Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Bookstore Idiocy

Last weekend, I attended a fantasy and science fiction literary symposium in northern Utah, called LTUE (or, after a noteworthy writer, Life, The Universe, and Everything). As more of a literary symposium than a standard convention, LTUE attracts a great number of writers and editors, and an even greater number of would-be or beginning F&SF writers. Over the years, the guests of honor have included best-selling authors, F&SF publishers, and noted editors in the field (and, yes, I’ve been a GOH twice).

One of the highlight events of LTUE is a “mass signing” of all attending authors on Friday night, and this is facilitated by a book-selling site in the same enormous room as the mass signing, which means that those who are attending can run over and buy a book for an author to sign if they attended panels or discussions and realized that they really wanted to try an author’s work.

For over twenty years, the Barnes & Noble in Orem operated this on-site temporary book-selling venue, and, from what I’ve observed in the years I’ve attended, they seemed to do very well indeed. I know that my books have always sold moderately well at LTUE, and often the works of bigger name authors sold in the hundreds of copies over three days.

This year, however, the B&N store was unable to continue this activity, not because it didn’t sell books and make money, but because B&N recently adopted a chain-wide policy that banned “satellite events.”

To me, such a blanket policy makes no sense. I could understand a policy that declared that satellite events must cover their costs or come close, but a blanket ban? This reeks of accounting bean-counting. The business of a bookstore is, at least ostensibly, to sell books. If LTUE gets readers to try reading authors new to them, at least a proportion of those readers will buy more books by those authors. This increases sales, and since B&N is the only large set of bookstores in Utah, at least some of those sales will come from B&N. What’s not to like about making a bit of money at the symposium and increasing overall sales?

Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor, came up through the sales ranks, and he’s told me more than a few times about the role the small mall stores – Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, now both defunct – played in developing readers, because they were convenient places for people to pick up books, not destination stores like the current B&N megastores, or the vanished Borders stores. Now, most of those convenient places are gone, whether it’s the vanished rack in the drugstore, the small mall bookstore, or the like, and those bookselling venues that are left are stocked by computer on based on national sales that often have little to do with the community where the sales outlet is located. Along that line, the ability of B&N store managers to customize their inventory has been reduced, if not eliminated.

I know B&N is having financial problems, but focusing on almost mindless cost-cutting when the effect of cost-cutting is to reduce sales is counter-productive. Success is measured by increasing sales in a cost-effective manner, not by cutting costs and doing less. You don’t turn around a financial down-turn just by cutting costs; you also have to increase sales, and doing things like a blanket ban on satellite events cuts down on sales. It also leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the symposium regulars and organizers, as far as B&N is concerned – and those people are all heavy readers. Does this really make sense, economically or in PR terms?

By the way, a small book vendor did step up at the last moment and set up an on-site book store, and she certainly sold a number of my books, as well as those of quite a few other authors.

Political Appeal and Innumeracy

U.S. federal spending in 2016 was roughly $4 trillion, and revenues were slightly over $3.4 trillion, leaving a deficit of around $600 billion. Out of total spending, $2.6 trillion was mandatory spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Spending on these programs cannot be cut without major changes in federal law, and since 77% of all Americans oppose such cuts, it’s highly unlikely that major cuts will occur any time soon. Then add to that some $260 billion in mandatory payments on the federal debt, and essentially 72% of federal spending cannot be effectively cut, at least at present. That leaves $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending, that is, spending that can be increased or decreased by Congress.

Unhappily, the vast majority of Americans have no real understanding of even these basic numbers, especially Fox News viewers, 49% of whom declared in a recent poll that cutting “waste and fraud” would eliminate “the national debt” [which now stands at $14.4 trillion]. A number of polls over the year have shown that most Americans believe that 25% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid [it’s less than one percent], and that five percent of all federal spending goes to PBS and NPR [in fact, roughly a tenth of one percent does].

The real numbers are more daunting. The largest component of discretionary spending is defense, and while the DOD “official” budget is slightly under $600 billion, various contingency funds and defense activities funded in other forms and by other agencies [for example, the Coast Guard is funded by the Treasury Department], brought the total annual cost of U.S. defense much higher, as high as $900 billion, according to some sources, but even assuming $600 billion for defense, that leaves $500 billion for everything else, including agriculture, energy, education, transportation, federal lands management, national parks, environmental protection, veterans benefits, welfare payments, and a whole lot more.

Trump’s proposed tax cut would reduce federal revenues by $500 billion, according to the Tax Foundation, on top of that $600 billion deficit, so even if he could persuade Congress to cut non-defense discretionary spending by 50% — in essence gutting most federal agencies, the deficit would increase to nearly $900 billion, and that doesn’t count the additional spending he’s proposed for infrastructure spending – which initial estimates suggest range from $500 billion to over a trillion dollars, over ten years, or $50 billion to $100 billion a year.

Proponents of the Trump plans claim that all the new investment and jobs will increase tax revenues, and some probably will, but not anywhere close to enough to deal with the federal deficit that increases the national debt – and the interest that must be paid on it – each year.

Based on a 2014 study by Standard & Poor’s, if Congress were to pass a $50 billion a year infrastructure bill, that legislation would create an additional 1.1 million jobs. Construction workers make an average of around $35,000 a year, and, under the best estimate of the Trump tax plan, those million workers would pay around $4,000 in federal income taxes each, thus adding up to an additional $4.5 billion. Economists like to point to the multiplier effect, i.e., how many additional jobs are created by one new job. According to the IMF, under present conditions, the multiplier effect is hovering around one, one additional job created somewhere in the economy for each new job created by investment. So… fifty billion dollars of infrastructure investment might create somewhere over two million jobs and possibly add $10 billion in tax revenues while costing $50 billion. Even if the multiplier effect is five times as much as the IMF says, the infrastructure proposal is at best a break-even proposition, and, as such, might be a good idea. BUT… it won’t do much for reducing the current deficit, let alone the increase in the deficit that will be occurring as a result of more federal spending on defense, and the likely coming increase in interest rates.

The other bottleneck in increasing jobs is the mismatch between available workers and the available jobs. According to research from human resources consultancy Randstad Sourceright, a survey of more than 400 U.S. executives found a skills gap impacting their businesses. Four-fifths of those executives said that a shortage of sufficiently skilled workers will affect their companies in the next 12 months. Complaints of hard-to-fill factory jobs are backed up by Bureau of Labor Statistics data: 324,000 manufacturing spots were open in November, up from 238,000 a year earlier.

