inverarity: (inverarity)
The novella that spawned The Thing,

Who Goes There?

Astounding Science Fiction, 1938, 168 pages

Who Goes There?, the novella that formed the basis of the film The Thing, is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient body of a crash-landed alien.

Paranoia will destroy ya, but murderous shapechanging aliens will kill you faster. )

Verdict: A fine pulp adventure that was made into three decent monster movies. Who Goes There? is a sci-fi classic that added paranoia about alien dopplegangers to the tradition of weird fiction set in the Antarctic. 8/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
inverarity: (inverarity)

Doomsday Bunkers

When the world ends, an underground 1-bedroom apartment and a 10-year supply of beans will totally justify devoting your life to end-times paranoia.

So I am now working on a new OF novel. (No, sorry, no good news about my SF novel. One agent was interested but ultimately passed, so I think it's going in the trunk for now.) It's a post-apocalyptic. Old school. What can I say, first I wrote a Heinleinesque teen space adventure, now I am writing my own version of The Stand. Never let it be said my writing is guided by commercial viability or original ideas. :P

(No, not thinking of self-publishing at this time. If I was gonna just see how many self-published ebooks I could sell, I'd adopt a new pseudonym and write M/M were-dinosaur erotica.)

So, anyway, survival in the post-apocalypse. My new book gives me an excuse to indulge in wasting more time reading crazy people ranting on the Internetresearch.

Now and then I acquire temporary odd obsessions/fascinations. Right now it is with the whole "prepper" subculture (what used to be called "survivalists"). Currently they are predicting the imminent collapse of Western civilization, hyperinflation of the U.S. Dollar, Peak Oil, Obama herding people into FEMA camps, and various combinations of EMPs, superstorms, nuclear meltdowns, and roving cannibal hordes. Not necessarily in that order.

Of course these subcultures have been predicting imminent catastrophe since at least the 60s. And remember all that Golden Age science fiction about nuclear families emerging from their suburban bomb shelters after the atomic war to survey a shattered, post-apocalyptic America?

The fears of these survivalists are somewhat based on real threats. People were legitimately afraid of nuclear war in the 50s, though they had seriously optimistic notions about how survivable an actual global thermonuclear war would be. And watching the economy now, I cannot say that I think predictions of hyperinflation and/or a Great Depression-level collapse are absolutely, completely absurd. I would rate the worst-case scenarios as "unlikely," but it would be foolish to assume that the dollar is going to be as strong in 20 years as it is now.

That said, it's one thing to stock a little extra food and water and maybe even some hard currency just in case your city's grid goes down in a catastrophe, and another to seriously prepare for The End of the World As We Know It.

Doomsday Bunkers is a "reality show" that is not really that interesting — it's about a company that builds bunkers and storage pods for preppers. The interesting part is not their prefab steel shipping containers that they basically turn into 1-bedroom apartments and bury in a hole in the ground; it's all the scared white people (it's almost all scared white people) spending massive amounts of money on remote threats. I mean, one lady spent $150,000 on an underground bunker with NBC air filters because she lives 15 miles from a nuclear power plant and is worried about a meltdown. If you are that worried about a meltdown, wouldn't it be cheaper just to move away from the power plant?

Other preppers were these guys trying to put on an Alpha Wolf display (at least on camera), thinking that some gym muscles and a shaved head made them look hard, while they growled about how they are totally gonna Protect Their Families and shoot anyone who tries to Take Their Stuff, yo. Did they actually train with any of those expensive, high-end guns they were waving around? Did they think about long-term survival in a world where they and their family have to retreat to an underground shipping container because starving hordes of people who want to Take Their Stuff are ransacking their property?

If you are preparing for a serious TEOTWAKI event, then nothing less than self-sufficiency and/or a community of like-minded people all preparing for the same thing will suffice. If you are a suburbanite or even someone with a rural bunker, I cannot think of a more miserable existence than hiding in a can breathing reprocessed air for years. What's even the point? These are people terrified by death, plagued by irrational fears.

Aviva Drescher

This is what a prepper looks like.
Not always this rich, but almost always this white.

