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[No comments] ████: Like today's algorithmic creativity tools, many NaNoGenMo projects take as their grist the results of other peoples' creativity and hard work: years, even centuries of work. My own In Dialogue and Amazon Prime are manipulations of public domain texts, and for Alphabetical Order and Brutus and Cassius, at the close of the scene I took the entire English literary canon as my input. Linked By Love mined thousands of books for their back cover copy—by far the most difficult part of the book to write. For 2022, I've created a NaNoGenMo work that reuses no one's text but my own.

████ is a blackout piece made from the text of my unpublished novel, Mine. I've redacted every word that shows up in one of my two published novels, Constellation Games and Situation Normal. You'll see lots of names, places, technical terms, odd digressions on Cleopatra and zucchini, punctuation, and (I assume) typoes. That's it.

This is an appropriate source text since Mine is a story about people preserved as the things around them are erased, and then juxtaposed without context. But really, I could tell you it was about anything and you'd have to believe me... for now.

Stress Response: As promised, the November/December issue of Analog includes "Stress Response", a Ravy Uvana story in which Judicant Uvana helps a young human who went into space believing it would be a big, fun adventure... and who still believes that at the end of the story! Have fun!

The big change I made after my writing group critiqued "Stress Response" was explicitly explaining why the stress response happened; no one got it and without that crucial piece of information the story feels like watching someone else's vacation slides. Many, many times my writing group has told me "Leonard, you need to explicitly explain the thing instead of expecting us to figure it out."

Two more stories of mine are coming up in Analog: "Meat", the first Ravy Uvana story I ever wrote; and "Race to the Bottom", a flash piece that explains why everything is so terrible. Both coming out next year, I guess? I've deposited the checks!

October Film Roundup:

[Comments] (1) September Film Roundup: It's an rom-com Roundup this month, with lovers being reunited and old public domain British source material galore!

A quick Television Spotlight: we watched Only Murders in the Building, which I think gets much better in season 2 as they stop trying so hard to ape the form they're parodying (which resulted in lots of boring subplots) and lean in to wacky, nonsensical comedy (which resulted in me enjoying a Martin Short performance for the first time ever). I will say that season 1 was more effective at the Hitchcockian finger-wagging where they try to shame you for enjoying the thing they're showing you, but no one actually enjoys that—you're being shamed!

We also watched all of The Goes Wrong Show in the space of a coupel days, and see Sumana's review for that. Just really, really funny. I appreciate that the fictional actors all have consistent characters that lead to different styles of comedy as things Go Wrong.

August Film Roundup: By chance I ended up watching all of August's films without Sumana, so this is a bunch of films from my huge cinematic pile of "Sumana probably won't like these." And I think I was right!

The Scene of the Crime: My new story "The Scene of the Crime" is published in the August 2022 issue of Clarkesworld! This is my second published Ravy Uvana story, after "Mandatory Arbitration", and I just did copyedits for "Stress Response", which will become the third one near the end of the year.

The first draft of this story was much more complicated, with a time loop and a parallel universe, plus with Dr. Miew denying to the end that there was any time loop at all. Way too complicated! A lot of writing the first draft is throwing ideas at the wall, and a lot of the second draft is seeing which ideas stuck to the wall and picking up the others.

[Comments] (1) July Film Roundup:

June Film Roundup: In June, the theme was "wacky comedies." I am pushing for the theme for July to also be "wacky comedies," but running into some resistance. We may end up splitting the month, Solomon-style.

May Film Roundup: After nearly ten years, it finally happened: we watched a movie on the last day of the month solely so I'd have something to put in Film Roundup. A busy month, I guess, with our viewing time spent on Better Call Saul (chilling!) and Strange New Worlds (excellent!).

April Film Roundup:

March Film Roundup: A real big month for movies that each parody a lot of other movies. But a real small Roundup of such movies, only two:

Two Spacesuits: My story "Two Spacesuits" is published in the April 2022 issue of Clarkesworld! I wrote "Two Spacesuits" in 2017, and over time the subject matter—your normcore parents join a self-medicating Internet cult—has only become more and more relevant. I made a few minor edits in late 2021 to set the story during the pandemic, instead of the sprawling 21st-century untime you see in a lot of these stories, but everything apart from the obvious "curbside pickup" type stuff was there originally. Thanks to Neil Clarke for picking up the story.

