It is time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five, this time with a cartoon-worthy villain who has featured in previous posts.
Roger Stone Found Guilty on All Count – Longtime Trump adviser convicted of lying to Congress under oath about WikiLeaks. Who would have guessed that the man who got Richard Nixon’s face tattooed on his back, and has for years lied about being a member of Nixon’s Presidential Campaign (last year the Nixon Foundation issues an offical refutation of the claim because all of the headlines that were referring to him as a campaign aide or a Nixon aide).
In case you don’t recall this criminal, Stone is a longtime Trump associate who, during the 2016 campaign, communicated (through intermediaries) with Wikileaks people to find out what was in those hacked Clinton campaign emails and similar bits of information. When we was subpoenaed by Congress a couple years ago, he denied all of it. He also communicated (often by text and email, the idiot) to others who had been subpoened and told them to lie, threatening them if they didn’t. This week, prosecutors laid that all out to a jury. Stone’s lawyers countered mostly by saying that laying under oath isn’t really a crime (which it is), and even if is it, so what? Fortunately, Assistant US Attorney Michael Marando had an answer:
“So what? So what?” Marando asked, with what seemed like real indignation. “If that’s the state of affairs that we’re in, I’m pretty shocked. Truth matters. Truth still matters, okay.” “…in our institutions of self governance, courts of law or committee hearings, where people have to testify under oath, truth still matters.”
“Mr. Stone came in and he lied to Congress,” Marando thundered at jurors. “He obstructed their investigation and he tampered with a witness, and that matters. And you don’t look at that and you don’t say: ‘So what?’ For those reasons we ask you to find him guilty of the charged offenses.”
—as quoted by Dan Friedman writing for Mother Jones, Prosecutors Just Rested Their Case Over Roger Stone’s Lies: “Truth Matters”.
Of course, this isn’t completely over:
Roger Stone was found guilty. Now all eyes turn to Trump – The president will face pressure to pardon Stone after the GOP operative was found guilty of charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Donald took a few minutes out of his unhinged rage tweet-storm yesterday smearing and threatening the former Ambassador to Ukraine while she was testifying in the impeachment hearing, to tweet out typical what-about-ism nonsense. Basically, if Stone has to go to jail for lying, why aren’t other people who Trump claims have lied going to jail.
Stone got his pal, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to broadcast a plea to President Trump to pardon him. That fact came up in court on Friday, as prosecutors argued that it was a violation of the judge’s gag order on Stone about talking to the media. In a twist that I can’t say I complete disapprove of, the judge decided that Jones isn’t a journalist, merely a media figure. I’m glad that someone is starting to realize that just because someone posts video lies and distortions doesn’t mean they’re a journalist.
Because, you know, the truth matters.
I know that we’re soon going to be flooded with stories trying to generate sympathy for Stone. After all, earlier this year Stone and his wife were forced to move out of the 9-bedroom mansion they had been renting for nearly $10,000 a month into a one bedroom apartment! Not only that, they had to do the move themselves! His poor wife had to actually rent a U-Haul truck!? On the indignity!
I mention that specifically because one of the claims Trump and his allies have made is that Stone wasn’t even working for Trump when he was talking with Wikileaks and asking for dirt on the Clinton campaign and giving that dirt to members of the Trump campaign. That’s a pretty hard notion to swallow just on it’s own. But Stone’s careers has consisted mostly of getting hired as a consultant or advisor by wealthy men with little or no political experience who are considering running for office, or at least like to threaten to run for office. He’s always made his money by working as a so-called political consultant, and it is well known that he never does anything that he isn’t getting paid for.Someone was paying him enough to continue to afford to rent that big mansion in Florida, to keep buying his ostentatious wardrobe, to keep wining and dining people and jetsetting around while he was spending all that time finding information that would benefit the Trump campaign. If it wasn’t some part of the Trump organization, who was it?
Of course, even if he wasn’t being paid by Trump to do it, it was still illegal. Just as lying under oath to a government entity investigating a possible crime later was illegal. And it doesn’t become legal just because you think some people who disagree with have said things you disagree with and have decided to label as “lies.”
I don’t know if Trump is going to pardon Roger. Roger is, afterall, the sixth person so far to get convicted for crimes on the Trump campaign’s behalf, and he hasn’t pardoned any of the previous five. In Trump’s mind, loyalty only goes one way. You must be loyal to him. He will never to loyal to you. So I don’t think he will.
And, hey, Stone doesn’t get sentenced until February. By then, maybe Trump won’t be the person holding the power of pardoning.
A guy can dream, can’t he?
We’ve called it Veteran’s Day since 1954 — a day to honor those who have served in the military. Our allies still refer to this holiday by its original name: Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. We American’s barely study World War I in public school history classes, and when we do, it seldom includes the whole story: How did the first world war actually end?
