Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Censorship

The topic of censorship has been heating up lately, both in the writing word and the wider cultural sphere. Hence, my obligatory 2 kopecks, keeping in mind that people far more eloquent than I have already contributed to the discussion.

First, the relevant technical definition, from Oxford English Dictionary:

Definition of censorship in English:

1. The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

Interestingly enough, the basic definition does not specifically refer to the entity performing the suppression or prohibition. However, the assumption to most readers would be that the censoring comes from the government. Thus, let us accept this as the starting point, and consider the following levels of censorship, based on the type of power wielded by the censors.

Level I. Censorship by the Government. Book burnings, imprisoning journalists, limiting access to the radio stations and, in modern times, the Internet. Generally speaking, when people mention censorship, that's what they have in mind. Then, we Americans pat ourselves on the back for having Freedom of Speech enshrined in our Bill of Rights and shake our heads at our neighbors to the North who put Mark Steyn on trial for saying the wrong thing on his radio show some years ago. Or do we? Nowadays, I'm not so sure. When we've come to the point of setting up hotlines to report hurtful words to the authorities, our hold on the Free Speech supremacy becomes tenuous indeed. But let's accept that premise for the moment. In regards to outright government censorship, by current legal precedent, U.S.A. is sill in a good place.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Superversive Blog Interview and Reactions

L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright is an author, blogger and one of the prime forces in the Superversive literary movement. Last week, she was gracious enough to interview me about my novel.

How did you come to write this book?
It all began with a flash fiction contest at Liberty Island, an online fiction magazine. A New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, had written a fictional piece sometime in late 2013 that had future U.S. over-run by zombies because the politicians defunded CDC (or something like that, anyway). Liberty Island challenged its members to “write better.” I had a good chuckle, wished my writer friends good luck and went to bed.
Overnight, I had a “vision,” if you will, of an American family packing up to move to Canada. Also, they would be transported by a horse-and-buggy arrangement. That was all I knew. Mind you, before this happened, I had never written fiction in my life, but I got curious as to how this setup might happen. Why are they leaving? Why Canada? Why horse and buggy and not a car or bus or plane?
You can probably tell where this is going. I wrote out the full flash fiction piece, and Liberty Island published it along with other entries. But I kept wanting to know more about the world. I started getting more characters, more stories, and it just kept growing until at some point I realized this could be a full novel. And so here I am, much to my surprise, being told I can no longer call myself an “aspiring” author because my book is actually out there.  

The interview was then re-posted by John C. Wright on his blog, collecting some very interesting comments. In particular, the discussion of how physical ugliness of a society relates to the oppression and whether one causes the other is fascinating. Would any society attempting to crush the human spirit also work at devaluing beauty? Or would beauty naturally disappear as a result of oppression?
Are we, in the United States falling victim to the same process, considering the trends in modern art?

My novel does not address these issues directly, although in my dystopian world art is both censored and discouraged. However, I am pleased that my interview had somehow sparked this discussion among Mr. Wright's commenters. You can check out the comments here.

Many thanks to L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright and John C. Wright for sharing my work with their followers. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: The Fugitive Heir by Henry Vogel

Anyone who is familiar with my reading preferences knows that the reason I love reading sci-fi and fantasy is for the opportunity to explore Big Ideas. But sometimes, it's good to just curl up with myKindle and a bag of popcorn and allow myself to enjoy a book equivalent of a quality B-movie. (By the way, it doesn't seem that Hollywood makes those anymore. Everything is either super-blockbuster or yawn-worthy Oscar bait. But that's a post for another day.)

The beauty of this book is that it works exactly as advertised: light, fast-paced, with likable characters and just enough sci-fi element to make it interesting. It's almost a throwback these days, when every author wants to write something deep and meaningful but increasingly fewer remember to entertain. 

There were a few details I appreciated, and that's the reason the book rises above the standard a "just good" novel. First, the two main characters, both the man and the woman, get through their adventures not simply on their technical and fighting skills, but also on their ability to outwit the enemy. This is important, especially nowadays when everyone focuses to the point of obsession on whether or not a female lead can fight as well or better than the male, or whether there is some kind of parity achieved between the two. Matt and Michelle are a couple. They face danger together, come up with solutions together, but they are not both equally good at everything at the same time. When they're not fighting villains or trying to keep their spaceship from exploding, they also act plausibly as two young people would. They are in love, but are unsure of the relationship, a far cry from many of today's cynical, know-it-all protagonists. Their growth as both action heroes and a romantic couple is interesting to watch and avoids eye-rolling cliches while still giving us mostly what we expect.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Blog Talk Radio Interviews

Life of a new author being what it is, it seems I have completely neglected to share my author interviews on my own blog. Fortunately, this is easily remedied.

First, an interview by an ever-gracious Dara Anne Giovanni on her Writestream network. Whether you are an author trying to become better known or a reader looking to discover new writers, both fiction and non-fiction, you need to check out this website and sign up for updates. In the meantime, here is me chatting with Daria about my novel. 

Second, a fellow author Declan Finn interviewed me on his radio show Catholic Geek. As the name of the show promises, this chat has gone some truly geeky places. We just might have spent more time talking Joss Whedon and making fun of Stephen King than actually discussing my novel, but that's what you get when you turn over the show to two geeks with no adult supervision. We did, however, have a blast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: Domino by Kia Heavey

Domino is a story of anthropomorphic cats. Not cute cats from cartoons, who walk on hind legs and wear funny knit cat clothes. These are real animals, possessed of predator teeth and sharp claws, with instincts to match. We get to see through their eyes, hear the sounds only they can hear, experience the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of rest in a cosy hideout. The author is clearly a cat lover who has spent time observing the animals.

And yet, at its essence, this is a profoundly human tale. So human, in fact, that some readers might be able to predict nearly every beat of the story. Normally, calling a plot "predictable" is a derogatory statement. Authors are forever outdoing each other trying to come up with the Next Big Twist, forgetting that there is something much more important they could provide to the reader instead.

Insight. Food for thought. A different perspective on the familiar. Domino provides all of it an more.