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.


Dialogue on Dark & Light

Dialogues: Perspectives from two authors of SF on Dark & Light.

Topic: Dark & Light in SF

Krista D. Ball Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living, according to her mother. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga originally published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy and the publisher behind Reality Skimming Press. Part 10: Unholy Science will conclude the series in 2014. Lynda's work features larger than life characters contending with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. Drop into the scene at Reality Skimming Press at Lynda works in learning technology and teaches applied computing.

1) What's your position on dark and light in human nature?

Krista: Many people like to think of humans as inherently good creatures. We have the capabilities for such kindness and compassion that, underneath our dark natures, there must be something that makes us want to be good. I do not believe this. I look at the world and see a struggle between good and evil, what is right and what is selfish, and the disregard for humanity. Unless raised to be compassionate, caring, and an upstanding member of the global community, people need to be taught how to be such individuals. It's no wonder that fiction reflects that darkness.

Lynda: I discovered the depths of man’s inhumanity to man as a previously innocent teenager by joining Amnesty International and volunteering with a crisis centre. I've been working on coming to terms with it ever since, because my gut reaction to darkness is to fight it. How to be sure it's really darkness and to what extent one personally can or should fight back are details I'm still working on. Theoretically, at least, I finally found the math to support my instincts in a biography of the statistician who uncovered the mechanics of why a sense of ethics is the only non-genetic trait that can be selected for on the basis of group dynamics -- provided the ethical group is in competition with unethical ones. Which is fascinating when one looks at the way bad guys are so essential to a good story in SF. The book is The Price of Altruism by Oren Harman.

2) Should there be darkness in YA books?

Krista: There weren't really "young adult" books when I was a teenager. The few books that existed specifically for teenagers generally preached to me about the evils of sex, why pregnancy would ruin my life, how guys all wanted to rape me, and how smoking a cigarette would cause me to end up addicted to heroin and prostituting myself for my next hit. (This is not an exaggeration, by the way). Now, YA is full of depressing dystopias where violence reigns. And I'm ok with that. I think there is a need for all kinds of YA works, from adventure stories that are fun and suspenseful, without any true threat or danger, to the extreme end that looks at the dark underside of the world of teens, to the capabilities of teens under extreme circumstances. Bit just because one teen wants to read about the brutality of child soldiers does not mean the next wants to. I think we owe it to everyone to provide both options.

Lynda: I used my characters to process my teenage reaction to darkness, pushing them to their limits in their Okal Rel Universe adventures. Later, my characters had an even worse time of it because I introduced handicaps and imperfections. But no matter how I tortured Amel or drove Horth to the breaking point, they remained heroes because they hung onto the good things that they strove for. Darkness in fiction, for me, lies not in what happens to a character but how the story influences the reader. If we come away thinking it’s smart to be the bad guy, it gives me shivers because we can’t afford to build a world where people are either too afraid, or too cynical, to even aspire to be heroes. By heroes, I don't meam perfectly unselfish paragons. I don't believe in those kinds of heroes. Stories should strive for the light, even if they transverse darkness, exactly to help us recognize heroism when we see it, and celebrate it as something it takes courage to champion. Something that lifts us all above the day-to-day concerns of life to aspire to make the world around us just a little bit better, when and where we're able.


Optimistic SF by Michelle Murrain

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.

Michelle MurrainMichelle Murrain is a science fiction writer who has published six novels. Her novels are hard science fiction, but incorporate social, political, and spiritual topics. Michelle also works as a nonprofit web developer, and has been a neuroscientist and professor. She lives in Northern California.

Why I Write Optimistic SF

Optimistic speculative fiction is, to me, fiction which explores our better nature, as well as explores how to deal with our shadows in a way that can lead to positive change.

I am at heart, an optimist, although I do feel often deeply troubled by the state of the human race. My work never glosses over those aspects, and is never "polyanna". But my plot arcs are generally stories of transformation - of individuals, groups, and societies. And, in general, although tumultuous and sometimes violent, those transformations are toward the greater good.

