Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Multiculturalism in the Monster Kingdom: Part I

Race, Religion, and Culture in Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Simulator

This two-part informal essay was written to be one post, but it wound up far too long, so I have  broken it into two parts. This first part will simply explain the mechanics of the computer games I will discuss, and why they appealed to me; if you are familiar with both Majesty and Majesty 2, I imagine you could skip right to Part II, though it might be good for you to read this one if you want to know how I am framing them for discussion.

Paradox Interactive’s Majesty 2 is the sequel to Cyberlore’s Majesty: the Fantasy Kingdom Simulator; the first Majesty was my favourite game for most of my life and still ranks in at least the top three. Both games are real-time strategy games (RTSs), putting you in the role of the Sovereign of a kingdom in a fantasy world called Ardania. You can order the construction of buildings and the research of improved technology. You can recruit heroes to defend your kingdom and enforce your decrees. You can set tax and building repair policies. You can commission spells from local temples and wizard’s guilds. As Sovereign, you attempt to complete quest, which usually involves building up a settlement, earning gold, and, invariably, trying to rout out the enemy monsters and defend your village against dragons, ratmen, goblin hordes, and the like.

What sets the Majesty games apart from other RTSs, however, is that you cannot directly control your heroes; instead, you can try to motivate their behaviour using reward flags (in the original, only Attack and Explore flags; the sequel adds Defend and Avoid flags), providing them with equipment, and constructing specific buildings which promote certain behaviours. You also carefully choose which heroes to recruit: Warriors tend to be stalwart and aggressive; Rogues are cowardly but highly motivated by gold, and also tend to steal from you; Rangers prefer to explore above all else and will; Paladins are stubborn and tend to take on foes well out of their league. (If you can’t tell, the franchise draws heavily from D&D.) These quirky, flawed, endearingly predictable, and frustratingly autonomous heroes are the heart of the game; the storylines leave much to be desired, but that’s usually fine given the minor dramatics your heroes will be getting into spontaneously.

In the original Majesty, there were three non-human races[1] you could recruit—elves, dwarves, and gnomes—but since elves and dwarves shared a mutual enmity, and neither of them cared for gnomes, you would have to choose only one. Which you chose would have an effect on your whole settlement, since if you chose dwarves, you could then defend your settlement with much superior defense towers; if you chose elves, your economy would grow but gambling halls and elven “lounges” (thinly veiled brothels) would pop up; and if you chose gnomes, slums would appear. In a subtle but important way, which non-human race you chose would influence your settlement’s culture, both cosmetically (lots of blue-tiled roofs if you choose elves) and mechanically (everything will be in good repair if you choose the handy gnomes).

And there was more: you could build temples to the assorted deities of Ardania, but these gods (and their followers) had a complex set of alliances and rivalries which meant that by building certain temples, you prevent yourself from building some of the others. For example, if you build a Temple to Dauros, god of law and commerce, or a Temple to Agrela, goddess of life, you can no longer build a Temple to Fervus, god of chaos and nature, or a Temple to Krypta, goddess of death. Again, your selections have subtle impacts on the culture of your settlement, both in flavour and mechanics. For instance, if you go with Krypta and Fervus, your settlement will likely be swarming with packs of charmed vargs (wolves) and rats thanks to Fervus’s cultists, and protected by mobs of skeletons thanks to Krypta’s priestesses.

Majesty 2 did not keep these mutual exclusions; instead, it limited the number of Temples you can build, in order to keep the need to choose between them, and it programed rivalry and hostility into the characters’ own decisions: paladins will attack a friendly priestess’s skeleton bodyguards, for instance. In addition, you can assign your heroes to adventuring parties, which stay together until you re-assign the heroes to new parties; there is an art to putting together a successful party, and part of the fun is pairing up mutually antagonistic characters together. I do not know how I feel about the change: on the one hand, you do still need to be deliberate about which temples you build, and it is fun to make dwarves and elves go a-Viking together; on the other hand, you settlement does not gain the same unique culture depending on your choice of temple. I miss the sense of custom-building local character depending on your navigation of these alliances and rivalries. (I suppose, in a way, what I liked about this RTS is that it had an element of an RPG to it: you could customize your kingdom by your choice of temples and non-humans much as you can customize your character in an RPG by whatever choices such a game offered. Majesty 2 loses some of that.)

