Saturday, December 25, 2021

Science fiction visions, starting with flying cars, plus Sherlock and comedies and more.

May this day be joyous for those who celebrate it as special... and for those who don't. And may the year ahead be our best-yet, though the worst of all that follow.

And now, on to ruminations!

 It has been said that: "A top task of the SF author is not to predict the car, but the traffic jam."

 Let's update that. What are the consequences of flying cars? And I have long predicted that 2022 or 2023 would be the year they arrive, at least in part.

As a sci fi writer, I peer ahead to note that these luxury flyers that will be largely used (at least at first) by the rich to avoid the frustrating congestion of our streets.

So, will one outcome be better traffic down here, when the rich people leave the roads? Or will the flight of wealthy folks to the sky be just like when, after 9/11, the wealthy abandoned First Class on airline flights in favor of corporate/private jets and charters, resulting is a massive deterioration of life for the rest of us air travelers. Because till then, the rich and influential still had to use the same airports and planes, and their complaints were heeded. So what happens when they abandon our streets and highways, leaving us to fester while they demand more tax cuts?

So, will we get angry, seeing these demigods zipping above us? Will this be another tech advance that swiftly percolates down to the rest of us, as I portray in my short story “Transition Generation”? Or might flying cars carrying sky lords be the final insult leading to revolution? 

There, that's my cynical worst take. And it leads to a top demand when the revolution comes (that they seem determined to drive us to.) We will take torches to the charter areas of the airports and - at point of our pitchforks - scream at the brats "Get back into First Class, where you belong!"

(Eat yer heart out, Robspierre & Lenin!)

Another question. Might flying cars, be used for terrorism? 

Sure, (1) they are tiny. (2) AI controlled. That’s problematic, and in Existence I posed swarm terror attacks using drones and flying cars. Still, rule-systems can be adjusted, and (3) there will be banned areas with plenty of laser defenses. But yes. Tradeoffs and dangers.

One prototype under development: the flying AirCar, invented in Slovakia, which can transform into a sports car in minutes. This video presents other experimental flying cars including the Aero Mobil, the Klein Vision Air Car, the AirBus PopUp, the Terrafugia and the PAL-V. Some modern updates to those envisioned in Sci Fi movies such as The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Jetsons, Back to the Future... and so many others.

By coincidence, I just read (and blurbed) the latest book by J Storrs Hall - Where Is My Flying Car?  The book ought to have gone into all that.

Oh, want irony? For 50 years Los Angeles required all tall buildings to have flat roofs for heliports than then were seldom used. Now, after the law was rescinded, may come the golden era of rooftop taxi service. Again, for elites.

Followup: Sorry, I thought it was obvious that (a) initial uses will be between licensed landing pads and (b) automatic control will be almost absolutely required. And yes, within those limits I reiterat: I expect it in the next two years.  At which point the whine will shift from "Where's the flying car?" to "Where's my flying car?"

== Recommended... ==

One of the greatest directors of all time, whose work I laud in VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood, is Nicholas Meyer, who saved Star Trek, among many things. He also is a noted innovator in the wide and popular Sherlock Holmes canon, having initiated the latest era of fun creativity with The Seven Percent Solution. Now comes his latest The Return of the Pharaoh: From the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. Such brain food.

On a lighter note... Marie Vibbert's lively and rollicking Galactic Hell Cats is way fun, as is the trailer

Which reminds me of a micro-rant I have been meaning to issue: Mars Attacks is best watched with the music on... but with the insipid/unfunny dialogue turned off. Better, switch to a version that's dubbed in a language you don't know - no subtitles! All the unintentionally stupid things vanish and the intentionally stupid ones amplify! You'll imagine hilarious lines! Trust me on this. Try it.

 And for more sci fi hilarity, try my own comedy: The Ancient Ones.

One of you reminded me that I have TWO works of comedic SF. Now, there are many styles and varieties of humor! In my recent novel The Ancient Ones, I tried for the level of pun-laced satire and irony-amid-plausibility Terry Pratchett achieved with such grace and that I could only aspire-to... with - sure - a few moments of pure lampoon... while mixing genres... Star Trek Pastiche with vampire-zombie-werewolves! You can sample the first 3 chapters free at my site and decide if Brin is merely crazy or Crazy!

But there's another attempt at comedic SF that you can also try for free. Gorilla My Dreams - a broad, lampoony and immature take on my own Uplift Universe, plus several guest cosmoses. Something for the weekend. Don't drink beverages while reading too close to the screen... 