November 11, 1918 was the day that the peace accord ending what was then called The Great War. And so each year after we set aside a day to honor those who served, to remember their sacrifices, and pledge to work to prevent wars from happening. At least that’s what we used to say. Since the U.S. came into the Great War later than the other countries, and it wasn’t fought on our country, and the number of our troops killed was a small fraction of the casualty totals of the war, we have never looked at Armistice Day quite the way our allies did. WWII was what loomed large for us, culturally.
In the U.S. this holiday is described as a day to honor and thank veterans for their military service. To me, one of the ways we ought to thank them for their service is to find ways to end wars and bring them home. Unfortunately I get the feeling from certain politicians and pundits that trying to find ways to start even more wars is what they are interested in doing.
I’ve written before about the way we tend to blend our patriotic holidays together. Specifically the misguided practice of everyone thanking people for their service on Independence Day, Memorial Day, and so on. Those holidays aren’t when we should do that. This is the day to do that.
Regardless, if you want to show support for those who served, may I humbly suggest donating to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. There are, of course, many other fine charities that serve veterans and their families. You can find more of them here: Charity Navigator: Support Our Troops
Since I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, I don’t have a lot of time for blogging. But a particular kerfuffle has resurfaced in sf/f fandom and I had a lot of thoughts. I don’t want to go into all the details, other than it involves one older author writing both in a published column and then on his blog about how certain people (and oddly enough most examples he gives is sf/f written by women of color) are ruining things because they’re getting awards for writing stuff that isn’t good, proper, serious, hard science-filled science fiction.
Fortunately, other people have written things that are a bit more organized that I would likely be in a quick blog post.
First up, the following essay was actually written and sold to Uncanny Magazine some time before the old guy’s recent angry rant, but it just so happens to be a great take on the underlying topic: The Science, Fiction, and Fantasy of Genre. Just this metaphor alone is worth the read:
“It’s been said that whoever writes in the field of science fiction stands on the shoulders of giants, the towering titans of yesteryear. Their hard work built the playground; we just play in it.
“At the risk of thoroughly mixing those two metaphors, it occurs to me that even if we allow for the existence of giants, a playground in which we have to stand on top of each other can’t be very large, can it? And even the best playground could use some new equipment from time to time.”
But my favorite parts are in the middle—and too big to excerpt and still give justice—where she looks at famous works by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, and Isaac Asimov and points out that none of them were about hard proper science, but actually about history, psychology, and sociology. It’s a really good read! You should check it out.
And then there is this incredibly wonderful bit of sarcastic artistry: Science Fiction vs. Fantasy: The Choice Is Clear.
“Science fiction provides its readers with iron-hard, fact-based possibility…
“Where but science fiction could we find stories like Pohl and Williamson’s Reefs of Space series, which explores the possibility that the Oort Cloud could be filled by an ecosystem powered by biological fusion and that a few lucky humans might someday enjoy mind-melds with intelligent stars? And where but in science fiction could we entertain the quite reasonable possibility that someday a young woman with whichever psionic powers the plot of the week requires might have to contend with invisible cats? Who but science fiction writers will remind us of the very real possibility that one day starships might be propelled at superluminal velocities by the power of women’s orgasms?”
That last sentence is particularly relevant. Because the old author yelling about how modern science fiction has been ruined by all this fantasy? He’s the one who wrote about starships powered by women’s orgasms. And it wasn’t a parody—he insisted that it was serious sci fi at the time. Also, that is unfortunately not the creepiest sexual non sequitur he ever shoehorned into a supposed science fiction tale.
So, yeah, the angry man who wrote that stuff? He doesn’t get to lecture other people on not being serious enough in their science fiction and fantasy.
So, in 1971 Forbidden Planet was shown on U.S. network television for the first time. I’ve mentioned many times before that my mom was a sci fi fan from way back. My dad was more of a spy and western fan, but he also liked some science fiction, so he didn’t object when Mom wanted to watch this show. The broadcast was a few months before my 11th birthday. The whole family watched the show together, though I think than my sister, who was 6 years old at the time, fell asleep before it was over.
I really liked the show while we were watching it.
But several hours later, I was standing in the hallway, very confused, because my mom had thrown a glass of water in my face because I had gone to sleep, and then got out of bed and found my parents and started jabbering about the monster that was trying to kill us. This was, as far as my family and I know, the first time I sleepwalked.
So, let’s get back to the movie…
The movie starts on the bridge of a spaceship where Commander John J. Adams is in charge. The movie is careful never to mention any nationality for the military organization in which the crew serves, though at a later point in the film they send a report back to Earth and await further instructions. They’ve been sent to a planet called Altair IV where a scientific expedition was sent many years before, but lost contact.