Enter the Monster Kingdom expansion. This expansion was, in a lot of ways, exactly the game I had been day-dreaming of for years, for the simple reason that it lets you play as the monsters: your heroes are goblins, ratmen, minotaurs, and liches, not humans, dwarves, elves, and gnomes. (It wasn’t quite the game I dreamt of, only because the cosmetic change between Majesty and Majesty 2 meant the goblins I could play as were not quite the same goblins as in the original game, the ratmen weren’t quite the same ratmen as in the original, and so on. But close enough.) But in some ways it was more than I had been hoping for, in that the narrative frame holding the expansion together was far more interesting than what I would have written.

I will deal with that in a second post.

[1] I have a lot of trouble with this use of “race” in fantasy fiction and gaming, but I’m going to keep using it because Majesty uses it. If I had my druthers, the word we’d use would be “species.”

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Sky Does Not Speak

Warning: unapologetic religion, of the Christian existentialist variety. You have been warned.

In his short essay “Pascal’s Sphere,” Jorge Luis Borges traces the history of the sphere from Xenophanes’s declaration that God was an eternal sphere to Plato’s insistence that the sphere is the most perfect shape, from Bruno’s description of the Copernican universe as an infinite sphere—its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere—and finally to Pascal’s very modern despair in such a view:

In that dejected century, the absolute space that inspired the hexameters of Lucretius, the absolute space that had been a liberation for Bruno was a labyrinth and an abyss for Pascal. He hated the universe and yearned to adore God, but God was less real to him than the hated universe. He lamented that the firmament did not speak; he compared our lives to the shipwrecked on a desert island. He felt the incessant weight of the physical world; he felt confusion, fear, and solitude; and he expressed it in other words: “Nature is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”
I do not know how accurate a description of Pascal this is; I do know that much of this description is fairly accurate when applied to me. I too yearn to adore God, but God is less real to me than the universe; I too consider our lives to be like those shipwrecked on a desert island; I too feel the incessant weight of the physical world, and respond with confusion, fear, and loneliness. I find myself alienated from that to which I declare allegiance, and I see this alienation—acknowledged or not—in all of us. A labyrinth and an abyss indeed.

But there is one way in which this description is inaccurate: I do not hate the world and I do not lament the silence of the firmament. Oh, there are many things about the world which I find deserving of hatred: the world is filled with limitless suffering, more than I can imagine or bear, and my scant incomplete knowledge of this unremitting suffering sits like a hole in my chest. But I cannot bring myself to hate the world, and its speechlessness in particular I find lovely. I look at the mountains piled above Vancouver, distant and stony; I look at the hummingbird flitting about my feeder, dependent on the sugarwater my neighbours and I provide but thoroughly indifferent to us; I look at the toiling ants on the pavement and the silverfish swimming across my bathroom floor, incapable of even perceiving me; and I am enchanted by them. Their indifference to me is the twin of my incomprehension of them, my inability to imagine myself in their place. They are wholly other to me, and in this they free me from my suffocating self-concern. In this they also remind me of the distance of other people, people with whom I am tempted to exaggerate my empathy and affinity. And they also remind me of God, the distance and self-sufficiency and ineffability of God. I am not sure why, but these reminders calm my soul. I bask in their otherness and at least feel connected, in this way, to the otherness of God. God may feel distant, but at least God's distance is near to me. The firmament does not speak, and for that I love it.

This is my reminder to myself: I can try to cross the silence of the sky, but I shall never truly know it; I can try to read the silence and the speech of friends and strangers, but I shall never fully understand them; I can reach out into the absence I perceive God to be, but I will never totally plumb those depths. And yet my failure to succeed perfectly does not encourage a failure to try. There is a beauty in trying.

The sky does not speak, and I shall listen.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