"Two Spacesuits" has a heavy focus on one of my big writer themes: cognitive dissonance and the defense mechanisms we deploy to deal with it.

“You’re still doing it! Oh my God! You make up these stories to explain your behavior to yourselves. When one story falls apart you just switch to another one.”

As a writer I hope I don't come off solely as an observer of human frailty, but this is one of my favorite kinds of human frailty to observe. There's a bit of this in Constellation Games when Ariel and Dana are talking about Curic's ambivalence:

“We'd pick an option at random and create post hoc rationalizations,” said Dana. “Humans do it, too.”

In Situation Normal, Evidence causes this behavior as a side effect (this is why Evidence is called that!), and this is most clear in "We, the Unwilling," the SN bonus story, where Evidence pushes the POV character into ever more extreme states of cognitive dissonance:

“You ask the Internet about Captain Jim Kirk,” said Nor firmly, “and then we can do business based on a shared understanding of the facts.”

“I don’t want to,” said Kenta. There was nothing else to say. The only possible next step towards completing the mission was to avoid certain pieces of information.

Can readers expect a respite from further explorations of this concept in The Constellation Speedrun? My sources say no.

February Film Roundup:

[Comments] (1) January Film Roundup:

[Comments] (2) The Crummy.com Review of Things 2021: Still alive and healthy, though that seems less of an accomplishment than last year. Looking through photos from 2021 shows some outings, some visits with friends and family, but thinking back on it it just seems like an annoying haze. At least we have Things, and the Review thereof, to keep us company:

Books

The crummy.com Books of the Year are: Endless Frontier by G. Pascal Zachary, Red Plenty by Francis Spufford, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Becoming Trader Joe by Joe Coulombe and Patty Civalleri. All good stuff.

Film

As is traditional, Film Roundup Roundup has been updated. I had no problem coming up with a top ten for you, thanks in large part to '80s Month, which brought in a lot of classics I'd never seen:

Games

The Crummy.com Game of the Year is the fairly obscure Uurnog Uurnlimited, which sets up a traditional platforming challenge and lets you break it however you want. Runners-up: Slipways and Dicey Dungeons, as well as good old Spelling Bee and Wordle, which Sumana and I like to play collaboratively.

I spent less time in 2021 than in 2020 playing games, and more of that time on the best games of other years, especially Noita. My Noita fun ended with a bang, when I ended up in an incredible seed (470656790 -- try it out!) which basically let me legitimately see everything in the game I wanted to see.

My Accomplishments

My story "Mandatory Arbitration" came out in Analog, and I sold both of my non-bad 2020 stories: "Stress Response" and "When there is Sugar", to appear this year. (I actually just sold another story, but that happened in 2022, so more on that later.)

The Constellation Speedrun is still proceeding forward in a very un-speedrun-like manner. I wrote three stories in 2021: "The Coffeeshop AU" plus two Ravy Uvana stories, "The Letter of the Law" and "The Scent of the Governed."

December Film Roundup:

Situation Normal Author Commentary #8: "We, the Unwilling": Have a Situation Normal bonus story! And now, have a commentary essay on that story!

This is probably my very final Situation Normal author commentary, and I'm going to spoil, spoil, spoil this story and the novel and everything related.

I'm not foolish enough to say there's no other Thanksgiving-themed SF stories, given that both Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) and SF (my favorite literary genre) are one easy conceptual jump away from colonialism, but... there's not many. There's one more now. But since this is the Situation Normal-verse, this story isn't about the actual experience of Thanksgiving, positive or negative. It's about the stories we tell ourselves about Thanksgiving, and what we'll do to make a story feel true.

"We, the Unwilling" has no causal connection to Situation Normal; it doesn't even take place when you think it does. This lets me do two things I couldn't do in the novel. The first is to put a "Lower Decks" type focus on the Outreach Navy's grunts. As my wording of the previous sentence implies, the second is to explicitly talk about Star Trek, the single biggest influence on Situation Normal.