Though indeed, many have enjoyed the lighter side of Kiln People and The Practice Effect.

== And furthermore ==

Tales from the Bridge: All Things Sci-Fi hosted A Conversation with David Brin.

Beyond Dune and Foundation: a list of Golden Age SF classics that should be adapted to the screen, including Mockingbird, The Dispossessed, and The Demolished Man.

While we started with flying cars, science fiction has also offered more dire visions of possible future: a list of 20 greatest apocalyptic novels includes classics such as Earth AbidesParable of the SowerOn the BeachA Canticle for LeibowitzAlas, Babylon, as well as The Postman

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Supply Side 'economics' without a single success -- except a rising oligarchy

Philstockworld has republished my most devastating evisceration of the Thatcherite insanity called "Supply Side" (voodoo) economics, a cult incantation that has not one... even one... ever even one... successful prediction or outcome to its credit - an unrelenting record of devastating failures and trillion dollar ripoffs.  

Alas, almost none of my eviscerations is used currently by those public figures who oppose the madness!

Wretched-stupid evil on one side... vs. goodguys who are too dumb to offer effective persuasion on the other. I'd say we were doomed except... science will likely rescue us. And relentless/ingenious innovation. And goodwill. (And possibly machines of loving grace?)

We'll get back to this topic. But first... in "Planetary Politics when the Nation-State Falters," in the next Noema Magazine, Nathan Gardels talks about power devolution from the "westphalian" stasis.  

== Supply Side did supply… a rising oligarchy ==

"Fifty years of tax cuts for the rich failed to trickle down even once:" David Hope of the London School of Economics examined 18 developed countries over a 50-year period from 1965 to 2015 -- countries that slashed taxes on the wealthy vs. those that didn’t. Per capita gross domestic product and unemployment rates were nearly identical after five years in countries that slashed taxes on the rich and in those that didn’t, the study found. The analysis discovered one major change: The incomes of the rich grew much faster in countries where tax rates were lowered without trickling down to the middle class… 

...exactly as I have told you repeatedly Adam Smith himself both observed and predicted. (In the historical extreme case, the 1780s, the rich in France refused to let themselves be taxed, not even in order to save the nation that protected them… so it stopped protecting them and they rode tumbrels.) 

 “In fact, if we look back into history, the period with the highest taxes on the rich — the postwar period — was also a period with high economic growth and low unemployment.” Also vast infrastructure development and the best era, ever, for business startups and entrepreneurship.

The Capitalism vocabulary trap.

One of the worst aspects of today's absurd polemical wars is vocabulary. By attacking all "capitalism" the left destroys their cred, since highly regulated market enterprise has harnessed human creative competition vastly better than all other allocation systems from kingships to socialist/communist systems. Marx described how such market competitive systems CAN be destroyed by cheating, as described in Das Kapital. But Marx blithely assumed that failure mode was inevitable and the Rooseveltean era proved it's not

Please escape the vocabulary trap. The word you are looking for are oliogarchy, cheat-aristocracy and feudalism, all of which Adam Smith and the US founders denounced as the mortal enemies of enterprise.

Only back to the key point. GOPpers yammering about spendthrift Democrats 'breaking the bank' or 'sending deficits skyrocketing' are, of course, hypocrites whose party is always less fiscally responsible than Democrats, and I mean always* and can prove it in a large stakes wager. 

One noted economist-pundit apologist for that monstrous movement said: "...let the implications sink in. Then remember this year’s recovery depended heavily on massive fiscal spending—stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, etc...."

Well... yeah... um wasn't that the point? As usual, neither he nor his rightist peers ever mention that the Dems' Keynesian stimulus measures are still smaller, in total, than the Republican's "supply side" attempts at stimulus! (Though tsunami tax gifts to the rich.)

With this difference:

Those Supply Side lamprey-sucks realized zero predicted outcomes - (in science, or any non-cult, that outcome is disqualifying) - while plummeting money velocity and sending wealth disparities and deficits skyrocketing. At French-Revolution levels of disparity, the rich soak up all real estate and flaunt purchases of nonexistent art.

Keynesian stimuli simply work, especially when enacted by sincere Keynesians who pay down debt in good times, like Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and Gavin Newsom. Working class wealth, well-being and spending have risen, manufacturing is in-shoring, money velocity rising, tax revenues climbing. More will do more. There certainly is some risk of inflation, but not post-Vietnam-style stagflation.