He Hath Ever But Slenderly Known Himself

From Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression:
It is arguably the case that depressed people have a more accurate view of the world around them than do nondepressed people. Those who perceive themselves to be not much liked are probably closer to the mark than those who believe that they enjoy universal love. A depressive may have better judgement than a healthy person. Studies have shown depressed and nondepressed people are equally good at answering abstract questions. When asked, however, about their control over an event, nondepressed people invariably believe themselves to have more control than they really have, and depressed people give an accurate assessment. In a study done with a video game, depressed people who played for half an hour knew just how many little monsters they had killed; the undepressed people guessed four to six times more than they had actually hit. Freud observed that the melancholic has "a keener eye for the truth than others who are not melancholic." Perfectly accurate understanding of the world and the self was not an evolutionary priority; it did not serve the purpose of species preservation. Too optimistic a view results in foolish risk-taking, but moderate optimism is a strong selective advantage. "Normal human thought and perception." wrote Shelley E. Taylor in her recent, startling Positive Illusions, "is marked not by accuracy but positive self-enhancing illusions about the self, the world, and the future. Moreover, these illusions appear actually to be adaptive, promoting rather than undermining mental health. . . . The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than do normal people . . . [they] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks." 
The fact of the matter is that existentialism is as true as depressiveness. Life is futile. We cannot know why we are here. Love is always imperfect. The isolation of bodily individuality can never be breached. No matter what you do on this earth, you will die. It is a selective advantage to be able to tolerate these things, and to go on--to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. [...] Depressives have seen the world too clearly, have lost the selective advantage of blindness. (433-434)
While I understand the research is not quite so clear as all that, and while depression is capable of speaking lies, it is also the unfortunate case that depression sometimes tells the truth. Those with depression know in their bones that their automatic negative thoughts are true, and part of the practice of therapy is to learn to shut those thoughts out, but there's an equivocation there: do you ignore the thoughts, or deny them? Because, if we're going to be honest, some of the negative thoughts are true; the person with depression is right, and they know it. This makes it so much harder to identify the negative thoughts which are just lies your depression is telling you.

The fall-back position, I guess, is interpretation; change the metric and you can change the answer. I can say for sure that positive self-talk works (sometimes), but it's hard not to believe that positive self-talk is a ritual of lying to yourself. Maybe mental health is constituted by having more rather than less productive delusions.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Postlude: Eternal Consequences

or, What Kind of Harm?

I see that I had planned to write another Moral Foundations post and had forgotten to do so! This is my attempt at recovering that fumbled intention. 

In the previous post of my Moral Foundations Series, I wrote, "If moral intuitions can be wrong (which is a truism these days), should we even be talking about Moral Foundations Theory? Shouldn't we be talking instead about deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics, moral nihilism, immoralism, divine command theory, or other logical bases for morality?" My proposed answer was that, on the one hand, there's an argument to be made that Moral Foundations make bad philosophy, but on the other hand, we cannot act morally without investments, and our Moral Foundations provide those investments.

 Ethical philosophy's role, then, might be to manage those investments. I wrote in "What Kind of Character is a Virtue Ethicist?", in my Good People and Going Wrong series, that telling me your moral philosophy (I discuss deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics) doesn't help me figure out what matters to you. If you say, "I am a deontologist," I don't know what you think your duties are. If you say, "I am a consequentialist," I don't know what goods you are trying to maximize and what harms you are trying to minimize (and for whom). If you say, "I am a virtue ethicist," I do not know what virtues you are trying to cultivate. Your moral structure might be clear, but I still don't know what your values are. What I wonder, then, is if the Moral Foundations provide those missing values.

That sounds great, but there's a problem. Some of the Moral Foundations lend themselves to certain moral philosophies better than others. Harm/care, for instance, seems to work much better with consequentialism than with deontology or virtue ethics. I suppose you could say, "I have a duty to provide care," or "I have a duty to do no harm," a sort of layman's Hippocratic Oath, but these are pretty heavily skewed towards consequentialism. Meanwhile, it seems very difficult to articulate loyalty or authority/respect in consequentialist terms: how would you maximize loyalty in a system? These lend themselves much more to deontology or, perhaps especially, virtue ethics. One of the reasons I've never declared for a particular moral philosophy is that none of them deal especially well with all three of harm/care, fairness, and freedom/oppression.

 The difficulty of expressing certain values in certain moral systems might explain why the deontologists I've known have often been social conservatives while the consequentialists have often been social progressives. But I actually wonder whether those social conservatives really are so deontological after all. A lot of Christians seem to be consequentialists in one respect: they care very much about the consequences their actions will have on the fate of their soul. So they might be divine-command flavoured deontologists or they might be virtue ethicists of Christlikeness, but for a lot of them, the eternal consequences matter; a long-game consequentialism is powering a short-game deontology (or virtue ethics). I must not lie, despite the consequences on this side of the grave (deontology), because to stray from God will have consequences on the far side of the grave (consequentialism). And the drive to proselytize is all about this! We have to save those souls from the fire (harm/care)! (Now certainly not all Christians are driven by afterlife concerns--I'm not, for example--but there is such a stereotype for a reason.)

