set. This is experimental, Dr. Krawler, and Dr. Helix and I were…er…lead to believe you, as the Chief Robopsychologist, would bring the new questions, yes?”

Krawler smiled and nodded. “I have the questions with me now.”

She did not say what the questions were or why she hadn’t shown it to them yet, and Striker and Helix both knew better than to ask. They waited, both too nervous to move, until Krawler smiled at them. Helix immediately started typing. On the screen in front of him the android brain took shape, complex connections between neurons carefully being organized. Striker watched in rapt attention, only breaking his gaze to take detailed notes. After perhaps a minute of this Krawler spoke.

“Dr. Helix, what part of this software is considered ‘new’? Explain in detail, please.”

“Well, Dr. Krawler, you already know the traditional three laws of robotics,” said Helix without looking up. “Those, of course, are being programmed in. But we’re also adding two new laws, to be understood on the same level as the first law: ‘Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ is theological law number one. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is number two.”

“Yes, Dr. Helix, I’m aware of that much,” said Krawler. For the first time there was a slight trace of irritation in her voice. “But how is the robot to understand the concepts of ‘God’, ‘love’, and ‘neighbor’?

Striker grinned. “Glad you asked, Dr. Krawler. Dr. Helix and I did some research…” (in fact, they had spent hours a day for a solid two weeks scouring every philosophy book they could find in the local library) “…And we decided to use classical theology to define our terms. ‘God’ uses Anselm’s definition of ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived.’ Love was trickier; opinion seemed to be much more divided on the specific definition. In the end we decided on ‘Having a strong desire to help attain a positive end for the object of love’. ‘Neighbor’ we defined as broadly as we could; the definition is ‘Anybody with the capacity for rational thought, or belonging to a species that generally has the capacity for rational thought’”.

“Interesting,” said Krawler thoughtfully. “Perhaps not the way I would have worded things, but it seems workable at first glance.”

Helix resisted the urge for a stinging reply to the backhanded compliment. In fact, the new program was incredibly complicated. They were essentially trying to turn abstract philosophy into a code; Helix had actually had to create an entirely new programming language for it. And Striker’s job would be no easier; the reason he was constructing the brain by hand was because the neural connections were too delicate to trust to the machines. The slightest error could lead to a completely non-functioning robot.

It took Helix several hours, but he was able to do it – and, he knew with pride, he was almost certainly the only person in the world who could accomplish the task. Striker’s notes by that point were at least fifty pages long, front and back, complete with diagrams and step-by-step instructions.

Krawler’s notes were, if anything, longer; Helix had a sneaking suspicion that she had figured out the new programming language by watching him work, and written out the program herself on paper. The amount of brainpower it would take to do that was staggering, but Helix had no doubt that Krawler could do it.

Now it was Striker’s turn. Opening up his notes, he brought the computer monitor in front of him. It was attached to an extendable arm, and swung around easily. With practiced speed and ease Striker opened up his toolbox, and removed the parts and tools necessary to construct the robot brain. The toolbox was the size of a large suitcase. It was far too heavy to carry, and Striker had to attach wheels to move it.

The process took all of Striker’s skill and concentration. Krawler and Helix were spellbound at the work; both were well aware that they were witnessing history. It was the first time anybody had EVER attempted to construct a working artificial intelligence that wasn’t guarded solely by the three laws.

The process took Striker three hours – about two hours longer than it took to construct a traditional two laws robot. When it was finished, he almost collapsed.

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The Weird Chef Theory

This was originally going to be titled “The Chef Makes Shit Theory”, but I decided not to use foul language in the headline.

Let’s say you have a chef. He is a brilliant chef, an absolute genius. He can whip up just about any meal you can think of and turn it into a masterpiece.

And let’s say the chef says, “You know what? I want to make a cake that tastes EXACTLY like the watery shit excreted from people who have diarrhea.”

He works and slaves hour upon hour to create the perfect recipe. He does research. He experiments.

And he does! It took him weeks, but ultimately he made what he intended: A cake that tastes EXACTLY like diarrhea shit, down to the last detail. It is an extraordinary feat of craftmanship.

Now: Should we be praising the chef for this?

If your answer is, “No, because why would anybody want to EAT a cake made of shit?”, here’s a question for you:

Thornton Wilder creates “Our Town”, a play that attempts to recreate the little details and minutiae of small town life. He succeeds perfectly, but as it turns out small town life is boring.