Another problem that the Trump approach doesn’t address is that jobs creation isn’t equal. Right now, employees of high-tech companies receive almost 12% of all employee compensation, but there are only seven million of them and the average salary is close to $105,000, more than double the salary of the average industrial or manufacturing employee, or triple that of a construction worker. In addition, the tech industries are only adding about 200,000 employees a year. That doesn’t do much for the nearly 15 million unemployed or underemployed Americans, or the roughly three million college graduates each year. The largest numbers of jobs are in the lower paid service industries, and all the investment money putatively freed up by the tax cuts will be going to tech-heavy companies, and those jobs comprise less than 5% of total U.S. employment.

Massive tax cuts, more defense spending, a major infrastructure initiative… all to be paid for by new jobs and cuts in such federal programs as PBS, NPR, the Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, foreign aid, and the like? The numbers don’t add up, even if the political appeal does, perhaps because most Americans don’t seem to understand the numbers, or care to.

The Education/Business Fallacy

Recently, a semi-prominent president of an educational institution told a group of music professors that they shouldn’t complain about the fact that they were paid less than professors in other disciplines or that they were required by the institution to work longer hours and more days than most other professors because they “knew what they were getting into.” Besides the arrogance of the statement, I also found the sheer ignorance behind those words even more disturbing.

First off, when the vast majority of students on the collegiate or graduate level begin their academic preparation for their careers – whatever those careers may be – they have only the vaguest understanding of the scope of that career or of the demands it will make on them. Those only become truly apparent AFTER students graduate and move into the professional fields. That’s one of the reasons why something like 50% of all teachers drop out of teaching within five years. It’s why professionals change careers or leave them behind totally.

Second, this kind of attitude is typical of those who regard education from the “business” mindset and contributes to such factors as pushing to obtain as many students as possible, regardless of whether the students are ready or suited for college and where there’s a huge push to “steer” students toward “STEM” education and careers, as if students are organic robots that can simply be programmed toward the most lucrative careers, or those that will at least allow them to repay their often-massive student loans. As both a parent of a number of children who have been successful in various fields and careers and as a former faculty member on the collegiate level, I find the idea that students can be successfully “programmed” for specific careers or even careers in a general field totally ludicrous. People have different levels of ability in differing fields and different mind-sets.

For someone to have suggested that I might have a career in music because pop music stars make lots of money would have been both criminal and deceptive, given that I can’t carry a tune and have no sense of rhythm. In turn, to suggest that a good music student who can barely pass basic chemistry or physics, and for whom calculus is akin to magic, would be better served by going into a science or technology career would also be criminal and deceptive.

Third, the emphasis on college as vocational training, particularly on the undergraduate level, ignores reality. Even today, most college-educated individuals change jobs and often entire career paths seven to ten times in their professional lives. Those who make those transitions most successfully are those who have learned how to keep learning. Even those who remain in the same field have found that the requirements of their positions continue to change as technology advances.

Fourth, available jobs and job requirements are constantly changing as the result of shifting economic factors and technological advancement, and “guiding” students to the current “jobs du jour” may serve those not strongly motivated to enter that field poorly indeed.

Fifth, while employment “supply and demand” does in fact determine compensation levels, those levels have increasingly less and less to do with the skills needed by society. At least at present, scarce skills, even those that aren’t all that necessary to the functioning of society, are more highly valued than many necessary occupations and services. No matter what the financial types say, we need very few hedge fund managers for a successful civilization. We need a lot more of the practical and mundane skills, from electricians and plumbers to good classroom teachers and more doctors in general practice, but fewer and fewer doctors want to be in internal medicine or general practice because those fields usually pay half what specialized medical fields do and require longer hours, making it far harder to pay off the medical school loans.

Finally, what drives personal success in any field is the love of what one is doing combined with the education and capability to do the job at hand. “Training” a student for a theoretically more remunerative field that disregards the student’s abilities and interests serves neither the society’s interests nor the student’s. It’s a sad commentary on higher education when a university president suggests that because economics lowers the comparative compensation of professionals in certain disciplines and because the university takes advantage of that to the point of requiring more of those individuals, it’s all the fault of those professionals because they “chose” to pursue the field in which their talents lie.

This administrative mindset is also why more and more universities hire fewer and fewer expert and dedicated full-time professionals and more and more underpaid part-time adjuncts, because the quality of the instruction has become increasingly less and less important than the push to lower “people” costs, or at least the people costs associated with actual learning, as opposed to those associated with collegiate athletics.

Decline of Fictional Uniqueness?

As some of my readers know, these days I binge-read fiction on business trips or other travels, and, for the most part, I make an effort to search out books and authors I haven’t read, as well as books that deal with what I’d call interesting subjects or more familiar subjects addressed in a unique fashion.

The problem is, at least for me, that, beneath the veneer of “new and different” claimed by publishers and authors, I’m finding that there really isn’t all that much truly new and different. Oh, there are definitely books that deal with “new and different,” but not nearly so many as the publishing hype might suggest. Perhaps that’s always been the case, and perhaps when an author gets older, and has read as many books in the field as I have, it’s just harder to find something that’s truly different.

But I’m not so certain about that. Tolkien re-invented heroic fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, and I can’t even count the number of follow-ons and knock-offs. As far as I can determine Fred Saberhagen re-invented the vampire genre with The Dracula Tape in 1975 [Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire wasn’t published until May of 1976], although one could also claim that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend [1954] was the first of the true twentieth century vampire “re-births,’ but Matheson’s blood-suckers were more “generic.’ Saberhagen also pioneered the whole idea of malevolent, non-gendered cyber beings with his berserker stories, something that tends to get overlooked in all the hoopla about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and its sequel.

Certainly James Tiptree, Jr., [Alice Bradley Sheldon], Joanna Russ, Sheri Tepper, and Ursula K. LeGuin were questioning gender roles and societal norms some thirty years ago, and even in 1987 Melissa Scott wrote The Kindly Ones, a masterful work in which it is impossible to determine with any certainty the gender of the protagonist.

The Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones are essentially huge-scale epic fantasies, with a few twists, that, in my mind, at least, fall into the post-Tolkien follow-on school.

