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November 18th, 2015

11:22 am: Superversive Guest Post: Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish

Subversive Literary Movement

Today, we have a guest post by the intrepid S. Dorman


Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish


Without a guide, how is one to get from the city of destruction to the celestial city?  During the Middle Ages pilgrims traveled on foot (or hoof).  In John Bunyan's work, Christian conversed with Apollyon, out of whose "belly came fire and smoke," and whose look conveyed disdain.  But his intermittent guide was The Evangelist.  Modern characters traveled by comet or a train, and what about drones for post-modern transport? Below are some inklings of how one might be guided afoot, but first some variations on the theme of transport. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne used the template of John Bunyan's footsore progress to send himself comfortably toward his own celestial destination on the railroad. He wrote, "The engine looked more like a sort of mechanical demon that would hurry us to the infernal regions than a laudable contrivance for smoothing our way to the Celestial City." (Hawthorne, The Celestial Railroad.)  The engineer of Hawthorne's train is apparently Apollyon, who kept the Castle of Destruction in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come. 

Sixty years after Hawthorne's train ride, Mark Twain sent his first person character to heaven aboard a comet cum steamship.  In Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven readers are traveling through outer space along with Stormfield, hitching a ride on a comet far beyond our solar system.  Twain wrote:

"In less than ten seconds that comet was just a blazing cloud of red-hot canvas.  It was piled up into the heavens clean out of sight—the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces—oh … nobody can half describe the way it smelt.The captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he stood there in the red glare for’ard, by the mate, in his shirt-sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats’ nests and one suspender hanging, and how sick those two men did look!" Twain's story carries the type of "backwoods fantastic" fairly even-handedly, balancing it with the comet-like steamship's 19th C. applied science. 




In C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce conveyance from hell to heaven is a flying bus.  The features of its driver, though filled with light, are a far cry from those of Apollyon.  Lewis, the traveller, saw in this driver's face only competence, authority, and the intension to do his job.  He is one of Lewis's "solid people" doing the work they've got to do. The bus and driver come from heaven itself, not the infernal regions suggested by Hawthorne's engineer.  In his railway carriage, Hawthorne had seated himself comfortably with Mr. Smooth-it-away for a quasi-guide.  But Lewis was jostled by passengers fancying arrogance on the part of the driver while complaining that his steady competent look was offensive and unnatural.

These engines of transport suggest a progression, yet the personal is highly evident in this progress.  Will some near-future literary journey go a-droning?  No doubt some creative soul might fabricate such a journey.  Would anything be lost in the adventure, if so? The person as pilot is important to me, so it must be an artificially intelligent drone.  Not far off-topic—remember the robass in"The Quest For Saint Aquin" by Anthony Boucher? This artificially intelligent donkey was equipped with both wheels and hooves to aid over various terrains.

In the late 1600s, our first pilgrim began his journey to "The Celestial City" under his own power, on his two feet.  Being told as a dream, Bunyan's tale of Christian is, as Hawthorne's story, an allegory, a morality tale with allegorical names. Here now are two Inklings' accounts of footsore travelers moving through hellish landscapes toward a celestial destination.  In these examples I usurp two stories as allegory for my theme of guides from the underworld towards an eventual celestial destination.

In CS Lewis's The Silver Chair, Puddleglum is the literal footsore hero, a good guide through Overworld for two children who've been assigned by The Lordly Aslan to find Prince Rilian. Puddleglum leads the way and gives advice (albeit with negative commentary), and also becomes a saving figure in sacrificing a bit of his flesh to mesmerizing fire. However, in The Underworld they are guided by another. They've fallen under the earth, there encountering one of the lugubrious earthmen who commands them to journey with him, and come before the queen of the underworld. This journey through the underworld is dark with strange objects and living, sleeping things, including the gigantic Father Time. Clearly their guide is deeply melancholy, and the populace, through which they make their way, are all very unhappy.



Puddleglum, as played by Tom Baker (The 4th Doctor)


One of the guided children, Jill Pole, wishes she could cheer the inhabitants, and with her friend Eustace and Puddleglum's help, guards against becoming hysterical or unhappy herself. The underworld queen and these experiences echo the narrative of H. Rider Haggard's novel SHE as its heroes travel to meet her inside the mountainous earth—She, the Queen who must be obeyed. CSL's lugubrious guide is under the enchantment of the underworld queen, along with all the realm, and cannot believe in the good of anything—because her will is not to be questioned.

Once their mission is complete Puddleglum and the children emerge with the Prince into Narnia in time to witness the passing in death of King Caspian the Seafarer. Caspian had always wanted to go to the end of the world, to Aslan's Country, but had to oversee the kingdom of Narnia instead. Jill and Eustace are so sad seeing him die that they wish to be home in our world again. But joyfully, in this allegory of traveling to the celestial realm, they find him alive again in the Country of Aslan.

There's another Inklings' story dealing with guidance that is worth considering. I had considered using JRRT's story of Beren and Lúthien's journey because the pair must go through Angband, the underworld of the First Age. Their journey ended in the beautiful afterlife haven of Mandos before their return to life in Middle-earth. Though Huan was with them, still this episode had no guide. The best hell-land guide in a Tolkien story, I find, is the one in which Gollum guides Frodo and Sam through hellish Mordor, beginning on its outskirts. This pathetic, small and malicious guide, along with their horrendous journey, are so familiar to Tolkien readers that I will not recount it here. The demented Gollum has great stamina, is largely unheroic but not wholly so. Gollum's hysterical inadvertent culminating success as guide saves him from his torturing obsession, and transforms the journey for his travelers. They are found worthy to transcend Middle-earth in a vessel powered by the Winds of Manwë, gaining life in the (Celestial) West and healing from all hurts of Middle-earth and hell (Mordor).

CS Lewis provides us with the most heroic guides in this thematic grouping. One is simply going about his business in a competent and conscientious manner; the other, though negative and depressing, is nonetheless of the heroic and sacrificial type. But in all these tales, the heroes are those who make the journey.

Links to Fantastic Travelogue: Mark Twain and CS Lewis Talk Things Over in the Hereafter.:

On Itunes

 On Amazon


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

November 17th, 2015

08:51 am: Rachel In The Air

Rachel Griffin in flight, drawn for me during my reading at Sasquan by Codex of Codex and Quizzer, the team behind Tempest in a Teardrop.



And if you haven't been reading Tempest in a Teardrop, they've gotten pretty funny! I recommend this sequence:

The hazing of the new intern

Approching the Vile Demense (of the Supreme Lord of Evil Vox Day)

None Shall Pass–Anonymously

Mission Creep

And, best of all (if you've read the rest)  I Dared to Delve into the Demesne of Vox Day, and Did not Die The fake comments are really funny. They got Vox spot on.


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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08:40 am: Rachel In The Air

Rachel Griffin in flight, drawn for me during my reading at Sasquan by Codex of Codex and Quizzer, the team behind Tempest in a Teardrop.



And if you haven't been reading Tempest in a Teardrop, they've gotten pretty funny! I recommend this sequence:

The hazing of the new intern

Approching the Vile Demense (of the Supreme Lord of Evil Vox Day)

None Shall Pass–Anonymously

Mission Creep

And, best of all (if you've read the rest)  I Dared to Delve into the Demesne of Vox Day, and Did not Die The fake comments are really funny. They got Vox spot on.

