Apologizing for What’s in Our Stories?

Kitten sleepily looks up from wool scarf

Last week, Tamora Pierce’s new book Tempests and Slaughter came out.  Long-awaited for me.  I love reading her books.

But animals also die in her books.

I don’t mind that because she portrays them as characters.  They carry the same weight as human characters.  If we mourn the loss of a human character, we mourn the loss of an animal character.

Are others offended that animals die in her books?


I’ve had problems with thrillers.  If a cat or dog makes an appearance in one of those, I’m done.  I stop reading.  Most the writers of those books kill the animal to show how evil the kill is.  In one book, I was pretty sure the writer was fictionally killing off the cat his wife had forced him to have.

Do other people read through those books and enjoy them?


Chihuahua holding a pink rose in his mouth, giving a soulful look.

It’s part of writing stories that we have to push at our boundaries.

And sometimes make people uncomfortable.

Star Trek also did that.

It’s one of the reasons the show has endured despite 50 years.  No one apologized.  They simply did.

But as I was driving into work this morning, I heard a story about the new Peter Rabbit movie.  Seemed that a scene offended people so the movie company apologized.

I haven’t seen the film, but the scene sounded like teenage bullying…with rabbits.  So we can’t use movies to bring up bullying?  Or that it should only be in a certain way?  That the readers aren’t capable of figuring things out for themselves?

Sometimes books and movies are a safe place to push at a boundary.  Star Trek was great because it was set in the future and could be escapist at the same time.  But now, somehow, it’s become the thing not to offend.

Yeah, there are people like artists who do something for the shock value.  Then there are those who bring their experiences to the story and show us a different perspective.  They make us think.

Problem is that people can be offended by pretty much anything.

Tiny man standing on laptop, pointing at screen, horrified

So we rob our society of the ability to do social commentary of differing viewpoints.  We end up with the watered down “committee” stories because people are afraid a reader will call offense.

Star Trek is still relevant today.  Yet, Chris Pine, the “new” Captain Kirk says we couldn’t make show like that today.

Think about that.  Think about that a long time.


The Evolution of Space Opera

When I was growing up, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea aired at 4:00 on KTLA, and then Star Trek followed it.  We also had Lost in Space. I also had this big yellow book of the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century comic strips.

All of these started with the pulp magazines in the 1930s, which introduced space opera.  They paved their way for the shows above.  But Star Trek did something different:

Another popular sci-fi show with a strong space opera flavor to emerge during the Swinging Decade sought to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Star Trek differed from the fare that came before as it coupled the action-orientated characteristics that were commonplace within the genre with philosophical, thought-provoking themes. For a brand of science fiction that was introduced to pop culture discourse as “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn spaceship yarn,” Star Trek proved that this type of accessible entertainment could contain substance as well as pure entertainment.

In “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” Westfahl notes that Star Trek was the first on-screen space opera to successfully combine the classic pulp adventure elements with “Ruritarian” themes. The Ruritarian space opera is distinguished by sophisticated characteristics which often entail romance sub-plots and solar systems governed by their own political establishments. In these stories, alien lifeforms tend to be three-dimensional and driven by their own personal motives — such as greed, thievery, etc.

There’s a lot of interesting history that starts with the pulp and how it goes not only into our reading of books, but also TV and movies.  We move so fast forward that we sometimes forget how things originated and what we can learn from it.

Read the rest at Film School Rejects: https://filmschoolrejects.com/adventure-awaits-brief-history-space-opera/#ixzz51Rioo5Ri

More Adventures at the Book Sale

This week’s book sale was the big one at the library.  They have one in October and another in April.

The sale itself is located on a floor in the garage.  It’s a permanent fixture in the garage, but closed off behind a gate except when there’s a sale.  The sale was advertised as having 75,000 books!

The books:

  1. Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence (it’s about shark attacks)
  2. Drilling Through Time: 75 Years with California’s Division of Oil and Gas
  3. Espionage: The Greatest Spy Operations of the 20th Century
  4. The Island of the Colorblind (about a place where everyone is colorblind)
  5. The Man Behind the Magic: The Story of Walt Disney
  6. Law and Order: The Unofficial Companion
  7. Looking for a Ship: U.S. Merchant Marine
  8. My Secret Life as a CIA assassin
  9. The Raging Sea: The Powerful Account of the Worst Tsunami in U.S. History
  10. Plot
  11. Shirley Jones: A Memoir
  12. Star Trek Memories
  13. Star Trek Movie Memories

I had to be creative about where to look for these books.  Military was where I found the spy books, though I don’t think they have anything to do with military.  I found the California one in the science section.  Plot showed up in the Performing Arts.

