The power of fiction to shape culture

May 31, 2012 In The News, Pop Culture, Writing Comments (0) 98

Over at ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg reflects on Paul Krugman’s confession that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation set him on the path toward economics.

From Rosenberg:

“Fiction is about defining the outer limits of possibility: you show a kid a world where economists can shape the fate of humanity, and he’ll embrace realistic possibilities for social science he might never have been attracted to in the first place.”

As someone who’s become more and more of a policy wonk, the thing that continues to pull me back toward fiction (aside from entertainment value) is its immense power to make statements about issues, society, and culture – much greater, I think, than non-fiction. Non-fiction is always somewhat bound by its real-life subject. It’s about something that happened, in a certain place and to certain people. Fiction, by drawing and integrating bits and pieces from the collective conscious, can say much more – though one must, of course, avoid the urge to treat fiction as straw-man puppet theater [See: Raynd, Ayn].

For those unfamiliar with the book, Foundation is a bit unconventional in that it follows the multi-century recorded legacy of Hari Seldon, a “psychohistorian” who can predict social history with astonishing accuracy, and leaves his instructions for future humanity in an enormous space-vault that opens every couple of generations. If this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because popular urban legend attributes this feat of wisdom to Walt Disney.

Here’s Krugman:

“I read Foundation back when I was in high school, when I was a teenager, and thought about the psychohistorians, who save galactic civilization through their understanding of the laws of society, and said “I want to be one of those guys.” And economics was as close as I could get.”

What strikes me, in light of the novel I’m writing now, is that Krugman essentially wanted to be a super-hero. He just found a viable path, while the other kids were pretending to be the Human Torch. This makes Rosenberg’s assertion about “embracing realistic possibilities for social science” even more interesting.

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In which my drinking becomes an issue.

May 30, 2012 In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 60

That’s me there in Philadelphia Weekly‘s Philly Beer Week issue, well-known beer aficionado that I am. A co-worker referred me to them a couple of weeks back. At the time I didn’t realize the kind of company I’d be keeping. It’s humbling. Maybe I should have mentioned that I’m also an author.

I deliberately left Doogie Horner in there, by the way, because he’s a very funny comedian and a friend in a six-degrees-of-Chip-Chantry kind of way, and because I greatly enjoy his blog.

I await my free case of Yards Beer.

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In dreams.

May 30, 2012 Writing Comments (0) 81

I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old (maybe younger), but last night was the first time I’ve ever dreamt a solution to a piece I’m stuck on. It was so good I got up at 5 AM, fetched the laptop, and wrote it all out.

I’ll share the dream, which was a telepathic, shape-shifting cockpit in a spacecraft that adjusted the layout of controls and displays to suit the pilot’s intuition. That seemed like the greatest idea ever from the time I woke up for the entire half hour or so that I was writing it out. It was only afterward that I realized it didn’t fit the novel’s tone or setting one bit. It’s not a terrible idea in general, but it doesn’t work in this story.

The good news is I spent another hour and a half hacking out a new and improved version, and I may have finally pushed through this chapter rewrite that’s been dogging me for months. If the section where the narrator sits alone on the ship’s bridge and remembers his childhood pretending to fly spaceships survives to the final version, you blog readers will know it originated with my dreams on May 30, 2012.

I’m not usually a morning writer. I write in the evenings and late at night, and save the mornings for the snooze button. I stole another hour of sleep from 7 to 8, but I still feel like a zombie.

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Mark and Ben

May 17, 2012 Artwork Comments (0) 97

Years ago I had this idea for a webcomic that would feature Mark Twain and Ben Franklin. Not in any historical context, mind you, just as ordinary comic strip characters. Maybe it would work in other historical figures also. I got about this many sketches done before I remembered that I’m not a cartoonist. Who knows, maybe some day.

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Two chapters.

May 15, 2012 Writing Comments (0) 80

Well, two chapters and some miscellaneous odds and ends.

That’s all that stands between me and a completed first draft of the novel I’ve been writing for three years. Why does it feel so far way?

This is one of those things non-writers often don’t understand. I finished “writing” the first draft months ago. Since then I’ve been “revising,” which also encompasses a good bit of rewriting. As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m a fan of the clay sculpture mode of writing, wherein the first draft is (metaphorically) throwing a bunch of raw material onto an armature, and ending up with something that resembles a super-ugly, messy version of the finished product.

On review of that initial messy lump, shortly after congratulating myself on a finished first draft, I realized what I had was unreadable. Some chapters appeared twice, in two different forms. Vital plot details were revealed in three places, or sometimes not at all. Whole sections had been skipped, and I never returned to fill in the blanks. I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t even worth passing this mess along to test readers – their only comments would be things I already knew myself. Things like, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

So it was back to rewriting, which I initially aimed to complete by December 31, 2011. Then January 31. Then April 30. Now, I really believe I can realistically finish by May 31. But first, there’s those two damn chapters. Continue Reading

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Joel Ward is not his Twitter critics

May 8, 2012 Hockey, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 88

I had a very brief back-and-forth tonight with Greg Wyshynski from Puck Daddy, but as sometimes happens I had to come here to explain myself in a bit more detail. To clarify, my complaint is not with Greg himself or with Puck Daddy specifically. It’s with the hockey media in general, but since I know Greg is accessible on Twitter, I went to him to voice my concern.

As you may already have heard, Joel Ward’s game-winning goal for the Washington Capitals, eliminating the Boston Bruins in a dramatic seventh-game overtime, resulted in a slew of hideous racist reactions on Twitter. This might have made national news on its own, but particularly coming on the heels of the horrible racist reactions to The Hunger Games film and the heavily social-media-driven controversy surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, it was justifiable to afford it coverage. The rapid-response condemnations from both the Bruins and the Capitals were excellent, if a bit of a no-brainer. Ward himself had a very level-headed reaction to questions I’m sure he never wanted to have to answer. At Puck Daddy, Harrison Mooney, himself a person of color, penned an excellent response that went beyond the dismissive and oversimplified idea that “race shouldn’t matter,” and called out those who were ready to blame the whole thing on the Bruins fans, as if racism in hockey were endemic to a particular city or fan base.

None of this raised my hackles. Racism in hockey is an issue barely beneath the surface. The NHL has advanced a bit, I guess – there are now almost enough active NHL players of black or African descent as there are teams – but the issue is still present, and worth discussing. When the hero of a game seven overtime is assailed with racial epithets on a major social network, that’s noteworthy.

What concerns me is that those racist tweets now come up every time Joel Ward is mentioned. Tonight, it was Harrison Mooney who felt hate-tweets merited mention in his write-up of the Rangers’ overtime win, in which Ward took the four-minute double minor on which the Rangers scored their game-tying and game-winning goals. I’m not accusing Mooney, or any of the other reporters who made the same decision, of having an agenda — far from it — but I’m concerned about the unintended consequences when idiots on Twitter keep working their way into the story. Continue Reading

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Sorry for the neglect

May 8, 2012 Hockey, Writing Comments (0) 142

I wish I could say it’s because I’m buckled down and writing, but honestly it’s mostly the NHL playoffs. For productivity, I’m better off when the Rangers miss the playoffs.

I am writing, though. Painfully close to finishing the novel I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. I was originally hoping to finish it by December 31, 2011. Then it was January 31, then April 30. Now I’m aiming for May 31. May the gods of writing and Henrik Lundqvist will it so.

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