Now, as I’ve noted in some of my comments on what I’ve read, there are still books with unique twists on old themes and some few with new themes, and I’m still looking, but it just could be that, as I’m getting older, it’s just harder to surprise me.

What do you think… and what books have struck you as unique… and why?

Egocentric Facts and “Morality”

Donald Trump’s initial reaction to the questions raised by federal appellate judges about his Executive Order establishing a travel ban clearly establishes his viewpoint – again. Anything he believes is right is indeed right, and it doesn’t matter what judges, history, or the Constitution say, because he is right. Even after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the stay on the travel ban, Trump insisted that the Court was wrong and that the Supreme Court will see it his way.

Since the Ninth Circuit merely ruled on the issue of not allowing the ban to take effect until it is fully reviewed by the judicial system, it’s certainly possible that some version of the ban will be approved. In time, in fact, that’s very likely to occur, but it most likely won’t be the ban that Trump initially proposed.

The ban issue also is merely one facet of an unfortunately larger issue. The man who outsourced the production of all of the consumer products bearing his name (but who champions verbally U.S. production while avoiding it) is “right.” The man who stiffed scores of contractors is “right.” The man who insisted for years that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen is “right.” The man who promised a clean sweep of corruption and business as usual in Washington and who started his administration by appointing the wealthiest and most “business as usual” types as his cabinet picks is “right.”

This is a man who refuses to accept proven and verifiable facts that contradict him and who attacks personally the people who cite such facts to oppose him.

I’m not sure which appalls me more, the fact that Trump is so arrogantly sure about what is clearly not so, while being blatantly hypocritical, or the fact that some 48% of U.S. citizens apparently believe him, and more than 55% approve of the travel ban.

We truly live in a polarized country, so polarized that what is accepted as fact depends more on ideological beliefs than concrete and provable evidence. Polls show fairly clearly that more and more people are rejecting provable facts that don’t agree with what they wish to believe, and Trump is not only playing to this weakness but doing so in a way that attempts to destroy the credibility of anyone and any institution that disagrees with him… and his supporters and 90% of Republicans are lapping it up, according to a recent poll by Emerson College.

This sort of attack on the media isn’t new. A then-little-known German politician started the same way in the late 1920s, with blistering attacks on those who opposed him, with deceptive statements and outright falsifications, and by the early 1930s had complete control of Germany.

In 1935, the novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel entitled It Can’t Happen Here about a U.S. politician taking power in the same way. But it can happen here, particularly if Trump and his supporters are allowed to flout the laws and tell blatant falsehoods without being challenged. All it takes is 51% of the voters to vote for such behavior on a continuing basis.

Political disagreements are endemic and necessary in our system of government, but vicious personal attacks by the President and his staff, blatant lies and falsehoods, and, in particular, personal attacks on other branches of government that disagree with the President are neither necessary nor desirable. Nor are attacks on a free press anything but a disservice to us all.

Simplistic “Solutions”

President Trump has unleashed his pen and set forth something like twenty Executive Orders, in an apparent effort to carry out a number of his campaign promises. What is obvious about this rush of rash action is that neither Trump nor his advisors have thought through the implications and ramifications of those orders, nor the legal requirements under the Constitution.

One of the basic rights under the Constitution is the right to fair treatment under law, and a keystone of that is the right to due process of law. Certainly, the travel ban doesn’t seem to comply with the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” Procedural due process requires that government officials follow fair procedures before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property, and those procedures minimally require the government to afford the person notice and an opportunity to be heard.

That apparent failure was one of the legal bases for the various lawsuits to stay or lift the travel ban.

Beyond the legal issues are the practical issues. Forty university presidents signed and sent a letter to Trump protesting the ban, noting that they had students, professors, and university employees scattered across the globe, and that many were being summarily detained or denied a return to the United States, and that the travel ban would have an adverse effect on those universities and individuals. What seemed to be overlooked is that the U.S. hosts over four million international students, and a great number come from countries where Islam is the prevailing religion.

In addition, businesses and non-profit organizations with international activities would also be affected in a similar fashion, and the “roll-out” imposed significant costs and disruptions upon the airlines as well – all without a significant impact on terrorism.

Like it or not, we live in a high-tech, complex global economy, and simplistic, or “simple,” solutions are seldom suited to resolving problems, especially when they’re thrust without notice or warning on unsuspecting travelers, businesses, and, especially, the government officials who are supposed to implement them.

Yes, we’ve had some terrorist acts in the United States, but we’ve likely had more deaths recently caused by driving or walking while texting than terrorist killings. We’ve certainly had more deaths caused by good U.S. citizens killing each other or themselves with firearms, or in vehicle accidents, and I don’t see any Executive Orders banning texting, drunken driving, or detaining anyone carrying a firearm. But our good President can certainly whip out an Executive Order banning anyone from seven countries from entering the United States on the grounds that a handful might be terrorists.

Yes, we likely do need a careful vetting of immigrants, but that’s been going on all along. For the past several years, under present security procedures, the number and percent of Islamist-inspired terrorist activities is quite low in the U.S., and some of those acts have been carried out by people who were either raised here or born here and who would not have been precluded from those acts by the travel ban. We’ve also had some nasty native-born terrorists over the years, such as Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, or senseless killings of six-year-olds by automatic weapons at Sandy Hook elementary school, but those didn’t seem to require Executive Orders to address.

Equally important, a slap-dash ban will only increase the incentive for that minute fraction of Islamic believers who are terrorists to radicalize more people. That’s a far greater danger than that posed by refugees and immigrants, and also an example of the damage hasty and ill-thought campaign promises can create when dashed off as Executive Orders.

The Right to Impose?

With Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, liberals are fuming, and conservatives are rejoicing. Both ought to be weeping.

The “battle” over the appointment of a justice to succeed the late Antonin Scalia hasn’t been a battle over law, or justice, but a fight over who can impose what on whom. And it’s a fight we shouldn’t be having, one that the Founding Fathers very much tried to avoid, both in the structure of our government and in the clause that was designed to separate church and state.

That clause was included in the Right of Rights specifically because European history of the previous centuries had essentially been a series of “religious wars” fought to determine who could impose whose belief system on whom.

The conservative religious right in the United States very much wants secular law to embody their religious beliefs, and, where possible, they’ve attempted to accomplish just that. The ultra-liberal left tends to want to impose what one might call mandated equality of outcomes, as opposed to true equality of opportunity.