Only here's the key point that no rightist pundit has the honesty to mention... and those poor-dumb-schlump democrats are to stupid to mention. The amounts of 'stimulus' done across recent decades by Republican Supply Side cultists and now by liberal Keynesians are roughly the same!

I repeat -- The amounts of 'stimulus are roughly the same. With spectacularly different outcomes.

Any 'pundit' who neglects to point this out is stunningly dishonest. Or... as I've said... a sincere and honest and politically stoopid Democrat.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sapience in the cosmos - and the 'Great Filter'

I don't know which is more amazing, the fact that you and I are members of a civilization that does incredible things like this... or that you and I are members of a civilization that lets its morale get pummeled by fear merchants, when we have things better than every generation of our ancestors... or that anyone who is a member of a civilization that creates things like this spacecraft could ever say "we can't."

I feel that people all over the world badly need perspective. The perspective of 6000 years of macro human societies that were 99% brutal, feudal despostisms, against which our island of enlightenment has been... and remains... blindingly bright, by comparison...

... the perspective of a million years of human evolution, in which the normal pattern for male mammals got genetically modified enough so that half of us can actually behave according to the high standards of decency now summoned from us... 

... and especially the perspective of a huge - possibly the biggest - question of all...

Is there life out there? How would we know.... 

== How to communicate? ==

In Why intelligent extraterrestrials are more likely to be artificial than biological, UK Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees points out, "I’d argue it would even be worth looking for traces of aliens in our own solar system. While we can probably rule out visits by human-like species, there are other possibilities. An extraterrestrial civilisation that had mastered nanotechnology may have transferred its intelligence to tiny machines, for example. It could then invade other worlds, or even asteroid belts, with swarms of microscopic probes." 

... which is one of the plot lines explored in my novel Existence.

Perhaps they are everywhere? British physicist Terry Rudolph believes aliens could be communicating through starlight, by hiding messages in modified light that would appear like random blinking to anyone else listening in. Now mind you this is in the Daily Mail and hence guilt by association!  Still, the basic idea is solidly founded in “steganography” – the fact that secret information can be hidden in innocuous images or photographs, needing a key to even know it’s there.  The quantum entanglement portions of this concept seem ornate and questionable. But hey, sci fi authors have worked with far less! 

"Would we recognize an extraterrestrial message if we received one?" This essay by D. Oberhaus and C. Early pushes the idea that limited human beings would be inherently incapable of understanding… or even defining as intelligent… any signals from advanced alien civilizations. 

 I call this yet another example of ‘humility chic,' and while it’s good to goad ourselves that things change (a century ago folks spoke of communicating with Mars via controlled forest fires) the core point of the article is pure drivel. 

(1) Most scientists share the values of the article's authors, constantly questioning the envelope of perception. And hence, where do these fellows get off, lecturing as if they are the inventors of assumption-questioning? 

But more importantly…

(2)… the question is not what humans can perceive, but whether more advanced beings would find us interesting. And if some of them did find us interesting… even some subclass of them who are as rare and exceptional as human entomologists fascinated by ant colonies… they would thus do the heavy lifting of figuring out how to communicate with us. 

Moreover, newly sapient tech species are not common as ant colonies on Earth! 

Again, the most frequent possible rate of appearance of new sapients like us in the galaxy is in years, per. Hence mathematically, it is almost impossible for the only sapient tech species to erupt in any galaxy during a specific century not to be interesting and worth study by super-rich, super-advanced beings. 

Again, we study ant colonies... not all of us and not all ant colonies… but if a new insect colony only showed up on Earth once per century? Then some humans would rush to study it.

== More about the ‘Great Filter”? ==

Robin Hanson, Milan Circovic, Anders Sandberg and others have issued a paper - If Loud Aliens Explain Human Earliness, Quiet Aliens Are Also Rare - proposing a variant on the Fermi Paradox, suggesting that humans on Earth are very early, as Breakout Sapient species go. 

“If life on Earth had to achieve n 'hard steps' to reach humanity's level, then the chance of this event rose as time to the n-th power. Integrating this over habitable star formation and planet lifetime distributions predicts >99% of advanced life appears after today, unless n<3 and max planet duration <50Gyr. 

"That is, we seem early. We offer this explanation: a deadline is set by 'loud' aliens who are born according to a hard steps power law, expand at a common rate, change their volumes' appearances, and prevent advanced life like us from appearing in their volumes. 'Quiet' aliens, in contrast, are much harder to see.