As Adam’s ship approached the planet, the make radio contact with one of the scientists from the expedition, Dr. Morbius. Morbius warns them not to land, saying he is the only survivor, that the planet is very dangerous, and he can’t guarantee their safety. Adams has his orders, and lands anyway.
They learn that there are two humans on the planet: Morbius and his daughter (named Altaira) who was born after the original expedition landed. Morbius explains that after the discovered the remains of an advanced civilization of aliens called the Krell, members of the original expedition had been killed off mysteriously by some planetary force, until the a small group tried to flee the planet to return to Earth, but the ship was vaporized. Morbius and his daughter have been living alone with their very helpful robot, Robbie, peacefully ever since.
As far as I have been able to tell, Robbie was the first robot in any film to be portrayed with an actual personality, rather than being a walking tin can that mindlessly followed his instructions. One of my favorite scenes with Robbie is when, later, Altaira wants Robbie to make her a dress covered with star sapphires, and Robbie explains that all of those sapphires will take many weeks to synthesize, whereas he could make her a dress covered with diamonds in a few hours.
Back to the main plot: Dr. Morbius is very evasive with the Commander and his crew. He does show them some of the remains of the Krell civilization, including thousands of underground nuclear reactors that are still generating unimaginable amounts of energy for no known purpose, an education machine, and other devices that Morbius still doesn’t understand. But because Morbius’s translation of the Krell records reveal that every last member of the race was destroyed by a mysterious force they couldn’t understand, and Morbius’s shipmates were destroyed by a similarly mysterious force, he keeps urging the commander and his crew to leave. And the first night the ship is on the planet, and invisible monster sneaks into the ship, kills a crewman, and disables the hyperspace communicator, making it impossible for the next several days for the ship to contact Earth.
And let me tell you, the way the showed impact of the invisible monster, who was so heavy his feet bent the metal of the stairway into the ship, was very, very creepy!
The plot continues, with one crewman flirting with (and clearly hoping to take advantage of) the very naive Altaira. The commander intervenes and sends the crewman back to the ship, but he also scolds Altaira for wearing revealing clothing around men. Which confuses her.
When Morbius is no help with explaining the monster, the commander orders his crew to take additional precautions. Each night the ship remains on the planet, the invisible monster attacks again, and each day the ship erects more elaborate defenses, including building a huge blaster. When the monster is trying to get through the force fields and being fired on my many weapons, we get a sort of aura-like outline of the creature, the only time it isn’t invisible. But all of the tech of the starship is unable to defeat the creature.
Eventually, the commander and his closest friend on the crew (who everyone calls “Doc” though it is never clear whether he is the medical officer or if the nickname is because of some other scientific expertise) have become convinced that the monster isn’t some ineffable planetary force. They decide that one of them needs to use the alien “education machine” which Morbius has warned them away from. Morbius has explained that several members of the original expedition has tried to use the machine, and all who had tried died, except Morbius. The commander winds up distracting Morbius while Doc get to the machine.
The machine does kill Doc, but as he is dying, he is able to tell the commander enough to solve the mystery.
There is a dramatic final confrontation, in which it appears that the mysterious force no longer thinks of Altaira, Robbie, or Morbius as beings to protect rather than destroy. And again, the way supposedly impenetrable Krell metal walls were being battered in by the monster was intensely scary! Commander Adams forces Morbius to face the truth. Which results in Morbius’ death. The ship is able to leave the planet, carrying Altaira and Robbie back to Earth, and the entire planet self-destructs after they leave.
Most modern analyses of the movie, if they acknowledge any problematic content at all will note the one and only woman in the cast is less than a full-fledged adult and the only agency she is granted in the plot is whether to remain loyal to her father or switch allegiance to her new romantic interest, Commander Adams. And this is problematic enough. However… all of the men in the story view Altaira as little more than an object that one of them will possess. It is precisely because Morbius perceives that he is “losing” his daughter to the commander that sets the final battle in motion. All of the other characters in the story are vying for the attention of the one and only woman.
I should say, all of the other characters except Robbie the Robot.
I’ve never seen any critic acknowledge that, in some ways, Robbie the Robot is Altaira’s Sassy Gay Friend. He’s clever, he is devoted to Altaira but not interested in her in a romantic way. He cleans the house, prepares meals, and takes care of all the domestic tasks in the Morbius household that would traditionally be fulfilled by a woman in a non-science fiction film of the era, right? One of the roles of the asexual or effeminate man who was the witty friend of the heroine in movies of the 40s and 50s was to have insight into the motives and character of other people that the protagonists did not. So it should be no surprise that in the climactic battle, Cammander Adams uses Robbie’ perceptions of the situation to convince Altaira and Morbius of the true nature of the invisible monster.