The right doesn’t really want true equality of opportunity because it would destroy the world they know by getting rid of legacy admissions to Ivy League universities, limiting preferential education and opportunity based on familial resources, removing female deference to men and acknowledging that women do not have to be brood mares, eliminating male gender superiority in virtually all economic and political structures, and by requiring an acceptance of all individuals based on character, ability, and accomplishment.

The left doesn’t really want true equality of opportunity because it would reveal that, regardless of anything else, individuals have different capabilities; that certain cultures and cultural practices are in fact toxic, that certain other cultures and cultural practices do in fact achieve better results, that effort without competence and ability is meaningless, and that all the government programs in the world cannot elevate those unwilling to make the effort…among other things.

And both sides tend to be resolute in their view that compromise is unacceptable; even while decrying the same sort of unyielding religious warfare that is taking place in the Middle East.

As I’ve written before, justice is an ideal, an ideal that can never be reached, but one that we should aspire to, nonetheless, while law is an imperfect tool, albeit one of the best we have, in an effort to achieve justice… but it is not the only tool. Without understanding, compassion, and compromise, law becomes a tyrant. And right now both sides want absolute control of that tool, rather than seeking a way to keep it from imposing a tyranny on the non-believers, i.e., the other side.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

During a discussion with a friend, who spent a career in the production side of popular music, ending up as the head of a fairly well known record label, the question came up as to what actually constituted a “standard” in popular music, that is, a song recorded and/or covered by a number of well-known performers. Our friend the former music industry executive immediately pointed out that each generation had its “standards,” to which I rejoined that not all “standards” were necessarily equal, because there can be a difference between standards, particularly given in the technical skill of the composer and performer of one generation’s standard, and that of another generation’s standards, and that there also can be a great difference between popularity and artistic excellence.

That brings up several questions. First, how can a listener tell the difference? Second, does it really matter? And third, assuming that one can tell the difference, why does it matter?

To begin with, most listeners can’t tell the difference, not really, because a listener can’t tell the difference if he or she hasn’t listened to a broad range of music, and the majority of listeners tend to listen in a narrow comfort range, both in terms of type of music and the time and style in which it is/was played or recorded. In addition, if someone doesn’t know something about the technical side of both instrumental and vocal music production, the distinctions are merely based on likeability or familiarity. That’s fine from a personal point of view, but it means that such a person really can’t see how music has changed.

Does being able to see the changes and what they indicate really matter? Again, on the level of whether one enjoys the current “standards,” it doesn’t. On a cultural and societal level, I’d submit that it does. When complex melodic patterns are replaced on a wide scale by short melodic repetitions, when repetitive rhythms and percussive effects overshadow melody and meaning, when lyrics become increasingly crude and simplistic in popular music, those all reflect a considerable societal change. But anyone who hasn’t listened to poplar music spanning decades or hasn’t studied it won’t even see the change, much less consider the implications.

Popular music is symptomatic of culture, and the issue goes well beyond music. The same issues apply to popular fiction, what art is popular, what movies and television shows earn the most or have the highest audience ratings, and even what theatre is most popular – or what entertainment form is dominant.

The majority of those immersed in a society/culture really don’t see, let alone question, what such changes mean… and what they foretell. Part of that is that most members of any culture don’t understand their own history, let alone the broader path of past history.

In the early days of Rome, gladiatorial contests were rare, and semi-religious. Chariot racing was small-time. By the time of the empire, particularly after Augustus, both had become popular blood sports. A century ago, football in the United States was a collegiate sport, and limited to comparatively few colleges at that, and baseball was the national sport. There was auto racing, but it was the habit of a few, generally wealthy, individuals.

Now, football has become the national blood sport; basketball has gone from being a generally non-contact sport to a contact sport, and NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar business. And, oh, yes, the most popular music is incredibly simplistic and linguistically almost unintelligible (while sounding pretty much all alike), and a greater percentage of movies now incorporate more and more sex and violence.

Do you see what I see?

The Importance of Place

No, I’m not going to pontificate about where people of privilege live and how that location benefits them, true as it is. Rather, I’m going to point out how the patterns of how and where Americans live influences (some might say biases) the entire political system of the United States.

By now, most people who follow U.S. politics know that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, yet lost the Electoral College by a wide margin – termed “a landslide” by Trump. When the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College, the reason was very simple. They didn’t want Presidential elections decided by the votes in Virginia and Pennsylvania, at least not exclusively by those two states.

What people tend to overlook about the Electoral College is that it reflects a mash-up of the make-up of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, that is, the total number of votes represents the total number of representative and senators. While states with greater populations have a greater number of representatives, each state has two senators. Thus, right off the bat, rural and sparsely populated states have an advantage.

The second problem is that, when the Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College, the United States was essentially ninety percent rural. This meant, that from the beginning, state legislatures were dominated by rural interests. While that influence has continually diminished, on the state level, in almost every state, rural lawmakers have an outsized vote. More important, since state legislatures, in all but two states, as I recall, dominate the reapportionment of congressional districts every ten years. Those states with rural populations tend to redistrict with an eye to maintaining the dominance of rural interests.

What has happened in Utah provides a good example of this. When I was working some forty years ago, Utah had two representatives, and one was a Democrat and one a Republican. This wasn’t a one-time thing. It continued for at least a decade, except… when Utah got more people and another Representative, the legislature made sure two of the three seats were Republican. At that time Utah periodically elected Democratic governors. For the past twenty-five years, there haven’t been any. That’s largely because of redistricting. And now, all the representatives and senators are Republicans, despite the fact that Salt Lake City has a Lesbian Democratic mayor. This just might have something to do with the 2011 re-districting that split up Salt Lake City so pieces of that Democratic bastion were included in districts where Democratic voters were outnumbered by Republicans.

Under current law, this is perfectly legal, but that “legality” overlooks two facts, one demographic and the other political.

The demographic factor is that poorer voters, for the most part, tend end up in high population density areas out of economic necessity. This makes shenanigans like re-districting them to minimize their impact much easier, and once that happens, their political power is reduced.

The political factor is that it’s not only expensive to run for political office, but it also requires name recognition, and our current President is a very good example of this. The only practical way for a non-wealthy candidate to gain political office is to work his or her way up the ladder, from city council to state representative to state senator, then U.S. Representative. If you’re in the minority, current redistricting practices make this difficult, and, as in the case of Utah at present, pretty near a practical impossibility. Add to this the fact that people working near the minimum wage level, who tend to lean Democratic usually have less financial resources, and less time to devote to politics.

