February 2012 « Reality SkimmingReality Skimming
Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.

29Feb/12Off

Dialogue #2: Diane Whiteside (2 of 3)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Moral responsibility for empowered characters.

Protagonists with special powers beg the question of how they will relate to others. Despotic evil is always an option. But even an ethical character can suffer conflict over competing attachments. Lynda Williams and Diane Whiteside both write about characters with superhuman abilities who wrestle with these issues.

Diane Whiteside Diane Whiteside
Arriving third in four generations of published authors, Diane Whiteside has more than a dozen novels, four novellas, and a collection of short stories under her belt. Creator of the Irish Devil and Texas vampire series, she has written fantasy and historical novels for both print and e-publishers, traditional and independent publishers. Her latest novel, The Shadow Guard, was inspired by far too many late night black-and-white movies. For more information, please visit her website at www.DianeWhiteside.com.

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams
is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Q. Describe the intense personal relationship(s) your protagonist(s) have with specific individuals, whether of their own kind or otherwise.

Diane Whiteside: Astrid Carlson and Jake Hammond have been online pals for years. But they’ve never met in person until they’re brought together by a magically-caused murder. That’s when Astrid learns that Jake is a kubri, who can exponentially increase her power. It’s extremely dangerous for her to be around him on so many levels: He knows too much about magic; he knows too much about a murder whose killer may be a rogue sahir; he’s a novice kubri who should be trained and protected as a Shadow Guard asset; and, worst of all, he fascinates her more than any man she’s met since her husband died.

Lynda Williams: In Part I: The Courtesan Prince Reetion pilot (human) Ann falls for the rather young but sexy and beautiful Amel (Sevolite), and is forced to confront her hitherto self-absorbed approach to life. Much to his horror, king-maker Di Mon, Liege of Monitum, falls for the Reetion Anthopologist, Ranar, which forces him to confront his internalization of Sevildom's brutal intolerance for homosexuality. It also tests Di Mon's somewhat academic belief in the equality of commoners.

Love and sexual obsession brings unlikely people together elsewhere in the series, as well. But critical relationships also include a Sevolite heir to power who is adopted by Ranar, to be raised on Rire; Amel's bond with his commoner foster sister, Mira; a Reetion doctor's guilty feelings toward Amel, while he was her patient; friendships, family bonds, and the liege-vassal relationship between Sevolites.

Q. Discuss the role played by such personal relationships in your work.

Diane Whiteside: Astrid has kept herself very closed off from personal relationships since her husband died. But the only way she can solve that murder is to work through Jake and use his “normal” people’s job as a front. Many times during the book, it would be so much easier to walk away. Her commander in the Shadow Guard all but orders to drop the investigation. But she can’t. Both her own need for justice and her husband’s ghost insist that she finish the investigation, no matter what.

Lynda Williams: Di Mon's bond with Ranar forces him to see the "Reetion question" as something intensely personal. Ann's relationship with Amel gives him human status in circumstances where his artificial DNA might damn him. Erien's childhood years on Rire motivate him to change Sevildom. Amel's life experiences inspire a new religious order that views all classes of people as equally human. But none of it comes easy. Often, it is even hard to decide whether a particular change is worth the price, or handled properly. Change tends to create problems as well as solve them.

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22Feb/12Off

Dialogue #2: Diane Whiteside (1 of 3)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Moral responsibility for empowered characters.

Protagonists with special powers beg the question of how they will relate to others. Despotic evil is always an option. But even an ethical character can suffer conflict over competing attachments. Lynda Williams and Diane Whiteside both write about characters with superhuman abilities who wrestle with these issues.

Diane Whiteside Diane Whiteside
Arriving third in four generations of published authors, Diane Whiteside has more than a dozen novels, four novellas, and a collection of short stories under her belt. Creator of the Irish Devil and Texas vampire series, she has written fantasy and historical novels for both print and e-publishers, traditional and independent publishers. Her latest novel, The Shadow Guard, was inspired by far too many late night black-and-white movies. For more information, please visit her website at www.DianeWhiteside.com.

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams
is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Q. Describe the superhuman protaganist(s) in your work and their general relationship to normal people.

Diane Whiteside: In an alternate version of today’s world, the Shadow Guard protects America from magical dangers. Powerful, arrogant, and honorable, its sahirs are superb magic workers but their long lives have taught them the high cost of freedom. They live secretly, away from normal people, and they would always place “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Lynda Williams: Sevolites have larger-than-life emotions. The Vrellish are an over-sexed, spatially gifted variety; the Demish are arch conservatives and lovers of literature. Lorels scheme to manage the affairs of others. All are descended from bio-engineered lines created to do mankind's flying using a punishing faster-than-life method of space travel called reality skimming. To this purpose, they were created to be regenerative and physically stronger than natural humans. The centrality of reality skimming in their era gives them power. By the time of the 10-novel Okal Rel Saga, Sevolites are ruling a neo-feudal empire in which natural humans are "commoners".