This shows up particularly well in the purity/sanctity Foundation, I think. Purity binds together all three of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. Normally the moral or ritual laws which protect purity are deontological ones--pre-marital sex is defiling (for women and not for men, but that's another matter), and it does not matter whether the consequences of not having pre-marital sex are, let's say, the death of every living thing in a the neighbouring village. But, at the same time, the loss of purity is a consequence and constitutes damage to a person's virtue. (Indeed, I'm reading virtue ethics now as a very specialized kind of consequentialism, in that it has to do with the consequences actions have on your soul/identity/character.)

I don't think we're doomed to failure if we use moral philosophy as a structure which the Moral Foundations fill out, just because the results are sometimes difficult or make the structure look different; indeed, I've said over and over again that the content you plug into structures changes how those structures operate, and the structures into which you plug the content changes what that content means. The fact that some combinations will be clunky or will require retro-fitting is unsurprising if you look at it in the way I've discussed genres. What I think the exercise shows us is that consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, divine command theory, et al aren't so nicely separable after all. Oh, there are probably people who do distill their moral philosophies down (Kantain deontologists who eschew concerns about salvation, total utilitarians who do not care about how their hedons are distributed), but most of us aren't purebreeds. Most of us are left with the hard work of kludging together a mutt moral system which does justice to our values as best we can make it.

This is the last Moral Foundations Series post. The index is here: link.

Monday, 30 December 2013

13 of 2013

I've been clutched by the desire to write a year-in-review post and, being who I am, I'm listing media. (I'm departing from just books because I've started watching more tv shows and movies.)

TV Shows

1. Supernatural

I could have listed Game of Thrones or Andromeda, if I were simply choosing based on whether I had watched and enjoyed them; I think I've seen the first season of Game of Thrones three times now, and it remains one of the most compelling fantasy TV shows--or even fantasy movies--that I've seen so far, and while my enjoyment of Andromeda was more mixed, I thoroughly enjoyed both the overall idea of the show--a diplomatic version of the Pax Romana--and the characters Andromeda/Rommie and Trance Gemini (as characters and as thought experiments). But I've got to choose Supernatural. I might even mention Once Upon a Time, which was compelling at least in its repeated undercutting of the "happily ever after" idea and its surprising second season twist on Sleeping Beauty.

I have an appetite that only The X-Files has come close to really satisfying. I started to watch Supernatural in a half-hearted attempt to appease that appetite, and found that it was something worth watching all on its own. Those first few seasons were atmospheric in the particularly wonderful way of being their own atmosphere: the mix of classic rock, staticy radios, dive bars, abandoned buildings, and strangely filmic ghosts worked well together to make a feel which was distinct. That atmosphere faded out as the series went on, and Supernatural did become an inferior show, but I'd still say that other show it became was also worth watching, at least some of the time, because of its secondary characters. I, like everyone else, I think, got frustrated with the show's habit of killing off it's most interesting characters, sometimes even permanently, but I suppose the good thing about the Senecan death rate is that it prompted them to make more wonderful characters. The best summary I heard was this: "For a show that hated women, it had some of the best female characters."

Books (fiction)

2. The Golem and the Jinni

I've written about this already (link). But it really was wonderful--for me.

3. The Homeward Bounders, by Diana Wynne Jones

I've written about this one, too (link). It took me a while to work into it, and it struck me as bizarre that Diana Wynne Jones has two books with Middle Eastern (and fairly Orientalist) young girls who are the avatars/manifestations of divine beings and, therefore, have magical powers. (cf The Lives of Christopher Chant.) I liked both characters, though, and Homeward Bounders wound up being pretty excellent.

4. Paper Towns, by John Green

Paper Towns is one of those books for which I made bad decisions regarding bedtimes and schoolwork. I wouldn't say it's so fantastic as some people say it is, but its fairly transparent themes are ones that I think are important: our repeated failure to imagine other people as complexly as they deserve, the sorts of selfish motives which bungle our empathy, the foolishness of the idea that love can fix certain problems, the way some people's brokenness is close enough to hurt us but still too far from us to fix, the importance (or, anyway, omnipresence) of artistic creation. If you pick it up and start feeling uneasy about how much it looks like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl story, be assured that it doesn't end up that way. John Green has joked that the alternate title is The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.

5. The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

When I'm at my least charitable, I want to use this book as a litmus test to see if someone is worth my time or not: if someone finds the book annoying, they have failed it. The novel is an extended observation of an insufferable man's death, in which the man becomes more insufferable as he is in pain. But, for me, anyway, my irritation about this man came out the other side as compassion for him, and that seems to be the whole exercise of the book; that, and a commentary of the social norms of dying. Even the mere observation that something so un-social as dying has its norms is an observation that makes the book worth reading, in my opinion.