California is an example of more successful Democratic redistricting, but I’d submit that it only worked there because of the growing wealth of the “newer” entertainment industry, which tends to be more liberal. Without that wealth, the state would likely have remained as it was in the time of Ronald Reagan, and the Democrats in most states can’t muster that of financial support.

So…in a different way… place matters more than is usually considered.

The March on Washington

Last Saturday, in Washington, D.C., well over 300,000 women, possibly as many as half a million, demonstrated in support of women’s rights and against the Trump administration’s positions on those rights, as did hundreds of thousands in scores of cities and towns across the nation – and even in a number of foreign cities. High profile women, primarily in politics and entertainment, spoke and exhorted women and men alike to press to retain and expand women’s rights.

Meanwhile, in thousands of suburbs and small towns across the country, life continued apace, with almost no mention or recognition of the march, except through national media outlets and media sources based primarily in large urban centers. Trump and his administration largely ignored the protestors, except to complain that they were snarling traffic and making it difficult for him and his staff to get to a scheduled meeting at CIA headquarters.

What all those demonstrators may not realize is that their millions still comprise only a few percent of the American people, and it takes more than that to effect political change, or even to keep Trump from rolling back past changes.

The bottom line? Demonstrations, whether by women, black, or other minorities, mean nothing to this president and this administration. By themselves they will change nothing. Trump respects no one and no thing except his own ego and propositions, and nothing will change his mind or his actions except some form of power, whether that power be electoral, legal, regulatory, economic, or military.

This is going to be the reality of the political system so long as Trump is president. Those who disagree will either be ignored or attacked. Civility will avail an opponent of Trump nothing but contempt, and Trump will attempt to meet power with power and crush it. Oh, there will be times of civility and charm, but only when it suits Trump.

I honestly don’t think most current politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, have come in contact with anyone like Trump, and they in for more of a shock than they realize.

As for the Democrats, for the past decade and a half, if not longer, they’ve relied far too heavily on media to make their case and push their policies. They’ve neglected building grass-roots and local and state-level political structures in far too many parts of the country, and they’ve thought that demonstrations would push the way for change – and, for the most part, that hasn’t happened… and it won’t. Right now, such demonstrations will either be ignored or create a backlash of greater polarization. And, if the Democrats don’t get back to basics and hard political, legal, social, and economic grunt-work, they’re going to continue to get steam-rollered.

How Could You Possibly Miss…?

… or what about a little perspective?

The other day I was reading a post on that listed books in which weather magic was central to the plot – and, yes, The Towers of the Sunset was mentioned. When I came to the comments, all of which either seconded a book on the list or suggested another, one particular comment struck me, because over the past ten years, I’ve seen a form of this comment time and time again. The comment poster wrote, “How the list could be drawn up without [XXXXX] defies belief.” I’ve left out the name of the book because the title is irrelevant to what follows.

Once upon a time, when I was a struggling poet and had a day job, and even before that, I was a voracious reader, largely of science fiction, because that was in the days before much fantasy was published (and part of that time was even before The Lord of the Rings). I read a lot, sometimes close to three hundred books a year, and I’d accumulated a paperback library of some 3,000 F&SF books before I moved to New Hampshire in late 1989 and had to downsize my library – and life – a great deal. At that time, as my late editor David Hartwell pointed out, back then, it was barely possible to read every new F&SF title that came out in a year, and I came close some years.

That was then. This is now, as the saying goes. Right now, the major publishers and the genre F&SF presses publish around 1,800 new titles a year, and reprint another 1,600 – and that doesn’t count mainstream, romance, or mystery books that cross over or self-published titles. So there shouldn’t be a question as to why a science fiction or fantasy reviewer or columnist perhaps doesn’t include all the books that fit a given category, such as weather magic. It’s because, despite best efforts, no one can read them all, except perhaps a speed reader who has nothing else to do.

But then, shouldn’t such reviewers or columnists at least read the “best” books? That becomes a question of exactly what are the best books. Locus magazine, which bills itself as “the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field,” last year recommended something like 120 titles. That listing doesn’t include some titles recommended by others, such as the Nebula and Hugo awards, or by other recommenders, such as Kirkus, Library Journal, or Publishers Weekly. I’d venture that every year more than three hundred titles make some authority’s “best” list. That’s not surprising; even “experts” in the field have strong disagreements about what constitutes a good book, and I’ve definitely disagreed with some of those “best” recommendations or felt that other books that didn’t get a recommendation deserved such. And, to no one’s surprise, least of all mine, I’ve had more than a few books receive starred or rave reviews from one expert and be totally panned by another.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing sense of outrage, at least among some readers, when reviewers or “experts” disagree with their opinion or fail to mention a work they feel is important or that shouldn’t have been overlooked. There’s no doubt that some works probably shouldn’t be overlooked, for better or worse, because of their enormous impact. In this light, certainly Lord of the Rings comes to mind, as well as other works that have shown their impact by remaining in print and being widely read for several decades.

But the bottom line is simply that it’s difficult, if not impossible, even for the reviewers and “experts,” to read every book recommended as “best,” let alone every book that every reader feels is important, let alone agree on the significance or contribution (or lack thereof) of such books.

Another Legislative Misstep?

Last year, in an effort to curb the sale of fraudulently signed sports memorabilia and other memorabilia, the state of California passed a law that also affects the sale of books signed by the author. Although the sponsor of the bill claims that it was not meant to apply to bookstores and booksellers, it appears that such an exclusion isn’t actually in the law itself, although EBay did get itself an exclusion, as did pawnbrokers.

Under California AB 1570, when a California consumer sells an autographed item worth $5 or more, the consumer’s name and address must be included on a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). This requirement also applies to anyone reselling the item as authentic, be it a bookseller, auction house, comic book dealer, antiques dealer, autograph dealer, art dealer, an estate sales company, or even a charity. Copies of the certificate must be kept for seven years. Equally significant is the requirement for sellers to disclose the name and address of the person from whom they acquired the signed book – which is a violation of their right to privacy (a right which is also protected by law in California).