I'm not against dystopia - in fact, the novel I'm working on now starts out in a dystopic future. In some ways, describing and delving into dystopia is a way to show the way forward in a sense. Octavia Butler did this brilliantly in "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents." Showing the logical result of current human actions isn't pessimistic - it's realistic. The question is then, what do you do with that? Many authors show positive transformation out of dystopic, or simply difficult scenarios.

The thing I think I love the best about SF, is that you really get to ask big questions, in really big ways. That (besides getting to play with futuristic technology) is why I write science fiction. And since we get to ask the big questions - why not answer them in ways that help people see the good that's possible. and help them see where we could really get to, if we had the will. I think that's why a lot of people really love Star Trek - it portrays a future where so much of what we are burdened with today has been solved, but there is always more to grapple with.


A Post Attention Span World By Baron Dave Romm

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.

Baron Dave Romm

Baron Dave Romm

The Baron Romm: In His Own Words

I was born, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Since then I have been a fanzine publisher, masseur, radio producer, html instructor, futurist and ad hoc dilettante.

Shockwave Radio Theater was a weekly science fiction humor program which aired for nearly thirty years in Minneapolis, MN. We did original humor, played odd music, and anything else we wanted to do. I wrote/produced/acted in perhaps two dozen live stage shows. I interviewed quite a few interesting people from Dr. Demento to Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Indeed, when Ventura got to be governor, I declared that politics was a subset of science fiction humor. A degree of political awareness and futurism had always been present in my writing, and I leaped into it whole hog. I covered the 2008 Republican National Convention for KFAI-FM, and continue to talk to politicians and write political essays. And be snarky on various social media.

I live with Carole Vandal in Minneapolis on the site of the old Nicollet Baseball Park. I'm on the Condo Association and police Crime and Drug Committee. My latest project has been to document the street repairs for Nicollet Avenue. They're repaving the road for the first time since they slapped asphalt over the streetcar tracks in 1954.

I love living in the future.

A Post-Attention Span World

By Baron Dave Romm

Right now, we live in a post-attention span world. We have to multitask, and pay attention to a lot of things at the same time. If we're not liveblogging an event (observing, typing and answering feedback) we're talking on the phone while driving (or texting), holding IM conversations with many people at once, or simply have multiple windows open to flip back and forth at will.

It's not necessary, or even desirable, to remember what happened a hundred years ago. Or yesterday. We have politicians who deny ever saying things we have on video tape, and people believe them. In the latest presidential campaign, a Republican pollster proudly claimed, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers". Facts and memory didn't matter to their campaign. We have virtually everything anyone has ever written on the internet and easy ways to check on facts but most people just type the first damn thing that comes to mind. The previous Facebook comment by an obvious troll is more likely to affect your viewpoint than a reasoned book by an expert.

Finding out the truth, or at least researching the interplay of ideas, is easier today than at any time in human history, and we don't do it. Maybe people don't have the 15 seconds it would take to verify or deny a fact. Maybe people just don't want to do the typing with their fingers. Or maybe they just want to get back to Angry Birds.

When Alvin Toffler wrote "Future Shock" in 1970, he posited that people couldn't keep up with change. He was right. Now, forty years on, that change and many others have come and been superseded. We have all the information in the world, and not enough time. If no more books were written or music recorded or movies released, you couldn't, in one lifetime, experience all there is out there right now. We have to manage the moment. We have to manage flow. I called this "present shock" for "You're Riding The Shockwave", a play for Shockwave Radio Theater, in 1995, so I've been watching this phenomena grow even before the web became the backbone of existence for many.

Since the dawn of civilization, information access and flow has always been increasing, and always met with doubters.

When writing was invented, some people were against it. They were worried that direct personal communication would be compromised. They were worried that keeping track of debts and time spent on a project would limit how much one could talk someone into bending the rules. They were worried that there was was no way to tell the difference between words written by an authority (such as G_d) and some random schlub with a quill.

And they were right. All this happened.