Q. How does your storytelling force protagonist(s) to confront questions of moral responsibility toward "normals," as a group.

Diane Whiteside: Astrid Carlson is a century-old sahir and widow. When she accidentally witnesses the murder of a normal person through her magic, she is forced to relive her husband’s death. But the only way Astrid can obtain justice for the victim is to reveal herself as a sahir – which is impossible.

Jake Hammond, on the other hand, is a homicide cop. He lives to speak for the dead and ensure that their killers are brought to trial. For him, “the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.” At first, he doesn’t understand why Astrid can’t talk openly about how she witnessed the crime. When he does comprehend, he’s forced to wonder – for the first time in his long career – whether he should fight to close a murder case or not.

Moral responsibility is a difficult balance to strike, when you’re guarding a secret that’s protected your country for centuries.

Lynda Williams: In Part One: The Courtesan Prince, the need to re-think Sevildom's relationship to commoners is cast in a new light by Pureblood Prince Amel, who discovers at age 16 that he is potentially heir to the empire although he was raised as a commoner. He has a hard time claiming power, however, given his gentle nature and embarrassing years as a courtesan sword dancer.

Reetions, members of a distinct culture comprised of 100% natural humans, also start to challenge Sevolite ideas of their superiority, and to perturb the age-old balance of Okal Rel, a religiously-underpinned system of self-restraint that keeps Sevolites from destroying the territory they fight over.

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19Feb/12Off

World Government and SF Talk

On Thursday, February 16th, 2012 at 7:30 p.m., Lynda spoke at the event "SciFi and the Courage to Hope," a meeting of the Vancouver Branch of the World Federalist Movement. The venue was Hewett Centre, Unitarian Church in Vancouver, B.C.

Click below to download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation:

World Government Presentation

In addition, longtime friend of the Okal Rel Universe, Paul Strickland, provided an essay to be distributed as a handout. It is reproduced below for your reading pleasure.

Paul Strickland Paul Strickland is a freelance writer and creative writer. His journalistic career covered 32 years: four years as a freelance writer for the University of Nevada-Reno Sagebrush newspaper and small-town Nevada weeklies, nine years as a more than full-time journalist for the daily Medicine Hat News, and nineteen years as a full-time reporter for The Prince George Citizen.

Benevolent World Government and SF

Plato

An ideal, benevolent world government is perhaps first set out in Plato's Republic. In this philosophical work, the world is governed by philosopher-kings. It is outlined to a lesser extent in Plato's Critias and Timaeus, in which the philosopher describes the lost island civilization of Atlantis — a utopia that is less than perfect but has fired the imaginations of creative people and idealists down through the centuries. Some critics say Plato's version of the Atlantis story is the first science-fiction story in Western literature. It is, according to the historian of science fiction, Sam Moskowitz, the inspiration for Jules Verne's The Eternal Adam (1905). This long novelette deals with a future in which "the continent of Atlantis has risen again from the sea and is inhabited with men who possess legends about a great civilization of marvellous scientific advancement" which had flourished with splendour and then vanished from the earth..." (Moskowitz, Explorers of the Infinite (1963), p. 83).

A nineteenth-century American science-fiction writer, Edward Bellamy also wrote about an ideal world government in his novel, Looking Backward: 2000-1887. He predicted the great trusts, the giant corporations of the late nineteenth century, would eventually combine into one big trust, a single government that would govern in everyone's best interests, bring about greater equality and control an industrial army that all young men would be required to serve in for a few years to do all the dirty and manual tasks of the world. As the unitary world government brought about desirable improvements in the economic system, "The ten commandments became well-nigh obsolete in a world where there was no temptation to theft, no occasion to lie either for fear or favour, no room for envy where all were equal, and little provocation to violence where all men were disarmed of power to injure one another." (Bellamy, Looking Backward, New York: Modern Library, 1951, p. 234).

H. G. Wells - Modern Utopia
H. G. Wells's Modern Utopia

H.G. Wells imagines an ideal world state in A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967). A rationally administered science reduces the need for demeaning forms of manual labour: "There is more than enough for everyone alive," Wells writes. "Science stands as a competent servant and is able to show a world that is really abolishing the need of labour, abolishing the last base reason for anyone's servitude or inferiority." (A Modern Utopia, p. 102).