It was many, many years later before this queer geeky nerdy child realized that at least part of the reason my favorite character out of this classic sci-fi movie was Robbie the Robot was precisely because he was the only character who wasn’t vying for the attention of a woman. And while many other aspects of the story resonated with me, none of the other characters rose to the level of identification as the robot. So this queer child, who had nightmares because of the main plot, still found models for my possible futures among the supporting cast of this movie.
Several years ago I was on a writing panel at a convention. I don’t remember the exact title of the panel, but it was about what happens when you’re stuck or otherwise can’t seem to get a story moving. I was supposed to have a co-panelist, but they had to cancel at the last minute. The crowd in the room wasn’t really big, so I suggested we do something a bit more interactive. I briefly explained who I was and that most of my writing advice came from (at the time) about 12 years of reading the slush pile for a semi-prozine I was involved with. Then, rather than throw it open for any question, I asked for examples of times they had been stuck, and gave every in the room an opportunity to respond to it if they wanted.
This got a nice back and forth going.
One guy described how he’d had this story he’d been working on for a long time where he kept writing a few sentences or paragraphs about his main character getting the news of a death in the family, which was supposed to kick the plot off where the character would meet another character and they would both get involved in looking into what had happened. His problem he said, was he never knew how to get the main character from getting the news to meeting the other character.
I (rather flippantly) ask, “Why not just hit return and then type, ‘Later that day…’ or ‘A week later…’?”
And he looked stunned. “But don’t I have to explain how he got there?”
“You only have to show the reader things that move the plot forward. You can skip the boring stuff. You can jump past interesting things that happen to the character but aren’t important to the plot. Just jump ahead. Particularly in a first draft. During the second draft if you realize there is something important that you skipped you can add it then. But don’t do stuff like that until you get to the end of your first draft.”
Someone else in the room asked a question about the plot which made it clear that they thought plot was merely a list of everything that happens to the character. So I explained that plot is a problem, mystery, or challenge which confronts the protagonist at the beginning of the story, is resolved at the climax by the protagonist’s own actions, and is the thread the ties everything that you write about between those events together. It isn’t that every single thing the character does is part of the story, right? How many action movies show the characters going to the bathroom, for instance?
What a lot of people call writers’ block is a combination of indecision born out of the fear that what you write isn’t going to be perfect. So the first thing you need to do when you find yourself stuck is to realize that nothing anyone writes is ever perfect. Especially in the first draft. Your favorite book in the whole world was almost certainly a terrible mess in the first draft. It isn’t a great book because the author wrote exactly the perfect opening line, and then wrote every single sentence and scene that followed perfectly.
It’s great because the writer blundered along through the first draft until they had the skeleton of the story laid out before them—but not with all of the bones in exactly the right place. Then, during rewrite, the author got the bones arranged properly, added flesh to the bones, and eventually they had a living, breathing story that was ready to grab some readers and say, “Come one! Let’s have an adventure!”
Don’t let that fear of the imperfect prevent you from plunging in. Just start writing. And then keep writing until you reach the end.
Shakira – Try Everything (From “Zootopia”) [Official Music Video]:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) once more. If you don’t know what that means… well, in the past I have quoted from the NaNoWriMo website to describe what the event is, but during the last year they migrated their old site and forums to a new host (and in the process did a re-design), and there is no nice way to say this: they have really messed up their web site. It took me a very long time poking around the website to find where they have moved the “What is NaNoWriMo” information to… don’t get me wrong, there are links called that in their menus, but if you don’t already have an account set up, those links don’t take you to pages that actually answer the question. The closest I could come to the old information is this:
…each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. You may know this mass creative explosion by the name National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo
The basic idea is that thousands of us all over the world will, starting on November 1, attempt to write 50,000 words of either a brand new novel, or to continue one started previously, or to revise one started previously. People who sign up for accounts can join regional forums, set up NaNoWriMo buddies to encourage (or compete with) each other, attend in-person or virtual write-ins, and so forth. It can be a lot of fun, particularly if you jump in with the notion that you’re just trying to get the first draft—no matter who bad it is—down so that you can edit and rewrite later.
Another thing about the migration is that everyone’s Buddies have disappeared. I went through the archive site and sent invitations to people I used to be buddies with to try to re-establish my old network. But a lot of folks haven’t logged in, yet, this year.
Anyway, I have set up my project for this year. If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year and want to add me as a writing buddy, please do so! My username on NaNoWriMo is “fontfolly” just as it is here at my blog and on twitter.
Let’s tell some stories!