The one that caught my attention the most was the Law and Order book.  It’s just got the first 10 seasons of the show.  But in scanning through it, the book made me realize why I like the show. It’s a lot like Star Trek, and also The Orville  It presents stories that don’t always have easy answers, and often have a lot of differing opinions.  It’s entertaining and makes you think a little.

5 Fun Facts You Don’t Know About Me

  1. During a science fiction convention, two women and I ate lunch in the hotel restaurant with actor David Hedison (James Bond) and watched two cats play outside the window.
  2. I went to my first science fiction convention in 1976 costumed as Lieutenant Uhura and got trapped in a parking garage.
  3.  I’m a cat magnet.  When I visited my grandparents, I went outside and saw this beautiful white cat.  Started petting the cat, who acted like no one ever paid attention to.  Suddenly I was surrounded by cats!  And my grandfather hated cats.
  4. I’ve ridden in a pace car for a race.  It was just after the first Persian Gulf War ended, and a local race track in Washington State was looking for soldiers to ride in the pace car.  I went in my class A’s, and one of the guys was grabbed to join me.  I sat in the front seat and watched that speedometer.  We hit 100!
  5. The first computer I wrote a story on was a Heathkit H-89. Heathkit was known then as having kits of electronics you could put together in your house.  My father built the computer.  It was all one piece and booted off a 5 1/4 disk.  It’s hard to believe now that my tablet has more computing power than that big computer!


Adventures around the web July 29-August 4, 2017

Manu Saadia on The New Yorker

The Enduring Lessons of Star Trek

Very interesting article on how Star Trek The Next Generation went away from Star Trek’s original concept.  It mentions one of the things that I always had problems with: people all got along with each other.  That made it hard to do stories that were about the crew, without having some outside influence intervene.  I know that idea originated with Gene Roddenberry, but still…

Joris Nieuwint for War History Online

When His Landing Gear Failed, This Harrier Pilot Made An Emergency Landing… On A Stool

The primary thing the military does is train.  Because in war, training’s all you have when things go wrong.  All the training comes in handy in this video.

Zack Walkter on Do You Remember

Meet the First Woman to Cycle Around the World (in 1895)

This is a pretty cool story–and it’s got photos.  This actually started because of a bet two men made!

Josh Jones on Open Culture

Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

Writers today tend to diss the pulp writers as “hacks,” usually stories unseen because they produced a tremendous amount of stories.  Somehow speed has become equated with poor writing, though this era produced Dashiell Hammett.  If you haven’t read any of his stories, those are really good.  Link from Harvey Stanbrough (spell checker gave me Gainsborough for his name.  Weird).

Gary Grayson

Gary and the Seal in the Scilly Isles

A charming video from Rhonda Hopkins. The seal wants a belly rub and a chin scratch!

Twilight Zone Origins in War

Being a Science Fiction fan, I grew up on reruns of Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Twilight Zone, just to name a few.  Probably the most memorable Twilight Zone episode is the one with William Shatner and the monster on the wing.  I couldn’t help it; I put a nod to that in my last novel.

But one of things I really like is the behind the scenes of how shows were made.  The stories behind the creations.

Twilight Zone originated from Rod Serling’s war experiences and his way of dealing with it in the story:

While taking a picture with a friend during a lull at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, an Air Force plane dropped a box of extra ammunition that landed on Serling’s friend and flattened him fatally. This event would give him inspiration in many of his scripts and stories.

I remember when I came back from Desert Storm.  It was such a big experience that really, I couldn’t put words to it.  I felt like I needed to bleed off some of the poison of it but my stories turned very dark.  The weird part was that I couldn’t see how dark they were … took someone else to point it out to me.

Though I still couldn’t see it.

About the same time, I did a review of Phil Clay’s Redeployment, a collection of short stories.  I’d committed to the review, opened up the first page, read the first line, and wasn’t sure I could do it.  I didn’t want to go back and say I couldn’t do it, so I skipped to the next story, which was less dark and read it in pieces.  I doubt if many people read the entire book because it was so dark.

But I could see the undercurrent of this anger running through the book–I doubt if the writer knows he has it, but he will eventually.  It was in mine, and I had to back away from it if I wanted to sell anything.