Aldous Huxley, in his dystopic Brave New World (1931), foresaw a world state serving the purposes of private interests, keeping people distracted with frivolous sex and silly entertainment, and operating on the principle that the old have a duty to die, and moving people and resources about as they wish without regard to local cultures except in reservations where aboriginals are kept for the entertainment of tourists from the conformist society of the Brave New World.

Reetion ArbiterOn high tech Rire, the complete transparency necessary for egalitarian culture is sustained through the medium of the Arbiter Administration, a network of non-sentient but bureaucratically gifted artificial intelligences known as arbiters which govern based on the legislation passed and continuously adjusted by Rire's very human political processes. The price for Reetions is loss of privacy and lack of freedom, at least from a Sevolite perspective. A Reetion might argue that the only freedom lost was the freedom to make unfair, arbitrary decisions that impact others. (from www.okalrel.org)

Gregory Paschalidis, professor of literature at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, says that utopian fiction merely describes what is prescribed as an ideal society under a certain political philosophy or economic system. Science fiction allows much greater flights of imagination that need only be extrapolated from available or foreseeable technology, and therefore allows for a greater sense of adventure.

The novels of Lynda Williams set in the Okal Rel Universe embody the best of the science-fiction writing as outlined by Paschalidis. The benevolent world government through Rire comes close to Plato's Republic, the idealized Atlantis in Jules Verne's The Eternal Adam and Wells's World State in The Shape of Things to Come. In the last chapter of the latter, "The Modern State in Control of Life", Wells writes through the persona of a key character, "Plainly the thesis is that history must now continue to be a string of accidents with an increasingly disastrous trend, until a comprehensive faith in the modernized World-State, socialistic, cosmopolitan and creative, takes hold of the human imagination."

May those people prosper who work for such an ideal world state, one which can intervene effectively to prevent human rights abuses — one that will not have its efforts invalidated by the vetoes of one, two or three controlling or malevolent powers, and one in which controlled movement of capital does not lead to a race to the bottom in respect of working conditions.

Paul Strickland February 14-15, 2012

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15Feb/12Off

Stimulus/Response: Reading Fiction Builds Social Skills

Thinking and feeling with characters can "strength social ties and even change your personality." - Keith Oatley

Lynda WilliamsLynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga, published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. Part 7: Healer's Sword arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science.

In The Mind of Others by Keith Oatley

Stimulus

Keith Oatley's article "In the Minds of Others" (Scientific American) describes research on how "getting into character" by reading fiction develops social skills valuable in dealing with others in real life.

Response

Years ago, it occurred to me that the reason many people failed to find reading as rich an experience as watching a movie or playing a video game, was because they couldn't construct the world of a novel on their personal "brain ware" as well as I could, so the magic didn't happen for them. I have still never met a video game that moved me like a good novel. And while movies trump verbal descriptions, words trump images at allowing a reader to share the complex emotional life of a character and their relationships to the social world. A comment by a video gaming fanatic clarified the situation for me. It was at some conference or other, and he was defending the narrative potential of his preferred form of entertainment: "The heroine has a father," he told me. There was a lot more, but in essence his idea of a story was a catalog of facts used as a backdrop for the action. Which is fine for gamers who appreciate a little atmosphere, but it irks me when the "deaf" -- so to speak -- see fit to argue that a two-penny whistle is as good as a symphony orchestra.

In his Scientific American article, “In the Minds of Others”, Keith Oatley describes what readers do as hosting social simulations in which their brains practice the hard work of seeing the world from another person’s point of view. Readers literally feel with the characters they are reading about, as evidenced not only by post-test experiments but MRI brain scans.

“Reading fiction can strengthen your social ties and even change your personality,” is the article’s subheading. I think that’s a strong message for authors. And one that bears thinking about carefully.

8Feb/12Off

Ethics in SF #13: Jennifer Lott

Ethics in SF continues with an installment on rooting for villains.

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Jennifer LottJennifer Lott has appeared in print in Neo-Opsis Magazine (“A Day in the Life”; Issue 18; December 17, 2009) and the Opus 5 Okal Rel anthology (“Pet Peeves”, Absolute XPress, 2011). Her first public foray into writing is her popular fan fiction Alternative Ending to the Animorphs, which was well received by readers disappointed by the dark turn taken by this young adult series in its final installments. An early childhood educator, Jennifer writes mostly for children and young adults. You can find out more about her works at jenniferlott.com.

Villains Seducing Readers

Ever heard someone say “the bad guy is so much more interesting”? I have. Personally, if the good guys don’t capture my attention, I won’t read a book to follow the bad guys’ story. But as there now seem to be stories written precisely for that preference, I guess it’s not a given.