This quotation stuck with me: The awful, terrible act of dying was, he could see, reduced to those around him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing-room diffusing an unpleasant odour) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position.

6. The Collected Fictions of Jorge Louis Borges

I presume I have written enough about this (link).

Books (non-fiction)

7. Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton

I've written about this one already, too (link). I'll note, though, that the reason on this list was not that I enjoyed the book terribly much, nor that I couldn't put it down, nor that I found its main thesis compelling (the first two are untrue, and the third is true in a very limited and qualified sense). The reason it's on this list is because I've found its secondary (or even tertiary) ideas fruitful. The post I've written enumerates the most interesting and summarizable of those ideas.

8. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon

This encyclopedic treatment of depression is well worth reading for anyone who has depression; I don't think it especially pulled me out of depression, but it helped me understand depression, whatever that is worth. I suppose that other people who seek to understand depression would also find it helpful. This tome is simultaneously thorough and engaging, which may make up for its length.

One distressing thing about it: parts of the book led me to believe that there was something worth my time that I could wrest from my depression, something like a combination of compassion, empathy, and perspective, a sort of moral capability that was hard to develop otherwise. And then it told me that many people with depression fail to get this benefit, that they become morally cramped people, that the moral capability is something you still have to work for. That was disheartening; part of realizing that I'm not as good and moral as I'd like to be is wanting to be a better person, a generally good impulse, and it's distressing when that impulse is frustrated.

9. The Dynamic of Faith, by Paul Tillich

Since I just finished this book last week, it may be too soon to put it on the list. (That's why I haven't put Home on it, even though I found it tremendously good. Eve Tushnet's review of it is worth reading [link].) Further, I wasn't entirely convinced by Tillich's argument; too much of it derives from how he's chosen to define words, without any argument about why we should understand those words this way. But I think I can tentatively justify it's inclusion for a few reasons: in Tillich's "Protestant Principle," I found an articulation of why, precisely, I am compelled by Protestantism for which I myself hadn't been able to find the words; I found answers to particular questions about what faith is which might be useful in those arguments that sometimes happen about whether or not atheists have faith, what systems count as religions, etc.; and I was actually engaged enough by a book of theology that I overcame my cynicism about it. Maybe it'll be a gateway book; maybe from here I'll go on to somebody like Barth.


10. The Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is an absolutely wonderful movie. You'll encounter reviews of it saying that it romanticizes poverty; don't listen to them. The answer to that charge is either, "No, it really doesn't," or "Yes, and it ought to, and it must"; I'm not yet sure which it is. The film is about a little girl named Mudpuppy who lives in The Bathtub, the swamplands on the water side of a giant levee. For the first third of the film I was mainly in horror about what I perceived as the poor parenting Mudpuppy was receiving; by the second half of the film I found myself desperately in love with the screwed-up and misguided adults around her. (The transition time was maybe the most startling.) These are a people who can't trust the system trying to help them because that system has betrayed them so many times before, and as much as I understand the officials representing that system, I can't fault the people of the Bathtub for refusing that help, either.

But the movie is also about the mythology of childhood--not that childhood has become sort of a myth in North America, though that is also true, but the way certain children make myths out of their lives, are reliant on the strange and screwed-up and ignorant people around them for the resources they need to express their moral feelings. And in that sense, the on-going metaphors of the film--the flood, which is real, and the monstrous Aurochs, which Mudpuppy believes/imagines are stampeding towards them from the Antarctic--are very compelling.

A friend of mine said of the movie, "I learned so much about strength from an eight-year old."

11. The Fingersmith

I don't know what to say about this (or whether it ought to go here or go under TV Shows, since it's one of those two-part BBC mini-series). But I still feel like The Fingersmith edges out Catching Fire, which I almost put here, so I suppose I must account for it.

I can't really even say what it is I liked about it: I almost never go in for the whole "the character you thought was innocent was actually jaded/compromised in an unexpected way, and the character you thought was compromised was innocent in an unexpected way" schtick, maybe because the idea of innocence seems so weird to me, but here it worked surprisingly well. Perhaps it was the theme of reconciliation that caught my interest, and the compelling way that people hurt those they love for selfish and cowardly purposes. Who will you hurt in order to escape a life that is killing you morally? What harm will you do to save your soul--and, of course, can you save your soul by doing harm? I don't think The Fingersmith even begins to answer those questions, but at least it asks them.