I have commented on this, that there are many factors often overlooked: I have long held that the top candidate for most-rare event along the Drake sequence is the appearance of a successful technological civilization. Among the following reasons, only #1 is widely discussed:

0 - Life itself is arguably an easy step since it appeared on Earth soon after the seas cooled. Metazoan-complex life took another 3.5 billion years, so that qualifies tentatively as a hard step.

1- Across 4+ billion years that life flourished on Earth, 'breakthrough sapience' in which a species is capable of rapid self-reprogramming of its operating system only appeared during the most recent 50,000 years. (I argue preceding humans were not organically capable of this.)

2- In contrast, "pre-sapience" of a level attained by apes, sea lions, parrots, crows, cetaceans, elephants and many others would seem to be extremely common.  Environmental over-exploitation is also seen among many species (e.g. goats). 

3- If these two trends were augmented by basic tools like fire or weapons, human style environmental exploitation/degradation could easily burn out a planet without any of the human self-critical awareness that led humans to environmentalism, just 10,000 years after becoming environmentally dangerous. If most sapients come to that awareness more slowly, they might degrade their worlds long before achieving technological breakout. (In fact, it is still an open question whether we will do that, even with our quick ascent to insight.)

4- Earth skates the very inner edge of Sol's circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ). This had two consequences:

-(4a) a Gaia balance with extremely low CO2 levels and likely low sea levels for a watery world, hence more continental land area,

-(4b) less time for a homegrown sapient race to achieve breakout, as the sun gets hotter, pushing out the CHZ (Earth may only have another 100My before runaway greenhouse ensues.)

Option (4a) suggests that Earth was more likely than average - for an open sky* water world - to develop sapients with hands and fire. Meanwhile, (4b) suggests that Earth made us barely in time, and that other open sky water worlds would have more time, but higher sea levels, less land and more CO2.

5- The inherent attractor state of male reproductive strategy - stealing reproduction from other males - is seen across the animal realm. In humans after 12,000 BCE it manifested in rampant feudalism, dominating 99% of agricultural societies and at some level nearly all tribal ones. 

The rare exceptions - mostly "Periclean enlightenments" - are vastly more productive in science, technological advancement and governance, as well as environmental awareness. But these exception/attractors are also difficult to maintain, requiring sapience and satiability levels that may be rare out there. Hence, feudalism - accompanied always by rampant mal-governance - seems likely to be a near-lethal attractor across the cosmos. 

I deem this likely to be a huge part of the overall Great Filter vs. successful sapience. I could go on. There are many more aspects seldom examined.  But I look forward to seeing the paper.

     *Most of the likely water/life sites are "roofed worlds" like Europa. They probably pervade the cosmos.


And - if aliens are identified....NASA recently issued a Call for a framework for reporting evidence for life beyond Earth, noting "it is essential to open a community dialogue about how to convey information... that has a high potential to be sensationalized."

And yes, people continue to discuss and argue about my alternative hypothesis for UFO/UAP phenomena as 'cat lasers.' 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Revisiting transparency, tracking, & resilience

Although Facebook's facial recognition software has identified and archived more than a billion user faces, its latest incarnation - Meta - has announced that it will stop automatically tagging people's faces in uploaded photos and videos, and will delete the data it has gathered - although users can continue to manually tag friends in their photos. Yet... Meta will continue working on facial recognition systems for future purposes, as in its upcoming smart glasses or augmented reality.

I reiterate: No amount of screaming will stop this tide from coming in. Your phone and doorbell and digital assistant will recognize faces and if you ban the tech, all it will do is give a monopoly on such systems to secret elites. Instead of trying futilely to ban technologies of light, we must focus on preventing the harms. And the way to do that is with light.

Another example? Surveilling students: Big Teacher is Watching: How AI Spyware took over schools: Especially in the wake of online learning during the pandemic quarantine, a web app called GoGuardian increasingly tracks what students do online, not just at school, but at home as well: "For kids that means their every keystroke, click and search is recorded and analyzed..." Educators can view students' web search histories, know if a kid is playing a video game, watching Netflix or Youtube - or especially viewing porn. Some programs also monitor for potential signs of emotional distress among the students. Many of these machine learning algorithms process nearly everything that students do online, even outside of school hours, and some of these companies sell student data.