James Joyce decides he is going to recreate the internal monologue of a woman thinking back on her day. He succeeds, but as it turns out it’s virtually unreadable.

Bertholt Brecht decides that he is going to write plays specifically meant to alienate the audience and make them uncomfortable. He succeeds, but as a result audiences are uncomfortable or bored during his plays.

So: If James Joyce, Bertholt Brecht, and Thornton Wilder attempt to create things that are not actually very interesting to read or watch and succeed, what is the difference between them and the chef who makes shit?

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That Short Autobiographical Writing Post

Because I love talking about myself (don’t we all?) my first post in response to the request that I write a bit about my writing became astonishingly long. So here is the short version:

(Yes, this is the short version. Don’t laugh.)

I started writing since, according to my mom, before I could read. I’d literally dictate books to her. The earliest were my own “I, Spy” book, another…er…entry in the “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” series called “Blue Bear”, and a version of “The Gingerbread Man”.

I really decided I wanted to actually be a serious writer when I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the best and most important things I ever did. I was amazed at how long the book was. It was the first book I EVER could not read in a single sitting; up until that point I didn’t even realize people wrote books that long.

And the story! I was captivated. The twist ending of the book absolutely stunned me. I’d read Hardy Boys mysteries before but a book had never caught me totally off guard like that. I was hooked.

I got books 2 through 4 for Christmas that year. Somehow I missed the release of book 5 (don’t ask me how), but I went to a launch party for book 6. Book 7 was sent to my house directly, and arrived the day of publication.

My first attempt at a “long” book was a Harry Potter ripoff. I remember nothing about it except that cats took the place of owls.

So fantasy I liked, as well as mysteries. Sci-fi I’d never considered, with the notable exception of “A Wrinkle in Time”, and its sequels, since I thought it was a fantasy when I picked it up. To this day “A Wrinkle in Time” is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read. Only two stories so far have lived up to its greatness  (“Awake in the Night” and the original “Ender’s Game” novella).

The first experience I got with the publishing industry was when at the age of 13 a story and poem I wrote won a teen writing contest. The prize was five free books, which I didn’t see for somewhere between three and five years (to their credit, they did arrive). In retrospect both the story and poem are quite bad.

I wrote a fair amount during my teen years. Most bad or unfinished, but some I’m proud of. One story, “In the Land of the Blind…”, was rejected by nine publishers, a fact I’m proud of, since that means I believed in it enough to submit it to nine publishers. In fact, the story of “In the Land” has a happy ending. I eventually submitted the story to Jason Rennie, who to my delight apparently saw in it what I saw in it and accepted the story. So one day you’ll see it in an upcoming issue of the Journal (specific number still unknown).

No matter what happens after this I will always consider my first big break to be with the Sci Phi Journal. I had submitted to Jason Rennie, the editor, my short stories “A Quadrillion Occupied Planets” and “Take Up Your Cross”. I didn’t expect anything because when you submit something you never expect it to get published. This has nothing to do with humility and everything to do with percentages. If you compare rejections to acceptances, percentage-wise, the number of acceptances is vanishingly small. The publishing industry is extraordinarily harsh. Michael Flynn – Michael Flynn!- A MULTIPLE Hugo-nominated author who has been in the industry, publishing continuously, for years – just had a story rejected. When I say harsh, I mean REALLY harsh.

So when BOTH of my short stories were accepted – and one of them on its first submission! – you really need to understand what that felt like. It was less “hitting the lottery” and more “finding a unicorn”.

One of the most gratifying moments of my writing life was, not receiving the acceptance e-mail, but rather the e-mail before that from Jason telling me that he loved (!!!) “Take Up Your Cross” and was just checking the theology of it over with a friend before he got back to me. Interestingly enough, his friend panned the story, but luckily for me Jason still decided to pay me for it.

Whenever I wonder if it’s concerning that to date only one editor has liked me enough to publish me I look at my paypal account and remember that “Take Up Your Cross” got me 250 dollars. So no, I don’t find it concerning.

My writing history is short after this. “The Philosophy of Serenity” was published in issue 5 of the journal, but was actually first published for free on this blog, in an altered form, about a year earlier under the title “Serenity: A Philosophical Review”. I liked how it came out, but it got few comments. Jason mentioned in the Sci Phi group discussions that he needed some more articles, so I cleaned it up and sent it in, and here I am.

This is too long already; my writing process will come in a later post.

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