We,

Like Situation Normal, the title of the story comes from a saying popular in the American military. SNAFUs started in World War II, and this saying became popular during the Vietnam War. It's is a pretty long saying with a lot of variations, which makes me think it was translated from another language. The most reasonable attribution I've seen is to nineteenth-century historian Konstantin Josef Jireček. I mean, if it's not him, why him? Did you just pick a guy?

I tried some search-engine tricks to confirm this attribution, hoping this commentary could clear up the confusion once and for all, but nothing doing. Anyway, here's the most common version of the quote:

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

This perfectly describes Spaceman Imura's through-line, as he's forced into a Kobayashi Maru situation which he unwittingly solves by wrecking the experiment which was the real point of the test.

The rules of Situation Normal are that everyone gets thrown into an unexpected genre of story and ends up rewarded or punished based on their ability to roll with the punches. Imura gets put into a highly psychological story about his own failings as a spaceman, and ends up getting exactly what he wanted (honorable discharge), because the treatment he got to deal with those failings makes him way too good at rolling with the punches.

The unwilling

In Situation Normal, the person who gets the most "Lower Decks" treatment is Churryhoof, who despite being a pretty high-ranking officer is yanked around like an enlisted for most of the book: by Mrs. Chen, by Jaketown, by Styrqot and Vec, and finally by Captain Rebtet and Thrux. In Chapter 13 of Situation Normal, as Mrs. Chen is breaking Churryhoof down, there's a paragraph which sets the same tone as "We, the Unwilling":

Mrs. Chen, so experienced in psychological warfare, was manipulating Churryhoof in the most obvious way possible. This was how brands spoke to spacemen. It worked because there was no need to create complicated new consumer desires that only a brand could fulfill. Spacemen needed what soldiers have always needed: alcohol, better gear, sex, a good night’s sleep. A way to pretend the horrible thing wasn’t happening, or wouldn’t happen to you. It was working.

Of course, Churryhoof isn't "the unwilling"; she volunteered for the Navy whereas Imura was pressured into it. But Imura technically volunteered too, and Churryhoof was pressured to join by economic necessity. Here she is in chapter 26:

Churryhoof was terrible at talking to brands. That was why she’d joined the Navy: it was a good career that didn’t involve working for a brand. Military service was the only way off of a boondocks colony like Fallback, unless you had no pride and were willing to end up like [Jaketown].

Here's an enlisted being, Specialist Tellpesh, in chapter 38, talking about her upbringing in a boondocks colony:

The whole planet was segregated. Men in the northern hemisphere, women in the south. The equator was like a fucking demilitarized zone. I wanted up, so I went into a recruitment office and I lied about knowing computers.

The difference is that once Churryhoof and Tellpesh join the Navy, they become willing as they find their own competences. Whereas Imura—who has the same drone-pilot job Churryhoof started with—is bad at his job and can't even succeed at washing out.

Churryhoof begins the book with the attitude that has to be inculcated in Imura: "if [she] completed the assignment, step by step, it would cancel out everything [she’d] done to get from one step to the next." Tellpesh grumbles a lot ("Why do I let people talk me into this shit?") but at the end, after everything that's happened to her, she goes AWOL searching for the badass adventure she knows is out there for her. Even after being turned into a hyper-competent problem-solving machine, Imura just doesn't want to be here.

Star Trek: Door Repair Guy

In Constellation Games Ariel's mother calls him when he's on the moon, and you overhear a Bob Newhart type routine as Ariel tries to explain how he got there. "They don't use money, it's like Star Trek. Not the reboot, I'm talking like Next Generation."

Situation Normal also takes place in a world where people know about Star Trek as a TV show ("Do you also have Mene and Jean-Luc Picard on board?"), but more than that, it's my attempt to provide a revisionist view of Star Trek as, effectively, Federation propaganda.

My absolute favorite bits of Star Trek are the arc-sized villains I call the "anti-Federations"—collective organizations that critique the Federation while mirroring its multi-species structure. Off the top of my head we've got the Terran Empire (evil imperial Federation), the Borg (Federation as cultural homogenizer), the Maquis (breakaways betrayed by the Federation), the Dominion (evil genetic-enslavement Federation), the Xindi (blood-and-soil Federation), and the Emerald Chain (mostly-evil capitalist Federation).