And again, if you focus on accountability that might prevent harms, then you may do some good. Banning this simply won't happen.

The latest controversial weapon against theft: What happens when individuals use bluetooth tracking technology - such as Apple's AirTag - to track down stolen items, such as gaming systems, laptops, bicycles, scooters... and, especially cars? Such products are "testing the limits of how far people will go to get back their stolen property and what they consider justice."

== Increased powers of vision ==

See: “From Macy’s to Ace Hardware, facial recognition is already everywhere: Facial recognition is popping up at our favorite stores, but customers are largely unaware.” And whatever is loose in the commercial world, you can be sure elites of all kinds – bad and good – have got it.

The latest: a winged microchip the size of a grain of sand - swarms spread by the wind could be used to monitor the environment - or for civilian surveillance.

It's called Brin's Corrollary to Moore's Law: The cameras get smaller, faster, better, cheaper, more moble and vastly more numerous at a far greater pace than Moore's Law. This has huge implications, by the way, regarding so-called UFOs. But ever more (or moore) so, it means we all will be seen. But sousveillance could make a world where we catch any snoops and watchers and effectively shout "MYOB!"  (Mind your own business.)

And it goes on. Take this headline from The Guardian: Huge data leak shatters the lie that the innocent need not fear surveillance

On and on, it’s always the same. Our paladins and pundit defenders of freedom and privacy point at event after event that appear to portend a loss of both… and they are utterly correct to fretfully worry about looming technologies of surveillance, which could genuinely lead to the control-by-telescreen that Orwell chillingly portrayed! Yes, technologies like those Snowden revealed, or the latest “Pegasus” Israeli spy program that allowed agencies around the world to listen in on iPhones, or Moscow promulgated ransomware, or ubiquitous, unmonitored state face-recognition, could very well be part of the path to that hellscape… 

...though I think the “social credit” systems established by some authoritarian regimes are even more insidious and dangerous, siccing neighbors upon neighbors. 

So why am I shrugging about this latest furor? Because it’s always the same thing: screams of outrage followed by calls for impractical and futile "solutions." Ever since around 1994, the same clade of worriers - from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the ACLU (join them both! Your dues will help!) are spot-on in reporting the latest travesty… 

...and maybe 5% right re: HOW to respond to it.... 

... and 95%+ just plain wrong, in demanding that technologies be 'outlawed' or that high level elites of law or government or wealth or criminality or despotism be somehow blinded. 

To those pointing at technologies and surveillance and shouting warnings, I say "yes! That could lead to Big Brother, so what's the plan?" To those who cry: "Ban it!" I always answer. “Um, how? Show me a moment in human history when elites have let themselves be blinded. Or when “Don’t look!” privacy laws did anything but (as Heinlein put it) Make the Spy Bugs Smaller.

Across 30 years denouncing and trying to ban technologies of vision - including face recognition - are there any such technologies that your shadow-seeking tactic ever stymied for long?

== A simple test ==

Again and again I have assigned the same experiment. Go to the nearest zoo's baboon enclosure. Climb inside with a pointed stick. Go right up to the biggest alpha baboon and stab out his eyes so he can't look at you!

 Here's a clue. He... won't... let... you. 

He will, on the other hand, grudgingly allow you to look back at him.

The same is true of all animals, let alone the alpha elites we hire to protect us. Any power of vision we try to deny them will instantly become the locus of paranoia and a desperate (and sometimes justified) felt need to bypass restrictions on their ability to see. All you are doing is driving any Good Guy elites into criminality. 

On the other hand, the last 250 years shows that we can seize and hold some powers of supervision and transparency and apply then to elites, the innovation responsible for all our current freedom and - yes - privacy.

Imperfectly? Then make that the focus of our activism! And yes, there are dozens of ways to do that in The Transparent Society.

I say this not out of complacency. I fear Big Brother more than almost any of you do! And that is why my prescriptions are less about raging futilely at the next example of elite spying and the next, and the next forever… 

... and more based upon things that have actually worked at creating this rare island of relative freedom and privacy across humanity’s dismal history.

The method that works - assertively stripping elites of their own shadows, instead of absurdly trying to hide in our own - should be obvious to our paladins… 

...but apparently it is so counter-intuitive that they never, ever grasp it, no matter how many times their screams of "Shadows! Give us shadows!" utterly fail. They always, always fail.