The COA must (1) Describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it. (2) Either specify the purchase price and date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice setting forth that information. (3) Contain an express warranty, which shall be conclusively presumed to be part of the bargain, of the authenticity of the collectible… (4) Specify whether the collectible is offered as one of a limited edition… (5) Indicate whether the dealer is surety bonded… (6) Indicate the last four digits of the dealer’s resale certificate number… (7) Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing. (8) Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party. (9) Include an identifying serial number that corresponds to an identifying number printed on the collectible item, if any….

That means, among other things, that the law applies to anyone engaged in the online sale of signed items. So, if a bookstore holds an author signing for the author’s latest book and then offers the signed books on its website, it is engaged in the online business of selling signed items. Easton Press, which has a business of selling autographed new books, now refuses to sell such books in California presumably because of the paperwork requirements. So do at least three other national collectible book dealers.

I know that both Borderlands Books in San Francisco and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego have shipped signed copies of my books in the past, and, of course, Subterranean Press offers signed limited editions of the books of scores of authors, all of which would seem to be subject to the law – which also has penalties, as stated in the law itself:

“ Any consumer injured by the failure of a dealer to provide a certificate of authenticity containing the information required by this section, or by a dealer’s furnishing of a certificate of authenticity that is false, shall be entitled to recover, in addition to actual damages, a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees…”

All that strikes me as pretty onerous for a signed book.

The Age of Illusion

The International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, defines our current geological age as the Holocene (“entirely recent”) epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age. In 2000, however, the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen defined our current age as the “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because humanity has irrevocably changed both the environment and the planet.

Personally, I think the Paraisthiscene Age, i.e., the Age of New Illusion, would be just as appropriate, if not more so, given the range of illusions that humankind now embraces and possibly always has.

We could begin with the first great illusion, that of religion. According to a number of sources, there are more than 4,200 separate recognized religions, and more than twenty-two that have at least half a million followers. Each faith, of course, believes that it is the only “true” religion, regardless of any disclaimers to the contrary. There is certainly the possibility that, given all these faiths, that one might actually be “true.” Even if there is one “true” faith, that means that all the other believers are following an illusion, and a significant proportion of them are doing such things as shooting and otherwise harming non-believers in the name of that illusion.

A whole host of illusions are centered on war, but the greatest illusion of them all is that someone “wins” a war. If all the costs are counted, the “winner” is the side, country or alliance that loses the least, both in terms of power, economics, and casualties.

There are also a great number of economic illusions, such as the idea that gold will always be the most secure and stable measure of value. Most people really don’t understand fully that value depends on societal beliefs and practices, not on intrinsic worth of an item or commodity. Without someone willing to buy that gold brick, it’s just a soft metal. Without laws, practices, and belief, a dollar is just a piece of paper. Its “intrinsic” worth is based on a societally accepted convention that enables our economic system to function.

The freedom of choice is another illusion, one I’ve discussed before. While we all have choices, unless we’re billionaires, a myriad of factors constrain our choices. The supermarket, internet, bazaar, and thousands of other sources may offer a dazzling array of possible choices, but most of those choices are illusory for most people because they lack the resources to exercise a wide freedom of choice.

As the fragmentation and proliferation of information sources has continued, more and more of what is represented in the media is illusion of one sort or another, whether the result of inaccurate, false, or partial information, or totally fabricated “fake news.” And most people, rather than reading or watching across a broad spectrum of views and facts, gladly settle for the illusion that confirms their beliefs.

On a larger scale, in a way, everything that we see and experience is an illusion. We believe that the chair in which we sit or the table which holds dinner are solid objects, and markedly different from the air we breathe or the clouds from which rain falls, but in fact everything in the material universe is essentially composed of the same sub-sub-atomic particles. What determines what we see as solidity is merely a matter of spacing of quarks and leptons.

But then, what I see is real, and what you see is illusion.

Publication Realities

Within a week of the publication of the hardcover edition of Recluce Tales, I had several complaints that the hardcover was not the same size as the other Recluce books… and that it didn’t match. Guess what? A great many of my SF hardcovers are printed in the smaller hardcover size, but not all of them, and the different sizes don’t match on my shelves either.

Tor isn’t being arbitrary. Nor is Tor deliberately trying to destroy the symmetry of anyone’s bookcases. It’s combination of two factors. First, because it’s a collection and not a novel, Tor felt, based on past reader reaction, that a distinction needed to be made between the “regular” Recluce novels and the collection. Second, there were also economic considerations.

What some readers may not have noticed is that story collections don’t sell nearly as well as novels, even story collections set in the worlds of very popular series. In addition, single author story collections are selling less well now than they were five or ten years ago. A number of well-known authors had story collections released in full-sized hardcovers eight to nine years ago. My own earlier collection – Viewpoints Critical – was released in 2008 in a full-sized hardcover, but it wasn’t linked to any existing series.

Since then, the economics of publishing have changed drastically, and this is reflected in single-author story collections.

Off-hand, I could only find two authors, besides me, who’ve published a story collection with a major publisher in the past five or so years. Those were Brandon Sanderson, with his Cosmere collection, Arcanum Unbounded, that came out in November from Tor, and Steven Erikson, whose collection was published by Bantam in 2014. Both were also published in the smaller hardcover size. Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, and Jack McDevitt all had their collections published by the specialty publisher Subterranean Press, at a much higher price, and two of the three were still in the smaller dimension hardcovers.

A great number of collections, some from well-known authors, have also come out from small presses, and some have only been in paperback and e-book format. F. Paul Wilson published Quick Fixes, his collection of Repairman Jack stories in paperback and ebook himself.

Perhaps the most striking point is that when Tor decides to publish something by Brandon Sanderson in the smaller size hardcover, where sales are not likely the only consideration, Tor clearly felt that they had to also distinguish his stories from his novels, as they did with Recluce Tales.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I frankly feel fortunate that Tor was able to publish Recluce Tales in hardcover, especially given the state of the market, and particularly since it took me over ten years to write those stories.

The Death of Wonder

Over Christmas, we visited family in the New York City area, and one of the sights we took in was the Botanic Garden’s model train exhibit – which features G-scale model trains winding their way through the enclosed garden pavilions past miniature models of historic buildings in the New York area, both existing and past homes, all made out of scraps of trees and plants. There was a model of vanished Penn Station, as well as one of Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, a whole host of mansions [past and present], various New York bridges, and more other structures than I can remember. And all of them created in great detail from plants or plant material – and nothing else. Even the transparent windows were from plants.