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Tags: ,

November 11th, 2015

07:51 pm: Culture War Post 4: The War Over Archetypes!

Subversive Literary Movement

Forth in our series of articles of Speculative Fiction meets Jung as viewed through the work of Ruth Johnston in her new book: Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance.




SF Culture Posts 


Part One: What Forces Drive the SF Culture War?

Part Two: Optimistic in the Night Land

Part Three: If You Had Introverted Intuition, My Love


Part Four: The War of Archetypes

Q: We've talked about how an individual personality sees the world and how this influences stories, which reflect how we see the world. However, it's a big jump from individuals to groups large enough to sway the votes in a competition like the Hugos. Are you suggesting that everyone who sided one way or the other has the same personality?

A: No, it's tempting but I can't go as far as saying that. If the connection between personality and belief framework was as simple as that, we'd have figured it out long ago. I think what happens is that some leaders and influencers in thought and culture do have a particular cast of personality, and the belief framework they create really does reflect just how they see the world. But other people have many different reasons to subscribe to the belief framework. Certainly, when their own personality also sees the world that way, they're very likely to feel like the framework is just plain true, and that finding it is like coming home. But they can also have different ways of processing the world, and yet be nudged toward this belief framework by their own experiences and fears. And then the sense of group membership takes over; we identify with a group of people and adopt their belief framework, and after that, it just seems right. I think this is true for any split of factions, and I'd say it's true of myself and the people who agree with me—I don't mean it as a hostile way of talking about some "other."


Q:  Belief framework is an interesting concept. Can you give more specifics in this case?

A: There's a very strident battle in the wider American culture right now over the basic meaning of being human: does the archetypal image of "man" or "woman" have any real meaning? Is it biological and factual truth, or is it a cultural belief that is limiting our options and making many people unhappy to the point of killing themselves?

The culture war over "gender" has been especially bad in the last two years. You know it started out as about job equality for women, then it shifted to ending exclusion and discrimination against gay people, but lately it is going much farther. If marriage is the same whether a man marries a woman or another man, then in a sense, being a man or a woman is just an external accident, like having a birthmark or blonde hair. What really counts is who you are inside, not how you look on the outside. The next logical step is transgender, the idea that you can shift from man to woman at will, regardless of what you were born. As we write this piece, there are news stories about the federal government ruling that any man who identifies as a woman must be given unrestricted access to women's locker rooms and bathrooms, and a few days ago, voters in Houston rejected a proposed city law to that same effect. I've read any number of opinion pieces that say "gender is a construct," and that you are a man or woman only to the extent that you believe it inside.

I see this battle as a war over the importance or reality of archetypes. As I laid out in previous conversations, Introverted Sensing (part of the A combination) sees the world in terms of visual archetypes, while Introverted Intuition (part of the B combination) suspects that visual appearances may be false fronts or masks. Introverted Intuition is searching for some truer truth that's hidden behind appearances. So at heart, I think the culture war going on around us is a battle for which archetype is better. I call it the Battle of the Archetypes in my own mind. Which is more important, the appearance of being a man or a woman, or the idea that your identity can be different from your appearance?

Because archetypal ideas are part of our animal instinct, our sense of what makes the world right and safe, the war over gender issues always has a layer of fear to it. When I read things about why we should accept whatever gender someone feels they are, there's usually an argument about how people will die if we don't. They will commit suicide, or they will be beaten up by gangs. It's not just an argument, there are news stories linked to show that this very thing has already been happening. The argument goes that we need to make these changes so that people won't die tragically. If you resist and oppose change, then either you don't realize that people are dying, or you don't care, or in your own small way, you're participating in killing them. And if you aren't actually killing them, then you're helping keep them vulnerable by denying their reality a full place at society's table. So it's not an academic dispute, it's felt to be about life and death, good and evil. There's a call to action: which side are you going to take, the side of hate and death, or our side?

On the other side, there's a numerical majority of people in all places and times who feel that Man and Woman are very deep concepts that can't be wished away, nor should they be. If we became interchangeable Humans, there would be dangers that we can't quite imagine now. Retooling obvious reality is like burning your house down just to see what happens. Men and Women have key roles in maintaining the generations of mankind and they each have ways to guard against various evils. It's okay for individuals to be "different," but we must hold onto the archetypal ideas of who we are. Anyone who wants to blur or erase the boundaries between archetypal roles is actively dangerous, perhaps as an individual, but certainly as a force against stable human society.


Q: So the group that is interested in exploring gender roles and seeing them as less restrictive probably loves books like Ancillary Justice or Left Hand of Darkness, which do just that. In fact, it was probably a major factor in Ancillary Justice winning the Hugo in 2014.

A: If there's one thing the two sides in the Hugo controversy agree on, it's that the most important thing about Ancillary Justice is not the story itself but the way it used pronouns to obscure gender. Everyone is "she" until the narrator has a reason to identify male or female. It's explained in the story as just part of the narrator's native language which, like Chinese and Turkish, doesn't specify gender in a normal sentence. The narrator, writing in English, is forced to make gender choices in every sentence, so instead just uses "she" for everyone. But I had to read some of the story to understand the thing about language, because when people talk about Ancillary Justice, they elevate the single pronoun to such importance that it's like the story was really just about obscuring gender. If they liked the story, it's because at last we're disrupting mental assumptions that gender will always be visible. If they didn't like the story, it's because obscuring gender became more important than whatever was happening.

So that's a great example of the wider culture battle interfering in science fiction and crowning a winner in what might otherwise just be a dispute about literary taste. Once it's connected to the wider question of how we, in real life, see men and women, then it's about life and death, good and evil. It's like they're saying, "If you don't like this story, maybe it's because you want to suppress the "'other'." Those who didn't like the story respond in defensiveness: "well maybe if you like the story, it's because you care more about message! You just want to disrupt society." Now it's no longer about literary taste, it's about hurting people or destroying the culture, and things "just got real," as they say. There are pre-existing political sides to take, and these sides are ready to swing into action even if they don't care about science fiction or fantasy.


Q: One thing I've been wondering a lot is why the Sad Puppies are always being called "straight white males" or even "white supremacists." If you look at the works they promoted, and at the people who were doing the promoting, you'll see women as well as men, and plenty of people who aren't of Anglo-Saxon descent. But every time the Sad Puppies said "this is really about stories," the mainstream antagonists said "you're just saying that to cover up that you're actually suppressing non-white, women, or gay people."

A: That's the very point that started me thinking about archetypes and personality. As we've said, I'm an outsider to fandom. But watching this from a distance, I noticed the vehement insistence among the mainstream publishers that it was about race and gender identity. Not just insistence, but vehement, at times highly emotional, insistence. A core idea in my personality theory is that parts of our minds are organized around inborn ideas of what a safe world looks like. When I see such vehemence, I suspect that at least some of the people actually feel, deep in their minds, that safety is being challenged. It's not just "politics" to them, and if you use that word, they'll get mad. Because it's really about whether we'll live in a world that allows us to define who we are, or one that does the defining for us. The people who feel most strongly about transgender and same-sex marriage have their own reasons to fear a world that defines us.