Yet, still, they reflexively rail against light (the only tool that ever preserved freedom), calling for bans on things that cannot be banned, succeeding only in clouding the vision of those elites who are on our side, while empowering those bent on re-establishing 6000 years of feudalism.


talk I gave for the Foresight Institute on transparency, reciprocal accountability and pyramidal vs diamond-shaped societies is well-summarized here.

And, here's an interesting article from Edge re: "reciprocity altruism" and prisoner's dilemma.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Advice to New Writers of SF - wisdom for ambitious authors!

First, a reminder that good books make great gifts. But of special interest may be great deals this week. 

Okay then, I’ve been urged to share some of my “standard advice for rising authors” in honor of those who recently spent a month scrawling a novel during NaNoWriMo. I’ve been sending bright would-be writers these tips a lot, lately, while mentoring bright up-comers for my “Out of Time” series of short novels for teens and young adults. But it seems churlish not to just step up and offer this as a gift... albeit perhaps a grating one! Well, after all... CITOKATE!**

So here goes:

The "Advice to New Writers of SF" packet from David Brin

This is a ‘canned’ general essay about tricks and skills of writing - not an instruction manual! More a set of ‘wisdom chunks' about some of the most common problems that trip up would-be authors. Many have have said it proved useful in their writers’ journey. You can find more for writers in my article: A Long Lonely Road: Advice for New Writers.

Naturally, it’s terrific that you are writing and I do want to offer encouragement! Still, there is good news and bad news in this modern era. The good: there are so many new ways to get heard, or read, or published that any persistent person can get ‘out there.’  Talent and good ideas will see the light of day!  

The bad news? it’s now so easy to get "published," bypassing traditional channels, that millions get to convince themselves "I am a published author!" without passing through the old grinding mill, in which my generation honed our skills by dint of relentless workshopping, criticism, rejection, revision and pain. 

Alas, fiction writing is a complex art that involves a lot of tradecraft... as it would if you took up landscape painting or silver smithing. It is insufficient simply to have ideas or to be skilled at nonfiction-prose. Nor does a lifetime of reading stories prepare you to write them, alas! 

Storytelling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader). This means that extensive workshopping and skill-building are as important today as they were 30 years ago.  And for that, you need to do one of the most difficult-but-rewarding things a mature human can do – relish and seek criticism.

This is not meant to be discouraging!  In fact I am appending (below) a slug of 'generic advice'... much of it probably already below your level! Still, some items may not be. In fact, many published authors have found these insights helpful. I hope you will. But either way, do persevere.

Again, let me point you to an "advice article" that I've posted online, containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I've been sent across 20 years.    

I can also offer a general site containing advice bits from other top writers.  I especially recommend the short how-to books of my colleague, the great and mighty hard SF author Nancy Kress, linked down below. 

Then there is my advice video: So You Want to Write!

But let’s get started on this list of specific examples: things that (alas) even very talented neo-authors do, all too often.

== The biggest problem ==


Skills at rapid-opening, point-of-view, showing-not-telling, action, evading passive-voice and so on are achieved by studied workshopping -- and as in most arts, the whole thing is predicated upon ineffable things like talent, e.g. an ear for dialogue that only some people have. Indeed, point-of-view is so hard that half of would be writers never "get" it, no matter how many years they put in.

* By far the most important pages are the first ones, when you hook the reader. And you need a great first paragraph to get them to read the first page. Starting with the Pov’s (Point of View character’s) name is certainly okay… even Heinlein did it now and then. (though just the first name suffices; leave the last name for later.) Still, it is often much better to start with an italicized internal thought, or an ironic observation, or spoken words or actions. See my posting: Forty Fabulous First Lines of Science Fiction & Fantasy.

* Reiterating that key point: POV (point of view) is among the hardest things for most new writers to master.  It gives your characters a “voice,” and presence and offers the reader a sense of vesting in the protagonist’s feelings and needs and will. This is all ruined by authorial data-dumps that make you feel lectured-to by a narrator!  It's better to reveal info as efficiently as possible via conversation, action and the point of view character's internal thoughts. Yes, you have a lot of information to deliver! You want the reader to know all about your precious character and world and situation, I get it. But be patient and tell as little of that as you can get away with, while hooking the reader's curiosity to learn more.

One great way to break the bad habit of narrator dumps is to develop visceral discomfort with three words: ‘were,’ 'was,’ and especially ‘had.' 