Both civilizations in Situation Normal are anti-Federations of this sort. I mentioned in an earlier commentary that "the Fist of Joy is how Star Trek's Federation sees itself, and the Outreach is the Federation we actually see on screen most of the time." The Terran Outreach is uptight, militaristic, human-dominated, paying lip service to scientific exploration but not delivering much. The Fist of Joy is diverse, decadent, inefficient, ungovernable, superficially friendly but full of hidden pockets that are willing to fight very dirty.

There's a bit in "We, the Unwilling" that looks like a throwaway joke but is actually a reference: Spaceman Imura's declaration that on Enterprise "even the door repair guys were top of their class." The reference is to Douglas A. McLeod's 1990s fanfic "Star Trek: Door Repair Guy", a parody series that debuted prior to the "Lower Decks" ST:TNG episode.

To get a feel for the times, heed this warning from McLeod as he prepares to repost the saga to alt.startrek.creative: "Each episode is about 25k in length, so if you want to save it to disc bear in mind that it's well over a megabyte all together." I reread some of ST:DRG while writing this and 1) the early episodes aren't terrific, but by the time Door Repair Guy gets reassigned to DS9 it's really solid, 2) although not written in screenplay format, each episode is structured like an episode of Star Trek, with commercial breaks that are themselves clever works of science fiction.

ST:DRG did something I've never forgotten, something that has influenced all of my fiction: it focused on the absolute lowest-ranking person in the service. Star Trek has shown the people who get the crappy assignments (source: Lower Decks) and some people who really shouldn't have joined Starfleet (source: some Voyager episode I can't find because Voyager episodes all have super generic names), but they're all officers. All the lower-deckers in the "Lower Decks" episode are officers. I can think of three non-officer Starfleet characters in all of Star Trek: Chief O'Brien, Yeoman Rand, and Crewman Daniels (who, spoiler, is not really in Starfleet!).

Here's me complaining about this a year ago, so you've heard this from me before. Things improved dramatically after I completed Situation Normal, with the debut of Lower Decks, which does a good job of showing people in Starfleet who are effectively enlisted beings, even if they all went to Starfleet Academy for some reason. Situation Normal shows something more like a real-world military, with officers commanding crews full of petty officers and enlisteds, but the enlisted POV isn't represented in the novel.

What you don't see in Star Trek or Situation Normal is Starfleet officers/Outreach spacemen who don't want to or really shouldn't be here. This is entirely fitting since Starfleet is (Leonard's headcanon, but not only Leonard's headcanon) an escape valve for people who just can't even with the post-scarcity Federation—sort of like the Constellation contact missions. And Situation Normal gets so dangerous so quickly that any such character would, like the apparently competent Spaceman Heiss, be killed a third of the way through the book.

Put it all together: "We, the Unwilling" features a grunt who doesn't want to be in the Outreach Navy and really shouldn't be there. This is prior to the war, so his unfitness won't immediately lead to his death. He's given a fantasy memetic framework to justify his service and act as a scaffolding for building real competence. And the fantasy is... Star Trek. Not Next Generation, the reboot. An Abrams-like telling of Captain Kirk's exploits that treats Starfleet as a big adventure and doesn't offer any substantive critique of the society Starfleet protects or the society that created Star Trek. The same Star Trek watched by the people who chose the logo for the United States Space Force.

Star Trek is so big and old and sprawling that you can't just have one critique of it. I can think of two SF novels that get by just parodying the "redshirt" trope. My main fascination is with the friction between the Federation's professed ideals and what we see onscreen. Situation Normal played that out on the large-scale political level, and "We, the Unwilling" plays it out on the much smaller level of family drama and thankless work assignments.

I don't generally offer to do work-for-hire, but I'd love to write a Lower Decks tie-in novel. I think I could pull off something like this while staying within the series bible.

[Comments] (1) Replacements for Muji recycled-yarn socks: For many years Muji sold socks made of recycled yarn. These were, by far, the most comfortable socks I've ever worn. I wore them continuously for about fifteen years, but around 2019 they discontinued the product line. I still have a couple pairs that aren't worn out, but it's only a matter of time; it seems like every time I run them through the wash one of my remaining socks develops a hole. So, one of my low-key hobbies has been looking for a replacement. This blog post presents my findings so far in a way SEO-optimized for people like me.