When you already have a strong fear, it's very hard to believe that something isn't connected to it. And with this particular set of fears, Introverted Intuition is a driving force. It is always suspicious that someone is trying to cover things up so that we can't see what's really going on. It easily falls into believing conspiracy theories (though on the other side, someone with that kind of Intuition could be just as hotly against conspiracy theories). All you need is for someone to suggest that "Gamergate and straight white men are trying to hold onto power" and anyone with this belief framework will instantly feel the truth of it. From that point on, any protestations to the contrary are just so much rubbish and self-deception.

When I look at the Sad Puppies, I don't see straight white men, but I do see leaders who have personalities that value human role archetypes. Their books don't try to confuse roles like hero and villain or man and woman. They have what I've been calling the A combination, in which Intuition is willing to believe anything, but Sensing is deeply tied to roles. When they attack "message fiction," they are not attacking fiction with any message, but rather the fiction that has the anti-archetypal message.


Q: These ideas are fascinating. I think, for the first time, I an put into words some of the differences between the A and B, at least in our SF field, that even I, who have sympathy for both points of view, had not seen before.

To the A's, who believe that, say gender roles, may be flexible, but that they have a certain amount of objective truth to them, the concept that they are fluid seems, both unpleasant and–more importantly–uninteresting. So when they see a story about this issue, to them it is as if the author picked that subject so as to stick a finger into their eye, to flaunt a message that the As have already rejected.

But to the B's, to whom the subject of how flexible these roles may be is fascinating, a story exploring these roles is science fiction, i.e. it is the exploration of unknowns, an investigation of what if's, just like other science fiction.

 My big question, however, is: Is there any way to solve this mess? If we look at it as based in personality, as you're suggesting, what do we gain? Can this approach help us build bridges between the A’s and the B’s?

A: The first step has to be gaining some understanding of how the other side sees itself, as you just pointed out. What makes the 2015 Hugo antagonism so interesting is that nobody even agrees on what is at stake. How can you solve a problem that isn't definable?

So as you pointed out, you can now see that people who value Ancillary Justice's gender-obscuring language really believe that it's probing a fascinating idea. They want to find ways to downplay and exclude simple appearances, whether it's male/female or just not being a T. Rex. This becomes a proposition you can debate: is appearance and identity a valid part of science fiction, or is it an avenue of speculation that's heading in some new genre direction? That's a problem that can be solved, where hating Larry Correia isn't.

One of the cultural problems we're up against is that the outside culture has already made some decisions about what's good or bad: "if you don't think Caitlin Jenner is a woman, you're bad. You're clinging to the old archetype of Male and that harms a person. Your precious archetype is harmful." Much would be gained if the archetype-busting viewpoint could grudgingly admit that human role archetypes are not always oppressive or harmful. When I claim that some personalities have archetypes built in as instinctive knowledge, and that this is morally neutral, I am flying in the face of what's generally called PC culture. It may be that many people just can't go that far. Their own instinctive fear of archetypes (masks! false fronts!) may block the generosity required to say "okay, you have a different way of being virtuous or kind, one that doesn't require ditching archetypal roles. You're not harmful."

Another huge cultural problem I see is that the word "fear" has been turned into something we're ashamed of. We're generally okay with saying we're afraid of cancer or severe snowstorms, but the idea of an internal fear has been converted into an accusation. Someone who beats up a gay man is a homophobe: he fears alternative sexuality. In this way fear became a code word for something bad, especially if I say that it's a fear you're not fully conscious of. It feels like I'm calling you a stupid noob.

But that idea has to be thrown out completely. The way I talk about personality in Re-Modeling the Mind, every personality is organized around innate fears; we all have inborn templates we can't do without. The "fear" I'm talking about is an existential fear that if you do or permit certain things, bad stuff will happen. If the center doesn't hold, we'll have chaos. If you don't have fears like that, then you don't have a conscience, and nothing personal but I'll lock my doors when you're around.

When we don't recognize our own existential fears, then we assume that our viewpoint is identical to objective fact. (I think my saying this is going to sound to some people like I'm saying "morality is relative." I don't mean that. If you want a fuller explanation, please read my book!) It's basic common sense to sort out misunderstandings before accepting a declaration of war. Then at least the battles and debates can be meaningful.

So, Jagi, let me ask you a question now…

Ruth Q: Do you think that the 2015 Hugos will prompt some debate about the nature of science fiction? One science fiction fan pointed out to me that the Golden Age stories were written in the shadow of the nuclear threat and the race to the moon, so they tended to explore how technology can save us or turn on us. Our time is posing different questions, such as "what is the meaning of civilization?" Will the meaning of science fiction change with the times?

Jagi A: This is an ever-ongoing debate in our field. People have many interesting takes and what one person will allow is science fiction, another person distinguishes as fantasy, magical-realism, or some other genre. Though, often, nowadays, when we say Science Fiction, we really mean science fiction and fantasy. The two genres used to be in different sections of the bookstore, back when I worked at the now-defunct Walden Books, years ago. But there was so much confusion about where to put certain books—and therefore, for customers, where to look for them to buy them—due to the overlap, that, basically, they are the same genre today.

But it is true that when science fiction was young, technology was new and there was a sense that science could do anything, that it could solve any problem. Therefore, science fiction was by its basic nature a hope-filled fields. Not that all stories were hopeful. Many were cautionary tales about science going awry, but the underpinnings of hope were there—both in the field and, more importantly in our culture.

Nowadays, very few people still believe that science is the answer to all problems. So, hope is now not an intrinsic part of the field. Thus, we have a larger disconnect between those who came to it for the hope and those who came for the exploration of “what if”, but not necessarily a hopeful “what if”.

I hope that answers your questions, Ruth.


In closing, thank you all for reading. Ruth and I urge our readers to send us their questions, comments, major dilemmas, as well as objections to any part of this series you think is half-baked, as my father would have said. If we get enough responses, we can do a 5th post highlighting readers’ thoughts about the series.



For more of Ruth’s work:

Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance

Ruth’s extremely interesting site on the Middle Ages: All Things Medieval

Ruth’s excellent book on Beowulf

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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November 7th, 2015

03:26 pm: Live Chat Now!

Live chat on Superversive SF


Heroes and Villians, what makes them good or bad?



Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

October 27th, 2015

08:50 am: Superversive Blog: Life, Carbon, and the Tao — Part Two!

Subversive Literary Movement

Today we have Part Two of our Superversive Literary Movement Anniversary essay by Mr. Superversive himself, essayist extraordinaire, Tom Simon!

Tom simon -dcac

Snarky essays on the art of writing fantasy


Life, Carbon, and the Tao


Tom Simon


Part One is available here.

And now, to the second question: What’s so special about the Tao?

