SF Parade

All you treckies and star war fans and fantasy heads, be on Galiano Island this coming Saturday 30 July at 10:00 at Madrona Drive (near the ferry) and join the Fiesta parade. The library denizens will be there and so will a hedge wizard or two.
So work up a costume of your alt-universal alter ego and come on out.


Sci Fi Parade

ufo_2387810bAll you Trekkie and Star War fans out there, and those of you who know about Babylon Five or the Lord of the Rings or….

On Galiano, the Lion’s Fiesta parade is open to just about anyone who wants to join the tail end. So, all of you who are itching to costume up and roll…join it. flash your own dragon’s tail. Times and the date…? I’ll let you know as soon as the Active Page comes out. I’m going to walk the walk as a…. that’s for you to find out; probably some metaphysical manifestation from the 84th dimension. Walking down the road gibbering and dripping slime. Anyone got a good lead on slime? Preferably florescent purple. Or maybe a gray wizard’s robe and a pointy hat?

This invite is not an official invite from the Lions; SF participation in the parade is basically by the way of crashing the party, totally ad hoc and just for the fun of it.

All Stories Are What If Stories

The Galiano Library Display Case13432200_1205256549514384_2370017897169400472_n

An Opinionated Argument
The reason I chose Speculative Fiction rather than only Science Fiction for the Galiano SF writing Contest, 2016 was to show that any story fits somewhere on a two dimensional continuum that runs between what is normally called literature, literary fiction, or just fiction and then on through the many different genres that branch out to every side. The thing to remember is that categories are conveniences and not absolutes.

That which is purely fiction–if any such thing exists–is said to attempt realism. But the term ‘Realism’ is a squiffy descriptor for mainstream fiction. The ‘real’ is what demonstrably exists. How can any writing demonstrate the real? Books that described the real would take as long as a life to read. At best, fiction can only allude to the real. Realism really only means a view of reality as interpreted by one limited mind, the author’s.

Genre fiction departs from the necessity of alluding to the real. Instead, genre fiction will step slowly away from a pretense of the real in favour of the plausibly real, or (drifting yet further away) to the hopefully real, and even further to the not very real at all but to the just plain fun or horrible or what have you.

The genre, Science Fiction, requires a base of real or plausible science such that if the science was removed the story would not hold together. More importantly the story must be about the science.

Speculative Fiction that uses science at its core (other things are possible such as apocalypse) still needs the science (or disaster) as an essential base, but the story does not have to be about the science itself. In this case the science needs only to moderate the physical, ethical and emotional development of the protagonists through the story. In this sense, the science cannot be removed from the story, but science as science is not what the story is centrally about.

This all said, there is no fine dividing line between these three above types. The categories are not digital they are analog.

Compare Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot*, Carl Sagan’s Contact* and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl*. These three stories place their characters in different kinds of relationships to the science.

I, Robot is all about the science (the psychology of Robots) with characters thrown in as an afterthought because without characters there couldn’t be a story. I,Robot is simply about how robots often don’t follow the Three Laws of Robotics.

Contact is all about the science (we get long detailed passages of heavy possible physics). The characters’ whole lives are deeply moved by the science. But the story is still about the science, specifically about how we should be in awe of the universe through our scientific knowledge.

The Windup Girl is about real seeming characters who are moved about physically, ethically and emotionally by the science of that day. The science (GMOs) cannot be removed but the story is about the characters. This story is still science fiction, but it is the closest of the three to being only speculative fiction.

None of these stories can exist without the science, and yet they all approach the story telling in different ways for different purposes. The difference in these three approaches are subtle, but because of the difference, different audiences will be attracted. If you read one of these three books, or any other SF book, do not think that they represent all the types of SF that are out there.

Speculative Fiction is not only Science Fiction. Confusingly Science Fiction is contained in Speculative Fiction, but Speculative Fiction encompasses a broader field of genres. But in each case, a story that can be categorized as Speculative Fiction must take something imaginative that does not exist in reality and make that imaginary thing plausible enough that we willingly suspend disbelief for the duration of our read. If that imaginary thing is taken out of the story and that story still survives, then the story is not Speculative Fiction but something like Jane Austin with Zombies/Vampires/Werewolves, which might be lots of fun but is not SF.

All stories are what if stories. Some of them pretend to be about reality and are given the name fiction or literature. What if stories that don’t pretend to be about actually reality are called by some form of SF. Hopefully, all types of literature stretch our minds and do not merely reinforce out prejudices.