So what is it that puts the spotlight on evil-doers? Being let in on the villain’s thoughts and back story might be part of it. From his perspective he is right, and maybe looking through his eyes gives the reader the same idea. Or maybe the reader expects more surprises from the villain, as not all stories give heroes a lot of scope for change.

In black and white, the bad guys attack and destroy; the good guys defend and imprison. Okal Rel’s Gelacks go layers beyond this tidy division. Heroes and Villains alike believe in sustaining the environments in which life thrives. They settle their differences in one-on-one – and often lethal – combat, so that even good guys could be called ‘murderers’ according to another culture. You won’t see even the nastiest Gelacks building death rays, but they still stand out a mile: most of them because they do unforgivable things to the nicest Gelack, Amel.

H’Reth is a homosexual in a very homophobic society who sexually abuses Amel in secret. Di Mon is a homosexual in a very homophobic society who waits until he can have a consenting boyfriend in secret. And so the line is drawn.

Can I see why H’Reth feels sorry for himself? Yes. Do I agree with his justifications for abusing Amel? No. Am I glad we’re rid of H’Reth in the end? Yes.

I could probably answer the same three questions the exact same way for any one of Amel’s abusers. I know people who answer ‘no’ to the last for Ev’Rel. However fascinating her character, I fail to understand what dragging out her reign would have done for the series. The villains have their time, and the heroes need to move forward.

Forward means change. And even I admit good guys are more interesting when they have to bend their rules. These are adjustments that most writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy have to face sooner or later.

For one thing, to draw a line as simple as “good guys don’t kill”, a writer needs the means to get them out of trouble accordingly. In Star Trek, there is the very convenient “stun” setting on most weapons. I myself arm the hero of my latest novel with a bullet-proof vest and a tranquillizer gun. There are always short-term alternatives to killing, but then what? To keep your hero clean, the villain either lives to strike again or is ended by something completely outside the hero’s control – because the whitest hat out there will risk his own life to save his enemy.

I’d say Harry Potter is just such a white hat, and much as I approve of him, his decision to rescue Malfoy & cronies from their own cursed fire attack on Harry & friends wouldn’t have felt right to me without Ron’s admonishing “If we die for them, I’ll kill you, Harry!”

There will always be situations when the hero not killing is just infuriating, and there are more and more fictional heroes now who elicit cheers (and perhaps shock) because they do not hesitate. Malcolm Reynolds of Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe is a hero off the beaten track. Returning to his ship to see River held at gun point by the law man who has been threatening his crew, he does not wait to be threatened again. He shoots; River’s captor falls dead beside her; problem solved. Malcolm moves right along, not dwelling afterwards – as many heroes do – over the moral ambiguities.

Heroes like Malcolm still have admirable ethical codes, and are certainly easier to relate to than superman. Who can honestly say they would have no murderous impulses toward someone who had ruthlessly killed their loved ones? Who wouldn’t stand by and watch as the tyrant responsible for a city of suffering falls from a precipice?

I bring it up, because I am wondering if it is one of the things that attract readers to villains. Villains give themselves permission to act on instinct and desire; they don’t let morals tie their hands. I can understand the appeal in this, but carried too far it becomes nothing more than seduction for the dark side. Deeply invested as I am in the messages conveyed by fiction, I find this phenomenon disturbing.

Is it a mistake to make villains relatable? Well, as a reader, I hate a villain who is just there and just wants to destroy just because. They definitely need motivation to fit into the story and with that comes some unveiling of a personality. I am so far building the villain in my novel for the sake of tension and obstacles and don’t care too much why he’s doing what he’s doing. This makes it difficult for me to deliver on bringing his character to life. But when I do manage to make him real enough in my own head, I don’t want to let him loose in my story in such a way that would gain him supporters. Curious as to how he got the way he is? Fine. Want to explore a few reactions like fear, anger, pity, even amusement if he has a good sense of humor? Absolutely fine. But get to the point that you wish the heroes would suffer or die just so the villain could finally get what he wants, and I’m sorry, but get out of my novel and have your own nightmares.

A wise librarian and story-lover (who also happens to be my godmother) will check the endings of books before she commits to them. She, like me, is not in it for shock value (villain wins? wow, didn’t see that coming!) She wants to know the ending won’t let her down. She can fall in love with the characters who deserve it; watch their struggles and set-backs with the underlying assurance that their efforts won’t be cheapened by ultimate failure.

My endings will always be for my heroes’ perseverance, because my heroes are my message.

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

Filed under: Ethics in SF 2 Comments
4Feb/12Off

More Kindle Releases

Kindle releases of Okal Rel books are coming out steadily from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. Here is the current list of Okal Rel releases for Kindle:

From the main Saga:

From the Legacy satellite line:

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