I believe the appeal of these socks for me is the fabric mix: 70% polyester, 28% cotton, 2% Spandex. Last year Sumana kindly posted an Ask Metafilter question about similar socks, which helped me understand why it's so hard to find socks like these. My sock preferences—smooth and cooling rather than fuzzy and warm—seem to be in the minority.

The closest thing I've found to a replacement is the All In Motion no show socks, available at Target. These are 59% recycled polyester, 34% cotton. They're quite comfortable but, as the name implies, they don't go above my ankles. (Muji also sold recycled-yarn socks in this shorter size, so if those were the ones you liked, this is your sock.) The main difference is that the All In Motion socks are noticeably thicker than the Muji yarn socks. This definitely improves their durability, but also makes them a bit warm. Increased durability seems a Faustian bargain, since I find the experience of wearing the socks less pleasant.

I also asked a Muji employee who remembered the old socks to help me find the closest match. We decided on the right angle pile short socks. These have a mix of 78% cotton, 21% polyester, 1% Spandex. They're not bad (I'm wearing some right now) but like the All In Motion socks, they're noticeably thicker (thus warmer) than the old socks and—I feel ridiculous typing this but details are important here—the elastic at the top of the sock is a little pinchy.

The quest continues. I've got plenty of socks right now so I'm not looking to buy more, but I'll update this post if I find something better.

November Film Roundup:

[Comments] (1) Mandatory Arbitration: I'm writing about this a little late, but it's never too late for good science fiction! My SF legal thriller "Mandatory Arbitration" was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Analog—my first sale to a print magazine! The text is not online, but you can hear me read the story on the Analog podcast.

I have relentfully made fun of Analog in this blog over the past 15 years, but one thing I really like about the magazine is its tendency to publish clever humorous SF. My main regret is that Analog doesn't do those super-generic story blurbs anymore, so "Mandatory Arbitration" didn't get one. No problem, I'll just reuse an old blurb, let's see here. Yes, the blurb from Carl Frederick's "The Long Way Around" in 2010 will do nicely: "The ways a tool was designed to be used are not the only ways it can be used...." It seems the same is true of blurbs!

Now's also a good time to mention that I've sold a second story featuring Ravy Uvana, the space-bureaucrat heroine of "Mandatory Arbitration". I hope/assume "Stress Response" will appear in print next year. The character's really fun and I keep coming back to her. I've got a formula set up, sort of like Columbo. In fact, if I ever write an out-and-out Ravy Uvana murder mystery, it'll be from the murderer's POV and structured like a Columbo episode. That's a non-binding promise!

October Film Roundup:

September Film Roundup: Just one film this month, so I'll shake things up by starting with the Television Spotlight. Sumana started watching the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and when the second season turned out to take place at a 1960s Catskills summer resort, I was interested enough to tag along. Something about that old-timey #resortlife appeals to me in a way that makes it obvious I've never actually experienced anything similar, because I'd probably get bored in fifteen minutes. I enjoyed watching a few hours of it, though.

Season three got a little incoherent with pieces being yanked back and forth across the board, but the character of Susie kept me coming back. My sister's name is Susie and there aren't a lot of Susies in media these days, and it was good to see some Susie representation. I don't think my sister would approve of Susie Myerson, but I don't think much of Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, so whatevs.

And now, our feature presentation:

August Film Roundup: Sumana was unavailable for a lot of this month, so I spent a lot of time watching films she doesn't want to watch. Yes, we're "going stag" to this month's Film Roundup. Lots of violence and dudes doing dudely things.

July Film Roundup:

[Comments] (2) June Film Roundup: It's been a heist-filled month, and not just because of our continuing leef-peeping drive through the Fast & Furious series. Why, just look behind you—I've stolen your priceless Blue Period Picasso! Heist-tastic!


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Tuesday, December 08 2020, 19:23:12 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Thursday, December 08 2022, 10:30:02 Nowhere Standard Time.

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