Here I am using the term Tao the way C. S. Lewis used it in The Abolition of Man: meaning the basic principles of morality on which all civilized peoples have generally agreed. Here are some of the perennials: Don’t murder your neighbour, don’t steal from your neighbour, don’t mess around with your neighbour’s wife, don’t perjure yourself. Men have differed on the definition of neighbour, and some of the wide variation in human cultures is accounted for by that difference. Some peoples apply the Tao only to members of one’s own tribe, or one’s own nation. Some try to apply it to every human being without exception. And of course there are differences of detail, such as whether a man should marry one wife or four. But every culture that survives is based on the Tao, just as every life form is based on carbon; and the reasons, at bottom, are similar.

What the Tao does is to establish a minimum basis for safe dealings between human beings. If, every time you went into Starbucks, you had to seriously question whether the barrista would sell you a cup of coffee or shoot you on sight, I fancy that Starbucks, as a business, would not have lasted long. Fortunately, both you and the barrista subscribe to the Tao. Even if you don’t understand the reasons for the rules, you obey the rules, at least most of the time, because that is the only way that you can get along and do business together. Even to live together in a community requires the Tao. My neighbours lock their doors when they go out, it is true. But if I did not accept the Tao, locks would do them no good; I would smash the doors with an axe and help myself to their belongings. And if they did not accept the Tao, they would have no grounds to complain. No human being can live as a solo army, at war with the whole world. We are born weak and helpless, and most of us are weak and helpless again before we die; and we all have to sleep in between. The Tao literally keeps us alive when we cannot defend ourselves.

The basis of the Tao, in one word, is reciprocity. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Or if that is too strong for you, take the formula of Confucius: ‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ Over tens of thousands of years, in the laboratory of daily life, in tribes and villages, cities and nations, we have boiled down the art of reciprocity; we have codified the things that none of us (when sane and healthy) wish done to us, and we agree not to do them to others. In almost every culture, this code is reinforced by the prevailing religion; but it is quite possible to accept the Tao without any religion at all. It is the common moral currency of humanity, and with the caveat noted above, it passes everywhere. Societies that reject the Tao do not hang together; and individuals who reject the Tao soon find themselves without any society.

Tom Simon -teoeas

A tale of quests, strange magics, and ancient wars!


When I turn from real life to fiction, I find a curious difference. In the stories of the past – in nearly all fiction before, say, the late nineteenth century, and all popular fiction until a much later date – the Tao is taken for granted; only there is a class of people who do not observe the Tao. These people are called criminals, or outlaws, or villains. In the older kind of fiction, the villain upsets the Tao to take advantage of a weaker party, and the hero restores the Tao by avenging the victim.

Consider the Odyssey. Odysseus was a sharp operator, maybe, but still a hero; he restored the Tao. Old Polyphemus, the Cyclops, violated the Tao in a pretty straightforward way: he ate his house guests. The Greeks set great store by the laws of xenia, or hospitality; and even we degenerate moderns, when our friends invite us to dinner, do not expect to be the dinner. Later, he restored the Tao in the matter of adultery, dealing with his wife’s suitors in a brusque but exemplary manner. (No, he could not have called the police. Odysseus was the King of Ithaca; he was the police.)

It is only we moderns, for the most part, who try to write fiction without the Tao. This may be partly because of our exceptionally urbanized life. For the first time in history, the majority of human beings now live in cities. It is easier to reject the Tao in a city. In a small village, a psychopath will soon make himself odious to his neighbours. They will drive him out with sticks and stones, or tar and feather him; at the very least, they will not do business with him anymore. In a large city, where everybody does not know everybody else, a psychopath can always look for fresh victims – until he reaches the point of actually being infamous. At that point, his reputation precedes him, and people who have never even met him know that he is not a man to deal with. About that time, or a little after, they generally kick him out of town, or throw him into prison. This means that even a psychopath has to be careful where and how often he breaks the Tao, so that he does not make too many enemies at once.

But there is a kind of fiction in which breaking the Tao is a rule in itself. This was considered brave and bold and groundbreaking among the Decadents a century ago; it was a good way to shock the bourgeoisie and annoy one’s parents. For it is always cheaper to talk trash against the Tao than actually to break it oneself. Most of the people who read this kind of fiction have not got the guts, or perhaps the opportunity, to do any serious lawbreaking themselves. The stories are harmful in a more subtle way. By degrees, they create a habit of thought – a habit of regarding the Tao as optional; and if this habit is fed and encouraged, it becomes a habit of regarding the Tao as a stupid tribal taboo, and those who obey it as superstitious fools. People can really come to believe this, and act accordingly (when not afraid of being caught); it is a sort of psychopathic infection, and the patients degenerate by degrees. The first thrill of being ‘transgressive’ – cheering for the robbers instead of the cops – does not last; the addict returns for stronger and stronger doses. And our own generation has raised a bumper crop of such addicts.

Epic fantasy, a century ago, began with cautionary tales, dealing with the negative parts of the Tao. The grandfathers of the genre were authors like Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, and Robert E. Howard, whose heroes were often ambivalent and never spotless; there are no Sir Galahads in their work. But they were never mistaken about their villains. Conan’s morals were pretty loose, but the wicked kings and sorcerers that he slew generally needed slaying. This has sometimes been called ‘Grey vs. Black’ morality. The feeling – it is no more than that – is that the White Hats, if there are any, are too clean to beat the Black Hats in a straight fight. You need to bring in a specialist, a Conan, or four Lords of Witchland, or Seven Samurai, who are on the ragged edge of the Tao themselves, and have often been in trouble, and are experts at getting out of it. The ‘rules of engagement’ for a Conan are very simple: No holds barred, and Crom favours the strongest.

In the next generation, the Inklings and their immediate heirs raised the moral tone. Tolkien is often criticized for his ‘simplistic’ approach to morality; but it is his critics who are simplistic. Frodo does not destroy the One Ring because his purity gives him the strength of ten. He, in fact, does not destroy it at all, but actually succumbs to its temptation. But because he stays within the Tao, and serves it faithfully as long as his strength and sanity last, the Tao serves him also. He has the help of all peoples of good will, Elves, Men and Dwarves, Wizards and Hobbits: not just the other members of the Company, but Galadriel and Faramir, and the whole armed strength of Rohan and Gondor. Even Gollum helps him, for a while; and in the end it is Gollum who fulfils the Quest. The really simplistic morality belongs to Sauron, who only counts his enemies by spear-points, and takes no notice of the Tao. Sauron would have been genuinely afraid if Conan had come after him with the Ring; he thought Aragorn was going to do exactly that. He simply overlooked the damage that many small hands could do in co-operation, because co-operation was not in his moral vocabulary; and that damage turned out to be fatal.

Nowadays, in epic fantasy above all, but to a lesser extent in the other imaginative genres, we are faced with a full-throated reaction against the Tao. Even Conan is too moral for the modern epic writer. The new standard, if we may call it that, is exemplified by A Game of Thrones. There are still good characters and evil ones, and to that extent the Tao is recognized; but the evil ones always win. The quickest way to get yourself killed, if you are a nobleman in Westeros, is to do a good turn for somebody else. In George R. R. Martin’s invented world, the Tao really is a tribal superstition, and those who follow it are chumps – and then they are dead. The mortal sin of the Starks is to be too good for the world they are living in, and they pay for it in blood.