* These three stories are being defended in Galiano Reads…on An Island Far Far Away. See Galiano Library’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/galianolibrary/?fref=tsfor more interesting things about Library events. Check out my paintings, a little lower on their feed. Or through the link on the side bar.

A Little Zen Help With Perfectionism

My friend peter posted this today and I thought it might do some good for those of us mired in perfectionism.

“Facing Roadblocks

When poet William Stafford (1914-1993) was asked how his daily practice of writing one poem a day could possibly produce quality poetry of high standards, he replied: “I lower my standards.” During last week’s retreat, Zen Teacher Hogen Bays offered similar advice, “When the roadblocks are too daunting and you feel stuck, lower your expectations and go on from there.” My visceral response was one of relief. You mean it’s OK not to aim for perfection? I felt unburdened of a life-time obsession with “getting it right” and “doing more.” Anything less, I’d always thought, would mean being a slacker. Phew!”

Find Peter’s blog

How Not to Write #2 – The In-joke.

I was reading a free e-book: it was impenetrable. Couldn’t understand a single thing the writer was trying to say. Oh, I did get the setting: a universe with few people in it. I also understood that the author’s characters were playing a game. There was a listing of the game’s rules, but I suspect the game was never tested out by the author. The game made no sense to me. Maybe the rules were just badly described. But were the rules important to the story, and if they were, is it a good idea to base a story on rules? And the author’s tone of voice was most irritating, like listening to someone tell an elaborate joke that only the in-crowd could understand; it was like having someone shouting at you, “I know something you don’t know.”

This reader failed to understand the joke; there wasn’t enough relevant information, explanation, description, characterization, motivation—we don’t want too much, but we want enough. It is quite possible that after the first thirty pages or so things might have become clear, pellucid even, but my time is precious to me and I want the story to start in the first sentence, and I want to be intrigued, even if the story is not yet fully explained: something must ring true, immediately. If one wants to capture a reader’s attention, and leave him or her wanting more, then one had better learn all the skills of the art and craft of writing.

What I perceived as the book’s faults can probably be put down to the author’s inability to imagine the reader’s response. Even the writer’s tone was likely only an accidental effect that arose from the pleasure he/she had at getting something down on the page: he/she had a first draft, and in neophyte excitement, mistook the draft for a finished piece. And the authors’ excitement got garbled into a seeming of smugness by the author’s lack of control over word usage, sentence construction, and an inability to read the piece critically.

Being a beginner is not a problem, but thinking you are not a beginner is. Right now I am reading everything I can get my hands on about writing and reading. This is something I learned from martial arts: the beginner’s mind. Come at everything you do as if you are empty, no preconceived ideas. I don’t mean be clumsy, I mean be open to seeing ones own limitations and strengths. Get help from a teacher. For a writer that means get a critic. If you have trouble remaining calm, objective, in the face of criticism, don’t ask a friend—if you want to keep that friend—they’ll probably just lie to you. And if you can’t sell an e-book, if you have to give it away, then either readers can’t stay with your story because you haven’t been critical enough, or you haven’t done enough marketing. But that’s another story.

The Morning Fawn

I live with my true love on an island in the Salish Sea. In the summers, the weather favours us with months of warm sunshine. But at the same time, we are also blessed—or cursed, depending on your viewpoint—with a flood of needy tourists from two nearby cities. Many locals complain about these visitors; on the hottest days, tourists can outnumber islanders by three to one. But the entrepreneurial sector of the island’s population waits all year-long for this summer inundation. To cover a year’s worth of overhead, businesses need three or four months of heavy sales, and they only get them when there is a good influx of visitors. Tourists are not loved on the island; they are desired.

The most often voiced complaint about tourists is that they are forever stopping in the middle of the road to gawk at deer. When you are speeding down the narrow, island roads, late as always for your doctor’s appointment, or for your meeting with a necessary client to go over the design for their kitchen cabinets, the last thing you need is an off-island car, stopped at an angle across the centre line, filled with sightseers blissed-out on seeing a tiny, spotted bambi walking tentatively across the road. A few islanders who have found themselves stuck behind such a vehicle have been known to honk their horns loudly, a tactic which invariably frightens the deer and makes it leap into the underbrush. How sad for the visitors, but it does make them drive on.