They would probably laugh at a Manhattanite "prepper" like Aviva Drescher:

“I bought body gear, really expensive body gear, like the kind used by the Army. I went online and researched gas masks. I bought a gas tent for my baby. I was so crazy that when I took my baby out, I would keep a gas mask in the stroller. I stocked up on Cipro,” she said. (Cipro is used to treat people exposed to anthrax.) “I bought a bunch of giant rafts to go down the East River. Though I know,” she sighed, “all the big shots will probably have private planes and helicopters.”

I mean, seriously, carrying around a gas mask just in case of a sudden nerve gas attack in Central Park? This is what we call "poor risk assessment." If you were to list all the possible threats to your baby, the probability of nerve gas is way, way, way lower than more mundane threats that would be mitigated by much more practical measures...

But as amusing as the notion of a Real Housewife of NYC hobbling about in high heels and body armor may be, fundamentally Ms. Drescher's thinking is no more irrational than all the other scared white people who don't know what to do in the event that their environment comes to resemble... well, much of the world today. Where the police are not your friends and not going to show up to protect you, and walking outside without being shot at is not a given, nor is the ready availability of food. Go to any inner city and you'll find a large number of people who live like that today, in America. Survival skills are not necessarily hiding in a bunker with a horde of firearms or carrying gas masks in case of a Tom Clancy novel.

They aren't all crazy and irrational, though. It's easy to see how they get caught up in that mindset.

I have been reading Jim Rawles's SurvivalBlog, and it's a combination of hard, practical common sense and survival tips for when shit seriously hits the fan (and knowledge and skills that are useful to have even if it doesn't), and raving moonbat goldbugs, fundies, and gun nuts. These are people buying real estate in the "American Redoubt" (generally, Montana/Idaho/North Dakota and thereabouts) because they expect both coasts and all major cities to become Somalia. In fairness, Rawles himself is sane and reasonable, even if I disagree with some of his conclusions and most of his premises, but you can feel the fear and paranoia oozing from some of his letter-writers.

Randall Flagg

Grab yo' guns, fucker! It's time to start shootin' librulz!

There is also a subset of the survivalist subculture that isn't just fearfully preparing for society to collapse, but eagerly anticipating it. From those who want to literally burn it to the ground to those who won't do anything to immanentize the eschaton themselves but just can't wait until they can start shooting the Democratsstarving hordes, there's a very creepy and heavily-armed fringe waiting to come out of the woodwork.

I call these people "Flaggians." It's akin to that famous cocktail party game about going Nazi — when the end of the world comes, who would join up with Randall Flagg? I have my thoughts on how you can predict who will be a wolf, who will be a sheep, and who will be a sheepdog.

In the meantime, I am working on zombie-proofing my house, and on my novel.

[Poll #1952528]
inverarity: (inverarity)
So, yeah, everyone's talking about Amazon's Kindle Worlds program, which basically allows people to write and sell fan fiction as Kindle ebooks.

Now before you get all excited, it's only Alloy Entertainment allowing this so far, and only for certain properties (Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars). No doubt more publishers and intellectual properties will become available, but it's not like Amazon has just declared open season for publishing fan fiction.

Lots of professional authors have already weighed in: John Scalzi is preliminarily wary. Jim C. Hines is pondering it. Malinda Lo is freaking out.

So, a few things to keep in mind.

First of all: the properties made available so far are already what are called "packaged works": they're basically work-for-hire product. It's not like Amazon is (or could) throwing the gates open for you to start publishing Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fanfic. Only the IP holder (i.e., the author) can allow that.

I am guessing that a few authors will give permission, and the majority will say "Hell, no."

Now, of course some people fear what Amazon's long game is. Amazon has a history of undercutting and commoditizing things in order to seize market share, so I've seen speculation that Amazon will start requiring authors to agree to a "fan fiction clause" in work published by Amazon, and that this will slowly exert pressure on all publishers to bow to this new model.

I think that's pretty unlikely, because I think it's pretty unlikely that this "commercial fan fic" will ever become a big thing.

What I do think will happen is that there will be a handful of success stories, ala Fifty Shades of Gray. Amongst the vast sea of crap that will be published, much like self-published original fiction now, a few will become enormously popular bestsellers, probably for reasons as inexplicable to most of us as 50SoG.