Now, Martin is careful, when speaking of this matter outside of his fiction, to point at all the historical examples of evil rulers, and claim that he is only portraying the world as it is. But he is not; he is portraying a ‘Crapsack World’ in which all the evils are pooled together, without any of the good that enabled them to survive in reality.

One model for Westeros is England during the Wars of the Roses; but those wars, it happens, were exceptionally bloodless even by the standards of mediaeval Europe. There were no more than about twenty battles all told, spread over a period of about thirty years. Even in those battles, casualties were light, seldom more than ten percent of the relatively small forces engaged. And the contending armies took considerable care not to kill civilians, destroy crops, or sack towns, because those things were precisely what they were fighting to control. Moreover, both the Lancastrians and the Yorkists were devout Catholics. True, they each believed that their respective contender for the throne had a divine mandate to rule; but they also believed that a king could forfeit that mandate by evil-doing, and in fact, each side believed that the other side’s contender had done just that. Richard III lost the battle of Bosworth Field because many of his own supporters believed he had lost the right to rule, and deserted to Henry Tudor.

Again, Martin can point to the web of intrigues and assassinations in Renaissance Italy. The Lannisters bear strong points of resemblance to the Borgias. But the Borgias were a disease, a passing phenomenon. They had no genuine power base of their own; they were a Spanish family that became powerful in Italian politics when one of them manoeuvred his way into the Papacy. Control of the Church gave him almost unlimited funds with which to buy temporal power over the Italian cities, and he tried to set up his illegitimate son as ruler of the whole country. But the Borgia power was parasitic; it had no roots in the country; it depended on foreign money, and when the Pope died, the family’s power faded away in just a few years. We are supposed to believe that the Lannisters have been a power for generations, when they routinely exercise that power in ways that would destroy its very basis in a short time.

In fact, no ruler can stay in power for long without substantially accepting the Tao. Consider the ‘Red Wedding’. One noble family proposes an alliance by marriage with another: well and good. But the bride’s family, which proposed the alliance, massacres the groom and his whole family at the wedding itself. This is not a violation of Christian morals only, but of the core of the Tao as recognized by all civilizations. The pagan Greeks would have been outraged by the violation of xenia. The pagan Romans would have been outraged by the abuse of amicitia, and would never have married into that family again. A Confucian would decry the breach of familial impiety, and say that the offenders had lost the Mandate of Heaven. It is not just that the act would have been swiftly and thoroughly punished. It could never have been organized on such a scale in any society where the Tao was taken seriously. The troops who carried out the butchery would have refused to obey their orders; or else (being outside the Tao themselves) they would have turned their swords against their own masters, and massacred both sides for their own profit.

In fact, we do see factions and cabals that wield power in something like the way that Martin describes. We see it in organized crime; but as Ben Kingsley said to Robert Redford in Sneakers, ‘Don’t kid yourself. It’s not that organized.’ In Martin’s view, those who follow the Tao are sheep, those who don’t are wolves; and the wolves, always and everywhere, prey upon the sheep. The evil preferentially destroy the good, and evil always wins. But this is not what we observe in life. Organized crime employs hit men, but nearly always to kill other criminals. Crime families and syndicates go to war against one another; they cannot go to war against society, just as a parasite cannot afford to kill its host. And society, being under the Tao, has resources that the criminals cannot draw upon. For there are not only sheep and wolves; there are also sheepdogs. The wolves may try to corrupt the sheepdogs, and sometimes they succeed. But they have neither the numbers nor the unity to attack them directly.

In effect, the ruling classes of Westeros, and many others like them in recent fantasy, are crime syndicates in a world without law. But it is the law that makes the crime possible. The vast majority of the people need the Tao to do business with one another, and to make the whole society function. Part of that function is enforcing the Tao through laws, and resolving disputes between people when reciprocity breaks down. This is not a function that we ever see the epic gangsters performing. They are too busy planning murders and rebellions. Real criminal gangs are only able to function because someone else does the hard work of holding society together. They never exist as a ruling class; and when they do temporarily become rulers, as with the Barbary pirates of the eighteenth century, or the Somali warlords of our own time, the society breaks down, the people perish, and the profits of crime disappear. Without the Tao, there is no trust between people; without trust, nobody can work and create wealth; and without wealth, there is nobody for the criminals to rob.

Why, then, does this kind of fiction remain popular? I believe it is significant that A Game of Thrones was adapted for television by HBO – that is, by the same network that brought the world a series called Cathouse. It is the pornography of violence and illegality, combined with some relatively mild pornography of the plain old sexual kind; and it caters to a thoroughly jaded and desensitized audience. At bottom, it is a kind of adolescent power-fantasy: the fantasy of the teenaged Viking, turned loose on a metropolis full of easy loot and nubile women, from which all the forces of law have magically disappeared. We see a pretty straightforward version in the Sin City comics. Of course this can only ever be a fantasy, because the forces of law never do disappear. The alternative to policemen and prisons is not anarchy, but vigilante justice, which is a good deal more dangerous to the would-be Viking.

But there are no vigilantes in the fantasy; the adolescent fancy can glut itself on imaginary killing and looting and rape. It can do so all the more readily when it has no experience of these things in real life: the smells, the blood, the screams, the cries for vengeance – the victims who fight back. Even a sheep has teeth and hooves; even a wolf has a breakable skull. At bottom, this is a fantasy for people who have never lived; whose lives have been so soft that mere hardness, in any form, has the appeal of the exotic. To borrow George Orwell’s phrase, it is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.

So what can we, as writers, do about all this? The best we can do, I believe, is to quietly teach the Tao in our stories; to show the complexity of human life, as an organic chemist shows the complexity of biological life. But people want stories about violence and criminality? Very well; let us tell them. But let us tell the whole story, with the post-mortems and the blood feuds and the vengeance. And let us contrast it with some instances of actual heroism. Critics and publishers, no doubt, will sneer at our ‘bourgeois morality’, and call us ‘simplistic’; for they – it is an occupational hazard – are the most jaded audience of all. No matter; now we can pass them by. We can go over their heads and deliver our stories directly to our readers; and that may be the decisive weapon in this fight.

There does, I believe, come a revulsion; a point where people are no longer content to be fifteen-year-old rebels even in their fantasies, but want more sustaining food for their imaginations. Let us be there to give it to them. We can produce better effects – better conflicts – with chiaroscuro, with darkness and light, than the nihilists can ever produce by layering darkness upon darkness.

Beyond that, it is a question of access; and that is largely a matter of publicity. If a work of superversive fiction were as well known to the public as A Game of Thrones, it would sell as well or better. We have seen it before: it happened with The Lord of the Rings; it happened with Harry Potter. We have not got the media machinery, or the advertising budgets, to crown a Martin; we cannot conquer Sauron with the Ring. But we have that element that Sauron never took into account; we can co-operate. We can speak up for each other. Those of us who are worst at promoting our own work, it often turns out, are the best at promoting the work of others, because our own egos are not involved. When a man praises his own work, we say, ‘Of course he would do that,’ and ignore nine-tenths of what he says. It is when he praises other people that we take notice.