It was truly awe inspiring… at least to us. But there was the couple behind us, who declared, less than quietly, “This is boring. Can’t we skip ahead?”

Now, I’m among the first to recognize that a sense of inspiration or wonder is personal, and where I see something wonderful someone else may not… or may be bored out of their mind. Nonetheless, I’m concerned about what I don’t see that much of these days, especially here in the United States, and what I’m seeing less and less of is wonder in the real world. I can see that spark of wonder in people looking at screens, screens both large and small, but not in people looking at what can be done with plants, or in double rainbows arching in front of red mountains, or in crimson, sky-blue pink sunsets, or in majestic red sandstone pillars in a national park, or in mountain sand dunes made of pink coral sand sculpted by the wind.

I’ve also noticed in my visits to our national parks that while attendance is increasing, a greater and greater percentage of those visiting seem to be from other nations, at least from all the languages I hear that aren’t English.

To me, no screen can capture the beauty of fresh-fallen snow across the pines just as the sun clears the mountains to the east. And maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but to me, a screen is just as screen, and all of the computer-generated imagery on it is just that – an artificial image. A good CGI team can create anything, but it’s not real. And it’s not complete.

What’s in the real world is more complete. A live acoustical concert is more complete and encompassing than a recorded concert, or one electronically amplified, because even the best recording equipment doesn’t capture the overtones and harmonics. Even the best CGI doesn’t capture all the shifting light patterns.

What electronics does do is cram high speed images into shorter and shorter time periods at greater and greater volume – call it the fast food of perception. And like fast food, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.

And I have to wonder if it’s leading not only to a detachment from reality, as postulated by SF author James Gunn in The Joy Makers way back in 1961,but also to the death of wonder about reality, especially among young people.

The Problem with Algorithms

I’m reminded on a daily basis of the prevalence of algorithms, since every time that I check on how well one of my books is doing on Amazon or B&N before long I get an email or an internet add suggesting that I buy that book. Then, too, because I live where I can’t just run out and buy a decent shirt, or coat, or even office supplies [since our sole office supply store lost its least ten months ago],and because I have to do that shopping online, I get more “targeted” ads suggesting I buy more of what I just bought.

All of this makes little sense, because I don’t need to buy more copies of the books I wrote. Nor am I likely to buy more shirts after I just purchased some… or more office supplies right after I’ve stocked up.

Now… occasionally I do buy other books, but the recommendations I get from Amazon based on my purchases are laughable. All of this suggests that, while algorithms are being used to extrapolate from my purchases what I might be interested in buying, they’re not doing a very good job… and they’re just irritating.

If that were the only problem with algorithms, I wouldn’t be writing about them.

Algorithms govern the way in which our computers present almost everything to us, from particular ways of seeing the world, reproducing stereotypes, and even strengthening our existing views of the world by tailoring news based on our past reading or searches. In essence, algorithms narrow our view of the world without warning and without providing any sense of what we may be missing.

As ScienceDaily points out, “An algorithm that claims to spot beauty and tell you which selfies to delete implies we should trust technology more than ourselves to make aesthetic choices. Such algorithms also carry assumptions that beauty can be defined as universal and timeless, and can be easily reduced to a particular combination of data.”

Add to that the idea that everything is reducible to data, which in turn affects the way people perceive their environment and everyday relations. This also explains the growing popularity of wearable devices that track aspects of our physical activity and health, then analyze and relay them back to us, directly affecting our behavior.

And last, but certainly not least, there is the fact that there are a host of algorithms that companies and governments use to track the movements and purchases of every cell phone user. A New York Times story in 2012 showed that, using such data, researchers were able to use this data to predict where people would be 24 hours later to within 20 meters.

In 1999, David Brin, both a scientist and an SF writer, predicted the demise of privacy in his book, The Transparent Society. Guess what? We’re there.

Science and Republicans

For some time, at least certain “liberal” commentators have insisted that Republicans are scientifically “challenged” and that Republicans consistently ignore well-established science. According to some recent surveys, those commentators are only half-right. In general, those individuals who identify as Republicans are more scientifically knowledgeable than are those who identify as Democrats, yet they tend to ignore the science behind climate change, evolution, and other areas.

So why do Republican office-holders espouse so many positions at odds with established science? The most obvious answer would seem to be that such politicians are appealing to their political base, but if their base is actually more scientifically knowledgeable than Democrats, this wouldn’t seem to make much sense.

Another possibility is that Republicans are conservative in their understanding of science as well as conservative politically. In some ways, this makes more sense. Science proceeds from what is “known” to what is theorized… and then such new theories are tested against the evidence and either discarded, modified, accepted… or put on hold for lack of sufficient proof either way.

“New” theories often take a great deal of time to be proved and accepted. The idea of “continental drift” was first proposed Alfred Wegener in 1915 in the first edition of The Origin of Continents and Oceans, a theory which was viciously attacked, despite the evidence that Wegener presented, but, partly because certain parts of Wegener’s theory were wrong, it was not truly accepted until after World War II, when even more evidence was discovered about plate tectonics. Despite a huge amount of evidence, it took decades for the scientific community as a whole to accept Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution. Black holes were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, but the first black hole wasn’t discovered until 1971.

Another possibility is that Republicans simply only accept those aspects of science that they can “use,” like tools, while rejecting any aspect of science that isn’t in accord with what they wish to believe.

That may be the most likely explanation, given that, for example, liberal Democrats tend to reject aspects of science that conflict with their beliefs. For example, although human beings have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years, the term “genetic modification” is far more of an anathema to Democrats than to Republicans. Likewise, those opposing vaccination tend to be more Democrats than Republicans.

If that’s so, it’s certainly understandable, but deplorable, that what science is “acceptable” to people depends not on the facts, but upon personal beliefs.

The Religion/Pay Gap?

The financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St. recently released a study of the one hundred largest metropolitan areas comparing the median wages of men and women, and listing the ten best and ten worst for women’s earnings. The figures come from U.S. Census data. On a national basis, working women make on average, about 80% of what men do, but the variance can be considerable from state to state or city to city.

Not surprisingly to me, four of the five areas where women make the least compared to men were in “Mormon country” – three in Utah, and one in Idaho. The “worst” was the Provo area, where women on average make only 64% of what men earn. The single non-Mormon metro area in the bottom five was Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The fact that the five areas with the greatest discrepancy are all located in areas dominated by highly patriarchal religions seems to be more than coincidence.