When the printing press was invented, some people were against it. They were worried that the masses would read scripture without benefit of clergy. They were worried that people wouldn't use the memory palace technique and be able to keep a large amount of information in their head. They were worried that the democratization of knowledge would reduce the power of guilds and clan-based societies.

And they were right. All this happened.

When television was invented, some people were against it. They were worried that we would have a short attention span. They were worried that parents would use the boob tube as an electronic baby sitter. They were worried that the pablum would outweigh intellectual programs and people would just waste time. They were worried that we would have a short attention span.

And they were right. All this happened.

When the internet was invented and made easy to use by the World Wide Web., some people were against it. They were worried that the wrong people would have access to information. They were worried how easy it was to pretend to be someone you're not. They were worried about theft and fraud on a massive scale. They were worried that the speed of communication would make people stay at their computers watching the world go by.

And they were right. All this happened.

When devices using the internet got small and numerous enough and social networks connected hundreds of millions of people at once, some people were against it. They were worried that no one would have any time when they were out of touch. They were worried that conversation would take place 140 characters at a time. They were worried that people would play games on their phones while in social settings. They were worried that people would prefer to be online than meet real people.

And they were right. All this happened.

Of course, all these developments came with major advantages, and few would say that a pre-literate culture is better than our instant-gratification culture. But some would.

Change always happens, even to the amount and accessibility of knowledge. But what is different today is the rate of change.

As with all the increases in breadth and speed of knowledge available, we will adapt. Privacy may not go away, but we'll have to live with the embarrassing thing we did as a child, or the asinine post we made yesterday. Academic research may not be replaced by Twitter feeds, but we'll divide our thoughts into smaller and more easily 'liked' memes. Fact checking may not be completely replaced with bald-faced lies, but people will still vote with their sphincters and not with their heads.

Idiots predate and transcend social media. But in an online world where every post, status update or comment carries the same weight, the idiots rule. We sort of figured out how to adapt to a world with writing, then to a world with the printing press, they a world with television and, barely, a world with the internet. We really haven't come to terms with how social media should be integrated into how we run our lives.

As individuals, we haven't caught up with how technology has changed our relationship to other people. I have no doubt we will, but we're not there yet.

I'll leave you with a few observations on the same subject from wise men several Present Shocks ago:

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. " -- Albert Einstein

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


Ethics in SF #21: Today There is No Pain

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.

Justine GraykinJustine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science and Humanity -- well, Science, anyway –- and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. She lives with 1 husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs, too many cats and a flock of chickens on 50 acres in New Hampshire, occasionally disappearing into the White Mountains with a backpack. Further details, diatribes, and antidystopian fiction can be found on her website, and on her LiveJournal.

Today There is no Pain

“On Monday, June 23rd, Doctor Professor Uberman shut down his computer and turned off his cell phone. He left his iPad, lanyard and badge, wallet and keys on the table in the hall and went through the sliding glass doors, across the deck, and down into the back yard.

“The weather was fair. It had not rained for several days. The ground was dry. He sat down on it. Today there would be no pain.”

Thus begins my contribution to the Broad Universe Sampler anthology, a piece of flash fiction called, “Today there is no pain.” Uberman, a scientist in the service of the great, grinding Moloch of a corporate government, in a moment of personal crisis and despair, simply disconnects and walks away. He spends a few precious hours contemplating only the immediate reality of the present moment as perceived directly by his mind and senses. In it, he sees infinity and infinite interbeing.

The story is a call to all of us to stop our headlong daily rush of doing, filled with assumptions and obsessions. We live unstuck in time, agonizing over past and future, mindless of the passing of each present moment. Yet these ticking moments are the only access we have to what is truly real. Uberman experiences a day of bliss, of freedom, not because he has escaped from reality, but because he has stopped to look deeply into each moment and sees what is truly real.

“A small movement refocused his eyes onto a spider. Within the intricate chemical clockwork of that alien body were strands of genetic material that duplicated his own. Somewhere down the strobe-flash of incalculable days, a creature spawned siblings that would diverge, procreate, a million upon a million times over, to become someday, a spider and a man. They were distant kin.