This, too, is part of the Tao; and it will serve us well, if we consent to serve it. The co-operation of many small hands, or as people say nowadays, crowdsourcing, can move mountains that the old mass media had to let strictly alone. I believe that millions of readers, movie-goers, and TV-watchers are athirst for heroes as well as villains, but at present they are only hearing about the villains, because the big media are braying about villains in unison. Let us raise a chorus of small voices. In the end, I believe we shall drown the villains out. It’s time to speak up for the Tao. For, like carbon, that is where the life is.


Thank you, Tom. That was brilliant!  

For more of Mr. Simon's work, you can read his works, which are showcased between the two posts, or visit his blog.


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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October 15th, 2015

10:00 am: Superversive Literary Movement Anniversary Essay!

Subversive Literary Movement

Those of you who have joined us in the last year may not be aware that before the Superversive Literary Movement, there was still Superversiveness. It existed in the form of Mr. Superversive himself, the astute and witty essayist, Tom Simon. 

When John and I conceived of the idea of the Superversive Literary Movement, we inquired of Mr. Simon as to whether he would be willing to allow us to use his LiveJournal handle for our new flegling lit movement. Not only did he kindly agree, but he graced this blog with our very first article, back in October of 2014.

Now, a year later, Mr. Simon strikes again with another excellent article. The first part of it, the scientific analogy, appears today. The second portion, the meat (or Tao) of the essay, will appear next week.



A collection of Mr. Simons excellent essays on Tolkien and our craft.


Life, Carbon, and the Tao


Tom Simon

A year has gone by since the Superversive blog officially kicked off, and during that time, as they say, life has happened. As writers, we always need to go back to that. Part of the deep malaise that afflicts our art form (and many others) is that it is too easy to be influenced. It becomes fatally easy to reuse tropes and characters and ideas from other stories, or other art forms; it takes an effort of will to go back to reality and look at it with fresh eyes. There is, I suspect, no such thing as strict realism in fiction – reality is too complex, too big, too un-story-like – but every story needs to be rooted in reality at some point. Not reality as we would like it to be – that is part of the flight of fancy on which the story takes us – but just as it is.

Today, as I look at reality, I find myself thinking of two questions, which, if answered badly, can lead our field up a blind alley. The first one arose in Golden Age science fiction, and led a lot of writers astray on a technical point. The second one arises in every form of fiction, and leads whole cultures astray. But there is a curious resemblance between them, and the answer to the first question, I find, sheds light on the second.

Lord Talon

Mr. Simon also produces high quality fiction.


The first question:

What's so special about carbon?

There used to be a recurring trope in science fiction about ‘carbon-based life forms’, as distinguished from all the other kinds of life forms based on other elements. Silicon was the most popular, for good and plausible reasons; plausible, but alas, not sufficient.

Life requires complexity. The simplest microbe is a pullulating chemical factory in which thousands of types of complex molecules interact and collaborate to produce the delicate balance of stability and change that we refer to as ‘being alive’. There are good reasons, grounded in information theory, to suppose that life cannot be supported by a system much simpler than that.

There are three ways of joining atoms together, and two of them are not helpful for our purpose. Ionic bonds only form simple molecules. Metallic bonds don’t really form molecules at all, but masses of solid metal, with the same simple pattern repeated over and over. Covalent bonds are where the action is. Some elements don’t form covalent bonds at all, and we can scratch them off our list. Others form anywhere from one to four bonds per atom, and clearly, the more bonds an atom has, the more complex structures it can participate in. We could build molecules as complex as we liked out of atoms with a valency of 3; but the real winners are the carbon group elements, the only ones with a valency of 4. If we form a chain or ring of carbon-group atoms, we have plenty of free bonds left over, on which we can hang any number of other atoms; and this gives us the complexity that we require.

There are six elements in the carbon group: carbon, silicon, germanium, tin, lead, and flerovium. Tin and lead behave as metals, and germanium as a semi-metal: that is, they normally combine by metallic bonds. An atom of lead, tin, or germanium may form covalent bonds with other elements, but not, as a general thing, with other atoms of the same element; so we can cross those three off the list. Flerovium is an artificial element, never found in nature, with a half-life of a few seconds, and only a few dozen atoms of it have ever been observed. Scratch flerovium.

That leaves carbon and silicon; and to SF writers of the Golden Age and thereabouts, silicon looked like a good candidate for the formation of life. It is abundant, it readily forms covalent bonds, it has a valency of 4. In theory, every kind of carbon-based atom has a silicon-based analogue, and we could readily imagine a whole biology built up with silico-proteins and silico-nucleic acids. But in practice, those analogues never form. Silicon bonds with silicon easily enough, but much more readily with either hydrogen or oxygen. In nature, we never see one silicon atom bonded to another. Even the silicone compounds have oxygen atoms alternating with the silicon: Si–O–Si–O, never Si–Si. The Earth’s crust contains an enormous amount of silicon, but all of it is combined with oxygen, usually in the form of silica.

Carbon, too, combines more readily with oxygen or hydrogen than it does with carbon, but the difference of bonding energies is much smaller. So a plant, for instance, can invest the energy it receives from the sun to break apart carbon-oxygen bonds in CO2, and get most of that energy back by linking the carbon atoms together to form the backbone of carbohydrates or proteins. It would take much more energy to break up SiO2 and link the silicon atoms together, and even then, the silicon chains would be very unstable, and would go poof in the presence of either oxygen or hydrogen. Since hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, and oxygen is the most common element in rocky bodies like the Earth, it’s safe to say that silicon-based life is a non-starter. One still hears of it occasionally in ‘soft’ science fiction, but it has no place in hard SF, any more than the canals of Mars, the oceans of Venus, or for that matter, H. G. Wells’ gravity-proof mineral, Cavorite.

We speak of organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry, as if it were an equal division; but this is not so. We call a compound organic if it contains carbon, and inorganic if it does not. Even though carbon is only one element out of a hundred-odd, inorganic compounds are vastly outnumbered by organic ones, and all new discoveries in chemistry can only increase the odds still further. If you look at the molecules that are complex enough to serve as the building blocks of life, whether Earth life uses them or not, they all contain carbon – every single one. One day, we may discover a kind of life that does not depend on chemical bonds at all; a life form, perhaps, that relies entirely on the direct interactions of high-energy fields in a plasma medium, to which it would not matter what kind of atoms the plasma itself is made of. We cannot say that such a thing is impossible; but we can say that silicon-based life is impossible. On Earth, or in any kind of planetary or deep-space environment, carbon is where the life is.

Next week: Question Two: What is the Tao?

Sci Phi issue #2

Tom's essays also appear in Sci Phi Journal 

(This one with a story by John as well.)


For other writings by Tom Simon, visit his blog.


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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October 12th, 2015

10:41 pm: HMS Mangled Treasure: or The Rescue of Mr. Spaghetti

I don't think I explained earlier why I like Sci Phi Journal so much. Yes, it has great stories. Yes, it has published John and I. Yes, it is open to Superversive featuers (Folks have asked where to publish Superversive stories. Sci Phi Journal may be the answer–if it can stay afloat.)

But those, while great, are not the thing I like best. 