I feel sorry for tourists who come to the island, in the summer, for their yearly dose of wilderness; in the city they see so little of nature that they get all excited by something as mundane as a deer. Whenever I find myself sitting behind a stationary car full of visitors, I grit my teeth and wait. I’ve worked with a lot of tourists, and to my way of thinking, city folk can use some authentic country experience to teach them how to calm down, get less frantic, notice things; and if I have to practice some of that laid-back, stress-reduced lifestyle that islanders are so famous for, then so be it.

Summer is the favoured vacation time; the trouble is that in the warm months, one is lucky if one sees anything of the island’s abundant fauna other than the deer. Maybe a raccoon or two. A flicker. A few robins. The crows. And we can’t forget the sea gulls. But all these creatures, except for the flicker, are city folk themselves. All the other animals are busy hiding from the summer onslaught of vacationing humanity.

Some islanders would have it that deer are a hazard to life, health, and happiness, and should thereby be cleared out, shot, eaten. At the least expected moment, a deer might jump out in front of a vehicle and smash themselves up—along with the vehicle’s front grill and hood. On the other hand, a deer struck dead by your own automobile is a freezer full of winter meat. For myself, I have slowed down from my former rushed lifestyle. Why not live at deer speed while on the road? Why should there be anywhere that I have to get to in a hurry?: isn’t it simpler to leave sooner. The result of my change of pace is that while I have had to brake suddenly a time or two for a deer, I have no deer meat in my freezer.

I had this go-slow lesson drilled home one day, early in the morning, while driving to work. I was reciting poetry from memory. The island once held a yearly poetry festival. Sometimes off-island poets came to read, but mostly the line up was a string of local writers. And I was one of them. I was working up a selection from one of my long-winded early efforts at epic obfuscation and I had slowed down to negotiate Ruby’s corner—the one where the road goes down a quick drop to a sharp, blind, left-hand turn. There is a large rock situated at the bottom of the slope in exactly the right place; if you lost control of your car, you would hit the rock, total your vehicle, and be saved from dropping off a steep embankment into the sea.

All the clearances are tight on Ruby’s corner; the lanes are non-standard, narrow. I’ve never heard of any head-on collisions happening there, but I have had some close calls. Those headed up-hill around the corner have to negotiate a deep ditch on the right hand side, and as they often want to work up a little momentum to help get them up the grade, they often careen, accidentally, over the centre line. So I was being extra careful, doing about 5 kilometres an hour, when a deer broke cover and leaped immediately in front of my car. I slammed my foot down hard on the brake pedal. The deer disappeared under the front fender. My heart was thumping rather dangerously, but I poked my head out the window, fully prepared to see all of Armageddon stretched out bloody on the road side.

The deer was lying beside the car, on its back. Its spine curved into a comma-like shape. Its legs were sticking up in the air, quivering. I was close enough to watch its eyes roll up into its head far enough that I could only see the whites. Its tongue was hanging out of its mouth. But as I opened the door to inspect the damage I had caused, the deer leaped to its feet, did a momentary, spastic dance, then dashed off into the bush.

Back in the car, I pulled over on the side of the road and wrote down the following poem. I read it at the festival that weekend.


Reciting lines of poetry, at six o’clock this morning,
on my way to work, while navigating Ruby’s corner;
a fawn took a dreadful leap out from the tangled brambles,
struck the centre of my hood, then fell beneath the wheels.

I stopped my car, I swear, before the beast
had thudded to the ground. And then a silence:
a roaring multitude of accusations in my head,
a second’s worth of hot damnation,
a pendent wire extending without end.

But then the deer jumped sideways on the road
(I don’t know how it fought out from under),
and did a twitching prance, its last dance with the gods,
then collapsed upon the asphalt, it’s eyes gone grey in shock.
It lay there, slanted on it’s back, it’s four legs
stiff and straight, held up awkward off the roadbed.

All this happened long before my hand
had even reached the handle of the door.
My arty temperament, or so I thought,
had slain the beast with inattention.
You know the feeling when you hang suspended,
not yet having felt a thing, waiting for the universe
to declare itself with irrevocable sweet sting.

But then, my small lacuna, protracted in dismay,
was punctuated by the fawn, which bounded up,
and dashing through the brambles, made good its getaway.
I imagined that the deer had only run to die alone.
It might have grazed my garden years on down the road.

And that, for good reason, was the last poem I ever wrote.