And the catch there is that Kindle World's contract grants the original license holder all rights to use your creations, without compensation.

In other words, let's say I was able to publish my Alexandra Quick series on Kindle Worlds (which I can't, because J.K. Rowling and Scholastic have not jumped on this bandwagon and I think it's enormously unlikely that they will). And let's say Alexandra Quick became the hottest thing since 50SoG. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) Under the terms of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing could sell the rights to Warner Brothers to make a series of Alexandra Quick movies, and no one has to pay me one thin dime. I get paid only for my novels, not for any derivative works. At all. I don't really own my characters.

And, the thing is, I think that's fair, more or less. Because I already don't own my characters. Because it's fan fiction. If I want to write Alexandra Quick novels that I can hypothetically sell the movie rights to, then I'd need to "file the serial numbers off" and write them as original novels, not as officially sanctioned fan fiction. If you decide to jump into the Kindle Worlds fan fiction pool, you do so knowing that you are writing fan fiction and you don't own it. Don't like it? Write something that's not fan fiction.

The other big objection I've seen to this is that it violates the "gift economy" culture of fandom. I.e., it's just plain wrong to sell fan fiction, because it's wrong because.

As far as I'm concerned, if you've been given the creator's blessing, it's not wrong.

Will this see a bunch of people no longer posting free stories on because they're trying to sell it on Kindle Worlds instead? Oh, I'm sure some will try. Keeping in mind that it's only ever going to be a very small subset of properties that are allowed on Kindle Worlds (and I do not think that subset will ever include Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, anything Marvel or DC, you get the idea), even among those fandoms, plenty of people will still write stuff for free. There will never be a shortage of free fan fiction. And the vast majority of authors who try to sell their fan fiction will be horribly disappointed if they're thinking they're going to make any significant amount of money at it.

Alexandra Quick as commercial fan fic?

Alexandra Quick

See above for all the reasons why this will not happen. But hypothetically, let's say J.K. Rowling shocked the world by saying "Sure, go ahead and sell your Harry Potter fan fiction."

Would I do it?


Not to make money (Amazon decides the pricing, and I wouldn't expect to see significant sales, especially since all the AQ novels are already available for free), but for the increased exposure, to give Alexandra Quick a much wider audience. (And yes, taking the risk that someday Alexandra Quick might become a blockbuster movie franchise and I wouldn't get paid. Hey, I would happily take that risk! :D)

I would put all the AQ novels up for free on Amazon and Smashwords now, if it were legal. I imagine most fan fiction writers would. And if that led to people saying "Hey, this Inverarity is a pretty good writer, maybe I should buy his original fiction..." Well, I'm sure that's the thinking of a lot of writers who will be flooding into Kindle Worlds.

I will not, however, be writing any Vampire Diaries fan fiction.

[Poll #1914940]
inverarity: (inverarity)
I have not posted a lot about atheism, because I'm not a "movement atheist," which is to say, I'm pretty unapologetic and can even be militant about my lack of belief, but I don't join atheist groups or go around mocking religious people (unless they annoy me). The reason I don't participate much in online atheism is that a lot of online atheists are also libertarians, which I consider the atheist version of creationism. The reason I don't mock religious people is, well, I'm not an asshole, and I do have friends and family who are religious. I don't think they're stupid for believing - just wrong.

However, one of those smug atheist truisms which I have generally found to be true no matter how smug it may be is that atheists tend to know more about religion than religious people. It's no surprise that most Christians have never read the Bible (even those who believe in Biblical inerrancy - I mean, holy shit, if I believed a book was the literal, absolutely true Word of God I would read every single word repeatedly like my immortal soul depended on it, ya know?), and that many American Christians have completely wrong ideas about what the U.S. Constitution actually says about religion, what you can and can't teach in school, etc.

So test your knowledge with the Christian Science Monitor's Are you smarter than an atheist? poll.

This atheist scored 30 out of 32. (I missed one I should really have gotten right, and missed another because I just didn't remember.)

(There is a shorter version conducted by the Pew Forum here which includes a report on average results nationwide, by religious affiliation or lack thereof.)

Hat tip to [ profile] joreth for posting about this and pointing out legitimate issues with how the CSM is likely to use the results.


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