What I like best about Sci Phi Journal is: the opportunity it has granted to some young up and coming authors, like Josh Young, Brian Niemeyer, and Ben Zwychy (Look! Not a single vowel! Cool name, eh?) There are not many venues today that are open to launching new writers. Sci Phi Journal, however, was devoted to choosing stories based on merit, whether the author was old and established or young and new.

In an effort to encourage folks to try the magazine, here is the opening of my story in Issue #5. (Picture below from the story.)

Sciphi issue #5

HMS Mangled Treasure


The Rescue of Mr. Spaghetti

[Though I did not put this in the magazine, this story is dedicated to my friend Anna Hall and her grandson. What a brave, brave woman she is!]


“Pirates, you say?” asked the detective who stood on Clara’s front stoop. At least Clara thought he was a detective, since he wore a fedora and a trench coat and looked disturbingly like a Humphrey Bogart clone. He could have been the claims adjuster, however. She had talked to so many people, she had lost track.

Clara put her fists on her hips. “Listen here, Buster. Maybe you want me to lie to you – like that punk of an ex of mine did last time this happen. Tell you some comfortable story about car thieves and let it go at that. But that ain’t gonna happened!” She shook her head for emphasis,  sending her many cornrows flying and wagged a finger at him.  “I’m one woman who respects the truth, and that. Is. Not. Going. To. Change!”

Usually, this was the place where they shot her the “you should be locked away” look. This guy just nodded calmly, like he was on the set of Dragnet or something. Cool as a cucumber, he was.

“Pirates towed your car, Ma’am. Is that right?” he asked again. He spoke with a Bronx drawl, so that his “that” sounded like “dat”. Clara had never heard a Bronx accent in real life. She kept expecting him to drop it and talk like a real human being.

“Yes!” she snapped.

“That’s all right, Ma’am. I believe you.”

 “You…you do.”

“Sure thing, Ma’am. These pirates have been towing cars all over town.”

Clara sighed. It felt good to have someone believe her for a change. It had been a while since anyone had believed her about anything. Still, it took all the fight out of her.

“Any idea who’s behind it?” she asked as nicely as she was able.

The detective nodded solemnly. “A pack of the worst supernatural scum in Fairydom.”

Just great. It would be that the guy who finally believed her was three crayons short of a box. Clara she cocked her head and fixed him with the look that her miserable excuse of an ex used to call the Hairy Eye.

“Faeries towed my car?”

The detective met her gaze square on, completely unfazed by the Hairy Eye. That in itself was amazing.

“Ma’am,” he drawled. “you just told me that Pirates stole your car and sailed away – in the middle of Chicago, and I believed you. Common etiquette dictates you should extend to me the same courtesy.”

Clara frowned. The guy seemed calm and reasonable. Not what she expected from a crazy, but then she had been an ER doc, not a psychiatrist. Maybe real crazies were as cool as cucumbers. It would certainly explain why he dressed and talked as if he had walked out of a 1940s movie.

 “Look here, Mr. Spade-wanna-be. Pirates is one thing…” Clara froze, her mouth wide open, because at that moment, she remembered something.

A terrible sensation spread through her body, much like what she imagined it might feel like to be stung by scorpions. Tears pricked threateningly at her eyes. She let out a low warble of a moan.

“Mr. Spaghetti!” she wailed. “He’s locked in the car!”

“Is that your dog, Ma’am?” the detective asked.

Clara shook her head, nearly whipping him with her cornrows. Next time, she would stand a little closer and wap him good.

“No. A doll. My son’s favorite doll.” It shamed her that her voice broke. “He’s going to be inconsolable.”

“Children lose dolls all the time, Ma’am. Part of life.”

Clara turned on the poor man, showing her teeth like a wolf. “Is that so? Why don’t you come home and explain it to my son. He’s eight years old, weighs nearly seventy pounds, and has the language capacity of a delayed two year old. You come over to my house tonight, and you explain to Sammy what happened to his Mr. Spaghetti!”

The detective lowered the brim of his fedora. “I’ll get your car back, Ma’am.”

You can find the rest here.             


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

10:45 am: Sci Phi Mag Needs Us!

Sciphi issue #5 cover with names amended.

Sci Phi Journal needs help! 

For those who are not familiar with Sci Phi Journal, it offers science fiction stories that have a philosophy. Sci Phi offers a venue for the very kinds of stories that we all want to read but seldom get to see. It features some of the best new authors, like Josh Young and Brian Niemeyer, and a number of others. Both John and I have had stories appear in its pages.

It would be a real shame if it folded!

What can you all do to help?

If you should feel moved to make a donation, you can do so here. (The donate button is on the right. You may need to page down.)

Or, if you would like to help a good cause AND get some high quality fiction, you can buy the issue with John's story:


My story, "HMS Mangled Treasure: The Rescue of Mr. Spaghetti", takes place in the background of my Prospero series. It features Prospero Inc. foremost detective, Mab, facing car-stealing fairy pirates in Chicago. 

You can get it here.

Other issues available here.

Also, prayers for Jason Rennie, the editor and publisher of Sci Phi Journal, would be really wonderful!



Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

October 8th, 2015

11:51 pm: Superversive Blog: If You Had Introverted Intuition, My Dinosaur

Subversive Literary Movement

Third in our ongoing series of articles of Speculative Fiction meets Jung as remodeled through the work of Ruth Johnston in her new book: Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance




SF Culture Posts 


Part One: What Forces Drive the SF Culture War?

Part Two: Optimistic in the Night Land


Part Three: If You Had Introverted Intuition, My Dinosaur

Q: Welcome back, everyone. Ruth, can you give our readers a quick reminder of where we are?

In the last two articles, we talked about a way that Sensing and Intuition can be paired in personality, and for ease of discussion in the interview, I called them A and B. Let's look now at the B pairing and how it might influence the worldview presented in someone's fiction.


Q: In our last installment we spoke about John's Night Land stories, and the type of ideas and images produced by what you have dubbed the A combination. Now let's look at a story that shows the B combination: " If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,"  by Rachel Swirsky. How do you see it as an example of the personality patterns you're talking about?

A: I think this story is a wonderful example of the hardest to explain, most mysterious mental function we can observe in personality: Introverted Intuition. Both kinds of Intuition are involved in a search for meaning, but Introverted Intuition is particularly intent on finding cloaked, disguised, suppressed truth.

I think that's what this story is about. Of course, it isn't really a story; it's a scene that poses questions about meaning. There isn't any movement in plot, rather the motion consists of a gradual revealing of the speaker's state of mind. The scene: A woman sits by a hospital bed, where her fiancé, an archeologist, is in a coma. He was beaten by five drunken men for unknown reasons. The only dinosaur in the story is in her imagination, of course, as she envisions what would have been different if he had been even a small carnivore. The title poses the question: what if, instead of being who you are, you had been something else?

I think the key to the story is that she feels a small Tyrannosaurus Rex would have been a truer form for the soul of the man she loves. It would reveal his true nature, whereas his powerless natural appearance forms a kind of mask that makes him look like he ought to be a victim. The exercise in imagining is pointless if being a dinosaur wasn't somehow a truer truth than the natural one; otherwise we could ask what if he were a Mack truck or an onion. By emphasizing that the dinosaur would be the same size as the human, she is making it clear that she sees the transformation as revelation, not random change. "If you actually looked like your true inner nature, my love, then people would see that you are strong and this would be a deterrent to getting hurt."