Oh, sure —  “had”, “were” and “was” are permitted. They are even sometimes necessary!  But you should find each use regrettable. Each time should cause a wee bit of pain! Because ‘had’ – and to a lesser extent “was” — often indicate that the narrator, instead of the point of view character (or pov) is dumping or explaining, instead of showing.  

If you look at my books, you'll find I include lots of ideas and background of past events, but I pace them in with movement, action, conversation and internal thoughts. 

Seriously. right now go to your draft and do a global search for ‘had.’  (And the even-worse apostrophe-d -- 'd -- ick!). Then global-search "was." Do the pages light up?  Now do the same thing with your favorite novels, by authors you admire. I think you'll get the point.

Example illustrating many of the points above ==

Here’s an excerpt - the opening line for a novel that someone sent to me, asking for advice:


Captain Kara Krakin hated the noise and confusion of crowds, yet now she was stuck on crowd control in a busy tunnel-street of Deep New Delhi while her patrol ship was in spacedock for repairs.  She'd joined Terra Space Force to get away from Earth cities, and the effect of crowds on her magneto-psi sense.  She'd loved every minute of her month of relative quiet on pirate patrol in the asteroids. 

Notice especially the telltale narrator dump cues of "had" and "was" and "were" and “‘d”. 

Were you vexed to see the word 'patrol' repeated in a single paragraph? Repeatitis is a far lesser sin. Still, many readers dislike it.

Okay, let’s see if we can convey all the same information (and more from later paragraphs) more dynamically by removing any presence of the narrating author. 

Try this instead:

Damn I hate crowd control duty.       

    Over the tunnel noise and throng confusion of Deep New Delhi, Kara could barely hear her sergeant growl in agreement, as if reading her mind. 

    “How long till the ship is fixed cap? I didn’t join TSF for this shit.”  

    Of course it was a coincidence – Gomez didn’t have her magneto-psi sense.

    “Belay that,” She snapped. “Well be back out there on comfy pirate patrol in no time.”

Do you see how I dumped in far more information via internal (italicized) thoughts, sensory input and conversation, without once using “had” or even “was”? Now throw in some action… someone in the crowd throws something, and you’ve started rolling along, supplying lots of background info without an intruding narrator dump! 

Again (because these lessons only sink in from repetition) do a global search of your MS for "had" and "was" and "were." Every single instance should prompt: "Can I tell this another way? Or even NOT tell it, or let that info float in, later?" Try it. You'll write better stuff.

== Generic advice blips ==

* As noted, many readers hate “repeatitis” where a word gets repeated a lot. English is so rich with synonyms and alternate ways of saying the same thing, that you can usually avoid it, unless repetition is a deliberate poetical device. 

This stricture has no strong reason for it, and indeed, authors like Hemingway violated it a lot. But most professionals cater to this common reader whim. And hence, you’ll pick up a habit of minimizing even too many close repeats of “the.”

* Prologues can be nice, if short. But often they serve as crutches.

*  Find a dozen openings of novels you greatly admire and RE-TYPE THE FIRST COUPLE OF PAGES to see how that author did it!  Just re-reading those pages will not work!  I guarantee you will only understand how those authors did it if you retype the opening scene, passing the words through your fingers.  

And you’ll grasp that establishing POV early while minimizing data dumping is the hardest thing for neos to learn, yet absolutely essential. No matter how wonderful your ideas are, they are useless unless you master how to hook.

Talk this over with colleagues.  Read aloud together and critique the first 5 paragraphs of lots of writers. Do nothing else in your workshop, till you all understand how to establish both the scene/situation and POV laced into conversation, action and internal thoughts.

* Finally, there are many other sources of good writing wisdom! One of the best is by my friend and colleague and ought-to-be-Grand Master of SF Nancy Kress, who details how you can create a main character readers won't forget and plant essential information about a character's past into a story? I cannot recommend this one too highly!  See Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint.

Oh, there’s so much more that I discuss when teaching workshops. General skills and tricks specific to science fiction. Like why you should make your first novel a murder mystery! (I did.)

Alas, though, that’s all I have time for. Still, I hope it’s been useful. Remember to read carefully my “advice article”, where there are links to the advice missives by many other successful authors… and some disagree with me on every point raised here!

Above all keep at it!  That’s the key to success, even more important than “seek feedback!”




**CITOKATE = Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error.

And yes, I talk about this both in The Transparent Society and in my latest nonfiction tome VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.

And note, I don't use Patreon... so... buy books? ;-). ...  and pay forward.