Now, the first thought that some will doubtless suggest is that fewer women associated with patriarchal religions work, but the survey was of working women, not all women. In addition, figures show that the percentage of married women who work in Utah is right around the national average. The other factor is that in the Provo area, there is a greater discrepancy between the higher education levels of men and women. It’s also the “most” LDS area in Utah, with the lowest percentage of women with college degrees, which tends to suggest that perhaps the LDS faith tends to value education in women less than in men, a fact I noted in an earlier blog.

Now, I’ve heard and seen all the LDs pronouncements on education, but it’s fairly clear that education comes second to faith. Why else would the Mormon Church push the age for young members lower so that a university education essentially competes with going on a mission? And going on a mission isn’t exactly cheap. Also, why does the LDS faith/culture, especially in Utah, press for those returned missionaries to get married within a year of returning from their mission – when most of them have three or four years left to finish college, if they attend college at all. In addition, there’s tremendous pressure on young married couples to have children immediately.

The result of this faith/cultural pressure is that, in practice, education for women not only takes second place to the education for men, but is effectively prioritized behind faith and the need to have children –lots of them –and the statistics bear this out. And those statistics explain yet another reason why women in Utah are underpaid.

I understand that, for many people, faith and male priorities come first. Just don’t tell me that education is a priority, especially when Utah also has the lowest rate of spending for primary and secondary education in the United States and the highest birth rate.

A Government of..?

As President-elect Trump announces his choices for various posts in government, those choices look very much like a government of, by, and for the rich. When asked about this, Trump replied to the effect that he wanted winners, and the rich had already proved they were winners.

There are more than a few problems with that philosophy. First, not all the rich are “winners.” While some are indeed winners, some of the rich are inheritors; some are just fortunate to have been born in the right place or time, with the right credentials [Malcolm Gladwell has some interesting insights on that in Outliers]; and some are talented con men who manipulate the system and screw others in their pursuit of winning at all costs.

Second, most of those in the United States are not wealthy winners. Even most Americans in the top one percent by income aren’t millionaires, let alone billionaires. Just what do those wealthy “winners” know about the problems facing the 99.9% of Americans? The present system has shown, pretty convincingly, that the current “political class” is out of touch with the majority of Americans, and that’s one reason why, as a number of my readers have pointed out, so many millions voted for Donald Trump. Just how is appointing millionaires and billionaires who are even less aware of the real problems facing most American families going to improve things?

Interestingly enough, Trump’s election alone is likely to have made life for some of them even harder. Why? Because his election seems to have strengthened the dollar. That strengthening has already made the price of U.S. goods that are exported rise. Higher export prices cost more U.S. jobs.

Third, Trump’s entire concept of “winners” creates the idea that those who aren’t at the top of the pyramid of wealth and fame are “losers.” Is a teacher or a university professor who turns out thoughtful and successful students a loser? Is a doctor who chooses academic medicine and research that saves lives but doesn’t come up with a block-buster drug or medical device a loser? Is the person who struggles from absolute poverty into a “mere” middle-class job and lifestyle a loser?

Fourth, measuring success by the size of profit-margins monetizes all aspects of society, and applying cost-benefit, profit-margin views unthinkingly to government results in policies that are, at best, useful in the short-run and often devastating in the long run. Just in the last year or so, we’ve seen significant environmental damage to regional water supplies, caused by past short-sighted mining rules and, in the case of Flint, unwise cost-cutting decisions. We’re still paying for clean-up to industrial and mining sites all across the country because various industries were allowed to operate without sound environmental rules, and yet the rallying cry of the Trumpistas is that environmental rules are too strict. Too strict for what? That viewpoint seems to suggest that profitable jobs can’t be created without polluting.

While government programs that merely throw money at problems are wasteful, and should be eliminated or reworked, regulations that assure worker health and safely, food purity, product safety, and environmentally safe means of production shouldn’t be trashed because they “reduce” profits. As I’ve said all along, we need a middle way, and I don’t see the super-wealthy showing much concern for anything but profits and unfettered growth.

But then, the super-rich more and more live in enclaves where their water is clean, located in places where the air is better… and they know what’s best for everyone else.

Emotional Attachment

Over the years, I’ve run across more than a few contradictory comments by readers, where one reader finds a particular “fault” and another reader says that what the first reader said wasn’t true at all. My “favorite” set of such conflicting statements deal with the reader’s emotional attachment. I’ve written a number of books where one reader says he or she can’t get emotionally involved, and another reader finds the same book emotionally strong, even riveting.

And they’re both right.

That’s because empathy or emotional attachment comes from a reader being able to identify with the character and/or the situation in which the character is immersed. If a reader can identify with both the character and the situation, then the reader’s emotional attachment is likely to be stronger, and if the reader can identify with neither… there won’t be much, if any, emotional attachment.

I’ve had male readers write and tell me that they just can’t identify with female characters, any female characters by any author. I’ll take their word on that, although I do wonder somewhat about their personal life…but that’s their affair, not mine.

Some readers can identify with a wide range of characters, and some with not so wide a range.

Then, there’s always the question of how well an author presents a character. Some authors, and Hemingway is an example, offer little in the way of direct emotional portraits of a character and even keep the language so spare that actions are about the only revealing feature. Other authors, more in the romance field, I suspect, practically offer emotional blueprints of their characters. From what I’ve read, most authors fall somewhere in between.

I had one reader say that a particular character was unfeeling, especially when he lost a lover in a military action. The character never said much. He just took out a throwing knife and kept throwing it at a target until his hands were bloody and the target was reduced to splinters. Readers reacted in different ways to that scene.

I’ve also had readers complain that there wasn’t much emotional characterization when the characters never directly said how they felt, even though their acts and speech patterns and delivery revealed a great deal. But if a reader doesn’t pick that up, then he or she is likely to have less emotional involvement.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s any good way to get emotional involvement from all readers, because, if an author uses every possible way of appealing, that’s likely to result in an excessive emotional overflow… not to mention the possibility of excess wordage.

In the end, what I do is to show the emotional acts, cues, and words that fit the character in a way that fits into the flow of the story and leave it to the reader… and, frankly, accept the fact that nothing I write will appeal to everyone.