So I had to consciously shift away from dark stories, and even ideas that looked like they were going to veer dark.  I don’t have to think so much about it now, though every now and then it catches me off guard.

And I still write about my time in the military, but it’s very different.

World War I and Desert Storm

Over the weekend, I made my first real outing (other than grocery stores) to a lecture at the library on World War I.   It’s the 100th anniversary of WWI, the 75 anniversary of WWII, and the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm.

It was an interesting lecture, and I was also surprised at some of the similarities to Desert Storm.

But let’s start with a couple of the really cool facts of WWI:

  1. Prior to WWI, the U.S.’s army was comprised of local regiments.  Like what we had for the Civil War.  After WWI, it became a national army.
  2. We were an agrarian society before WWI started; we change to industrial afterward.

So some big society changes.

The war had been going on for some time when the U.S. entered it.  Because we did not have a national army, the government had to pull one together and fast.  The government started the Selective Service to draft soldiers.  It took about a year and half.  I’m pretty sure they were probably putting the soldiers on ships and sending them over that way (should have asked that!).

In Desert Storm, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which put them at the borders where they could invade Saudi Arabia.  The U.S. had to mobilize its military and fast.  Technology helped us be much faster than WWI.  The Army was sending over the elite forces days after the invasion, and it took until about December for enough people to be over there.

WWI was right around the time women were outspoken about suffrage.  They were viewed as radical.  But then the war started, and the women pitched in.  They were in some military roles and helped on the home front.  After the war, they became more accepted because they participated.

Desert Storm was, at the time, the largest deployment of women to war.  I remember it being new and strange … newspapers reported breathlessly on women who were leaving their children behind  … the sergeants didn’t quite know what to do with us, so they treated us like men.  The Army didn’t have any policies in place for dealing with any problems with women.  That one, of course, has been evolving over the last 25 years.  Women now can serve on submarines.

Like I mentioned above, we were farmers before WWI and after, we were industrial.  People who saw WWI grew up with horse and buggies and at the time they died, they saw jets.

Desert Storm also saw a big change there, too.  We were industrial, but knowledge work also came in to play a very large role.  We went from expensive computers that only a few could afford to people holding a palm-sized one in their hands–and that everyone has.

WWI marketed the war heavily and controlled what information got back to the United States.

So did Desert Storm, in spite of the 24 hour news cycle.  That one has done us as a society a disservice.  I just saw an article the other day about how the government censored out the violent aspects of the war.  The result is just like Star Trek brought up in A Taste of Armageddon.  Everyone expects war to be as neat and as non-violent as possible.  If one civilian is killed, the media parades it as a military failure.  War is messy.  Moreover, it needs to be messy.

It’s why wars need to end.

Finally, both wars are largely being forgotten.  We had some big WWI events just recently, and they barely got reported, and in some newspapers, not at all.  For Desert Storm, some of the veterans have actually heard people say, “That doesn’t count as a war.”

And each was followed by another war that eclipsed it … WWII for WWI and the Iraq War for Desert Storm.

Sensitivity Readers: Another reason to go indie

I just got back from my cruise–a very long day yesterday flying back!  Anyway, I ran across this article this morning on “sensitivity reader” to look for offensive content and was horrified that the industry is doing this.

It’s a form of censorship, plain and simple.

It starts with the simple thing of avoiding stereotypes, which sounds reasonable.

And there is a problem with that.  Most of it, in my opinion, comes from the media.  The news tends to focus on what sells and that often crosses into stereotype territory.  Films, TV, and even commercials tend to use stereotypes as a shortcut because of time limitations.  If you were, say, a soldier in an all-male company and grew up without any sisters, you might think the images of women being helpless victims on every TV show are true.

However, let’s suppose I create a nasty individual–character’s well-drawn and the motivations for the nastiness is obvious in the context of the story.  It’s even something that’s the heart of the story.  And maybe I decide to make the character a woman.

Enter sensitivity reader, who gets offended that I made this woman such a nasty person and publisher tells me I need to change the character.  Yet, if I’d done the character as a male, no one would had noticed any problems.  That’s just plain wrong.

People can be offended at pretty much anything.  Maybe I get offended because someone mentions rabbits.  Does that mean writers should jump and change their rabbits to cats because one person is offended at rabbits?