It does becomes dangerously close to have the standard sorts of problems that depictions of same-sex relationships tend to have--the "love that can never be" theme, etc.--but I think that it does manage to dodge a few of them and it manages to hobble on despite the rest.

Short Fiction-ish

12. "A Collection of things I like in order", by Sunny Chan

I often think that including things written by people I know is cheating, but I'll do it anyway. I have almost nothing to say at all about this piece, except that it's fantastic and a must-read and all of that good stuff. If you've ever thought that there's nothing poetic about academia, then let this put that error to rest. (link)


13. Postmodern Jukebox

What's this, you say? Christian is putting music on a list like this? I almost thought he had no ears, he's so indifferent to music. Not so!, I say. I just don't talk about it much because I haven't the vocabulary.

There's something super-catchy about Postmodern Jukebox's songs. They do covers of pop-songs in the musical styles of the past (or the gauche present): a jazz "Thrift Shop," a "Just (Tap) Dance," a swing (?) "Gentleman." And, since the lead singer is female, their bluegrass cover of the terribly misogynistic "Blurred Lines" comes off in her voice as inspired by a common misreading Adrienne Rich.

I may not listen to Postmodern Jukebox as much as I listen to some other groups, but I'm nonetheless excited about what they do.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Writing the Stories I Want to Read

One of the pieces of writing advice I ignore the most is roughly this: "Don't worry about how people will receive your work. That kills creativity." I am terrible for worrying about reception. The worst. And it's not just particular readers; I want to please all readers (who I know). This poses a serious problem, because I know people who could probably never agree on a single book they both thought was tolerable, let alone likable. I'm stuck trying write something that both does and does not have strong romantic elements, has no emotional issues superfluous to the main plot but also has well-developed characters with interesting lives outside of the plot (and, furthermore, there is no discernable linear plot anyway), and is both experimental and widely accessible. I very much need to stop worrying about reception if I want to write anything.

To help me follow the advice I should be following, I fall back on another piece of advice: "Write the story you want to read." A lot of people have said versions of this piece of advice; I'm most familiar with Stephen King, Diana Wynne Jones, and C. S. Lewis saying something of the sort, but according to Google it's Toni Morrison who said it most explicitly. At any rate, this seems like great writing advice. It also isn't going to work for me, I don't think, and with much the same results.

The trouble is that I like a lot of different kinds of stories. Often after I've read them I'll think, "Oh, I would like to write something like this." What I'm tempted to do is try to write something that is a bit like all of them bound up together. I sometimes say things like, "I might write something that's a cross between Madeleine L'Engle and C. S. Lewis," and that's not too unthinkable. But other times I'll say, "I plan to write something that's a cross between Diana Wynne Jones, Linda Medley, Don DeLillo, and Tom Stoppard," and that is unthinkable. I can't write something that is both immediate and detached; I can't write something that has an adventurous linear plot and has an unconventional narrative structure; I can't write something that has postmodernist deconstructed characters and has highly engaging and very recognizable characters. But I like--no, adore--both sides of those dichotomies. I do really enjoy reading books with unconventional structures and books with conventional structures. I like the first because it has an unconventional structure, and the second because it doesn't. But I cannot actually have both, even if I'd like to.

The obvious solution is for me to just pick one side of each pair and write a story like that, promising myself that the next thing I write will have the other. Another solution is to oscillate, within the same story, between each side of the pair. This last solution might not work for the characters, but it would possibly work for the other two elements, if well done. However, the first solution requires more deferral of pleasure than I'm good at, and the second solution may require more skill than I currently have.

This problem has more urgency now than it usually does, and on the same topic, I have an announcement to make. Starting some time in January (I'm not entirely sure when), an on-line serial publishing platform is having its beta-launch, and I'm slated to be one of its initial writers. So I am getting started on a novel that I will be publishing in instalments on-line. I'll provide links to the relevant websites as they become available/relevant, but in the meantime it might be fair to warn you that I might let this blog die a slow death after all. Between my regular life stuff, writing a novel, and working on promotional and auxilary material for my novel, I may no longer have time to post here. I recognize that I haven't been posting very much for a long time now anyway, but if I were you I wouldn't be surprised if I posted here even less...maybe not at all. We will have to see how much time I have, whether this novel pans out, and whether I have anything I want to say that I feel is most appropriately said here. There are some drafts of posts on my hard drive which I might be able to touch up some time. Be assured that the blog will stay up and that I will still be reading other people's blogs as before. Whatever happens, thanks for reading.
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