“Every righteous crusade, every rendezvous with destiny, all the thunder and drum of human achievement, was compressed by geological time into a wafer. Uberman looked into the eyes of the spider, an event equally important as any other human act.”

Uberman does not pass judgement on the state of human affairs; he merely sees it for what it is: Insignificant. But he does not find that depressing. Quite the opposite. He finds it liberating. In that moment there is no pain. There is joy.


Ethics in SF #19 – Defining human

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.

DNA detail from art by Michelle Milburn

DNA detail from art by Michelle Milburn

"Our definition of humanity is based on the human genome," said Milap. "And Von's DNA isn't natural. It isn't in our catalog!" "That wasn't done to exclude someone like Von," Vera objected. "It was done to protect disabled people who might fall outside any particular functional definition!"

Quote from Courtesan Prince p. 234-5

What's Human?

I set up the passage quoted above to point out how complex problems are too often tackled with solutions that miss the point. We are intolerant of gray, preferring answers that are black or white. In the original draft of Courtesan Prince, I underscored the point by having Ann think something of this sort, expressing my impatience with other people's inability to entertain complex questions long enough to get at the real issues. An editor along the way cut the philosophizing out. Which, given Ann's character and the urgency of the situation in progress, made sense. So I'm raising it here, instead. What should the Reetion criteria for conferring human rights have been? A definition that would exclude, for example, a brain-dead human with natural DNA but include someone like Von? Or is that assumption of what's desirable flawed, itself?

Comments: What do you think?


Ethics in SF #18: Justine Graykin

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.

Justine GraykinJustine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science and Humanity -- well, Science, anyway –- and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. She lives with 1 husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs, too many cats and a flock of chickens on 50 acres in New Hampshire, occasionally disappearing into the White Mountains with a backpack. Further details, diatribes, and antidystopian fiction can be found on her website, and on her LiveJournal.


I came across one of my old blogs. The first line read, “It's easy to become a successful writer, if that's the only thing you want.” It's a reference to a quote from Citizen Kane about getting rich. The message is essentially the same.

We hear a lot about the great opportunities that new media and technology offer for writers. Maybe so. But it's a double-edged sword. It means that more people are trying to get published than ever before, at a time that demand lags far behind the supply. Never has the competition been more fierce. Still, success can be yours. If that's the only thing you want.

There are only so many hours in the day. You can spend the morning with your children, reading picture books, watching dragonflies, listening to the birds singing, playing with them in the sandbox or on the grass. Or you can catch up on the latest blogs by key people in the business about new trends in the market. You can take the time to prepare a good meal from wholesome foods, and then relax and enjoy it, or you can just throw something on quick and eat it at your desk while you research which publisher or agency to send your manuscript to next. You can go to a movie with a good friend and then go out afterwards and talk about it, or you can stay home and work on revisions. You can volunteer to coach a team, help out at the local library or school, put in some hours at a soup kitchen. Or you can invest your time carefully crafting cover letters, writing queries and refining your pitch. You can go to your family reunion and meet your new nieces and nephews, or to a convention and make important connections with agents and editors.

Decisions about how to allocate your time and attention come every day. Each time you choose family or friends over your writing career, you lose a little bit of your edge. Of course you can try to balance the different aspects of your life, since rich life experiences will make you a better writer. But someone else out there is making a different choice, putting in more hours blogging, networking, seeking out the latest hot trend in publishing and burning the midnight oil to capitalize on it, following up leads and meeting deadlines. Your book may be every bit as good or better, but it takes more than that to rise to the top.

So perhaps you won't be as successful as a writer as you hoped. Fame and best-seller lists may elude you. Perhaps you are doomed to labor in obscurity.

But you will have spent mornings with your children reading picture books, watching dragonflies, listening to the birds singing. You will have helped out at the local library or school, and put in hours at a soup kitchen. You'll have gone to movies with good friends and spent time with them afterwards laughing and talking. You'll have gone to the family reunion and met your nieces and nephews.

It all depends on what you want.

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