I grew up watching Star Trek, the original one, when it went into syndication.  There was something magical about it, seeing a woman on the bridge in an important position. As good science fiction does, it slipped in issues that could be brought up in the context of a fictional futuristic story.  And it pushed a lot of boundaries that made people uncomfortable (especially judging from Gene Roddenberry’s battles with the network).  But suppose a sensitivity viewer said that Uhura’s mini-skirt was offensive and GR’s response was to change the character to male?


I know the sensitivity reader idea has good intentions, but it takes control of the story away from the writer.  It takes away our ability to push boundaries that need to be pushed.

Kirk Vs. Picard vs Janeaway

This video has celebrities identifying their favorite captains.  Despite the number of series, it was primarily between Kirk and Picard, which an occasional Janewaway.

I like both Kirk and Picard, but for different reasons.  Kirk fits the original series, and is very much of the cowboy era from when the show spawned.  Picard is more thoughtful, ore educated, and fits how the next show was.

The other captains …

Meh.  I want to like Janeaway.  She’s the first woman captain lead on Star Trek for a show that has an unfortunate track record of leaving the women in the background.  BBC’s been showing Voyager, and I’m struggling to stay involved in it.  The scripts aren’t that good.  The show might have suffered from the finding their way home premise.  But also I think the writers struggled with how to do a woman captain.  Janeaway was never consistent–she was either too hard, or too emotional.

And I get it’s tough to have a woman in command and write the character in a way that works.  So many of the traits needed to be in command don’t come off as well with a woman (which is what women CEOs struggle with).  I worked with a powerful woman, and frankly, most people did not like her and said worse behind her back.  But we all respected her and her knowledge.  And we did get occasional peaks inside the armor.

It might be that Janeaway shouldn’t have been on the screen as much and had another character–not necessarily the first officer–to balance her out.  Hmm.  This is where Star Trek’s lack of enlisted comes into play.  That would have been a perfect fit for a Chief of the Spaceship senior enlisted to bring out Janeway’s the better traits to the audience.  A senior chief could do something like this because he or she would have a lot of experience, probably as much as a Navy captain; whereas, it would be more difficult for a lower-ranking officer to do it.

The Disruptive Influence of Star Trek

Today is Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.  That’s hard to believe.  I still remember when it was the 20th anniversary.  A big deal to me then, but not as much to the outside world.  Now it’s become more mainstream, and even some aspects of it embedded in our culture.

But I also remember when people looked at it and sneered with utter contempt.  All they saw were the spaceships, the pointed ears, and the monsters.  My guitar teacher would tell me repeatedly that her son had worked on the set and how fake everything looked, like she was trying to justify what was wrong with me watching and enjoying it.  A fellow student informed me repeatedly that Little Rascals was soooo much better (it was airing every day on KTLA at the time).

No one got it.

Moreover, I’m not sure the people who didn’t get it made any effort to try.  It was just something for weirdos and nerds, and those were strange people.

But it was representative of a small bit of change that started, that caught the attention of a few.  And the thing about Star Trek is that it had so many layers that the appeal varied from person to person.  Some people liked how it took current events and put them in a science fiction format.  I didn’t understand enough of the news to understand those events, so I missed most of that completely.

Mine was more simple:  I grew up in a world where books didn’t have much for women readers.  Women could get married, they could be rescued—but they couldn’t have adventures.  Though women were making their way out into the working world slowly and change was happening, the expectation was that women would get married, have kids, and cook and clean.

I didn’t like that being the only expectation.  I wanted choices.

And here we had Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, handling communications.  Even though I was pretty young and didn’t know much about the military beyond what I’d seen on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and read in submarine books, I could tell it was an important position.

Looking at it now, her role is disappointing, and Star Trek doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to women.  Then, it was better than we were getting anywhere else.

But the other thing Star Trek had was that it said things would be okay in the future and we would resolve our differences.

We need that more than ever now.  But is anyone up to taking the chance like Gene Roddenberry did 50 years ago?

Despite having the internet where anyone can say literally anything, there’s even more influences trying to hold this change back.  A new version of Star Trek is coming out, and I heard one of the movie actors saying that no one was ready for the Star Trek of the 1960s.  I don’t think he understood the original Star Trek and what it did—it was more likely the studios were not ready for it.  They’ve become so risk adverse that they want something safe that will make money; a show or movie that pushes the envelope scares them because it might cause controversy.  It might not—gasp!—not make any money.

Star Trek was never about playing it safe.  It was one of the things the executives really hated, and what the fans really loved.

We need this disruption.