When you posit that the appearance of a human being might be a disguise, a false archetype that covers truth, you are deep into Introverted Intuition's territory.


Q: There are many fascinating ideas in your new book, but the one that I found the most revolutionary of all was your redefining of Jung’s terns Introverted and Extroverted. Could you tell us a little more about this?

"Introverted" is so often used to mean shy or unsociable, but when I use it, I mean that it's connected to an inborn knowledge that's much like animal instinct. I often compare it to a rabbit's inborn sense of what the sky should look like, sort of a template for normal safety. The template includes clouds, trees, and fluttery songbirds. Anything that moves like a hawk is not in the template, and the rabbit should not give it the benefit of the doubt, even if it turns out to be just the neighbor kid's RC airplane. Introverted parts of personality are idealistic, inflexible, and usually a bit negative.

Part of each personality is rooted in this inborn instinct, while the other part is flexible, exploring, pragmatic, optimistic and open to new ideas. That's why I mean by "Extroverted," and I probably annoy half your readers by capitalizing the word, but it's to remind of the novel meaning. I don't mean liking to go to parties, I mean the opposite of the rabbit scanning the sky. Things are going to be okay, change is fine, learn as you go, take things as they come.

These new meanings for Introverted and Extroverted are of key importance because they explain why everyone has certain things that they simply cannot accept as true or real, even when the evidence is staring right at them. Their inner Introverted template excludes those possibilities, and the template is actually stronger than the facts. People can be rigid and idealistic about appearances, relationships, logic, and–this is the weird one I'll try to explain–a sense of meaning.


Q:  A sense of meaning? That sounds quite interesting but hard to put into words. Please do continue.

In the last article, we talked about how Introverted Sensing is idealistic about human social roles, thinking strongly in archetypes like mother, father, child, knight, or villain. By contrast, Introverted Intuition actually suspects archetypal roles of being nothing but masks or Potemkin villages to fool us, concealing true meaning from our searching eyes. This doesn't mean that everyone whose personality includes Introverted Intuition dislikes stories about knights! But there's a pervasive sense of suspicion about appearances. When they see a row of presidential candidates, they suspect that the ones who look "out of central casting" may be quite different from what they seem.

Introverted Intuition gets balanced by Extroverted Sensing, which is carefree about appearances, willing to take them as they come. Depending on the role it plays in personality, it can really make an "anything goes" attitude. A strong sense of Extroverted Sensing finds it easier to accept things and people that don't fit inborn notions. This might mean less discomfort around people from foreign places who look, smell and behave really differently. It usually means more ability to keep up with changing visuals and sounds in real time, perhaps in sports. Most science fiction geeks who have Extroverted Sensing use it in the background, as a subroutine of their neural networks. They might be better at athletics than other geeks, or perhaps not even that. But they often have superior powers of real-time observation; Sherlock Holmes used Extroverted Sensing.

So for the pairing I've called B, what you look like isn't very important, and it can be changed and even twisted a lot. What matters is what you mean.


Q. As Spock would say, Fascinating. Moving from the theoretical to the specific, is that where the dinosaur comes in? Changing appearances?

A: Yes, the key is that if he could look like a dinosaur, appearances might change, but meaning would be truer. The writing looks at different aspects of how she'd relate to him as a dinosaur, and it goes into fanciful ideas, like touring Broadway, but underneath the silliness is the sense that if appearances could be shifted to match truth, good things would happen. When the man is a dinosaur, she realizes that she could not marry him, but then human knowledge and skill would move forward and they would both find other kinds of happiness. The emerging truth–that he is powerful and can fight back–would cause loss, but its emergence would also bring gain. Whereas when he looks like a mere man, limited to his body's form, bad things happen.

Here we see the fundamental fear of Introverted Intuition: that a covered, disguised truth will remain unseen. Its Introverted idealism and negativity are directed to this end: that no buried truth will escape discovery.


Q: Lol  “That no buried truth will escape discovery.” That sounds like it should be the personal motto of nearly every main character I’ve ever invented. What an excellent phrase!

A: It's certain true of Rachel Griffin!  Her personality is hard to pin down because she's also gifted with perfect visual memory, which for good or ill the rest of us just don't have.


Q:  How does this drive to uncover truth apply in this situation?

A:  When Intuition is Extroverted, as in the A pairing discussed last time, it's like a stargazer exploring all the ways stars can be connected as constellations. Extroverted Intuition has unbounded enthusiasm for drawing all possible lines, seeing no connections as meaningless and only concerned lest any be left out. It's confident that some apparently trivial connections will turn out to form very important new shapes.

But when Intuition is Introverted, it's more like an AI robot mapping a vast prairie dog town. On the surface, little is visible, but that appearance is misleading. When the robot starts out, it doesn't know where the tunnels will lead, but it does know that they will lead to certain expected places: sleeping burrows, escape tunnels, and winter food storage rooms. Could we find literally anything? No. But could we find something hidden? Oh yes.

At each point when the robot pauses, it has a choice to turn in any direction and go forward at any speed, but not all choices are equal. Some choices will slam it into a dirt wall, and other choices will rush into a short dead-end. As the robot explores, it learns to ping tunnels and determine whether they're worth going down. It maps as it goes, and eventually it can pause at a tunnel mouth and guess–nay, know–that this new tunnel connects to another well-explored section. After some time, the robot probe feels free mark some tunnels briefly but not explore them. It already skips the option of ramming into dirt walls, and now it skips some tunnels and rooms as well.

So the mood and attitude of this type of Intuition is more restricted, less expansive and optimistic, than the Extroverted kind in "A." It feels like it's tracking down something that's already somehow known in a gut-feeling way. It's much more like a detective than like a stargazer.


Q: You mentioned that you had taken the time to read some of Rachel Swirsky’s other works. Do you see similiar traits in them?Q: Do you see the same traits in Rachel Swirsky's other work?

In "All That Fairy Tale Crap," her Cinderella narrator explicitly states that "we are all escaping from archetypes." The prince is a drag queen, the glass slipper is part of a kinky fetish, and the stepsisters may be ugly but they're as sympathetic as anyone else presented in the sketch. The story's main (and perhaps only) point is to show how every folk-story image is a false front.

In the poem "Black, White, Red," another fairy-tale girl is a bride in white, but soon everything turns ugly as the best man drugs and rapes her. "Her prince was a mirage/ dreamed between bloodthirsty men." But it's not just the prince archetype the poem is debunking; "huntsman, dwarf, neglectful father" are also (archetypal) images involved in hurting this girl. In the last lines, literature is posed as a deceitful escape, a kind of death, that the girl can run into: where maybe colors will be less stark and bad things won't happen. She seems to suggest that stories themselves are a kind of archetypal disguise. Further, the poem's violence suggests that discovering truth in its gore (red, black, white) is better than hiding behind a story concept (pink, gray, beige). This message is the core of the B polarity (of Introverted Intuition and Extroverted Sensing). Use vivid observation to strip away false appearances and discover truth: the only important archetype.


Q: I can see from your examples that Ms. Swirsky and I are on opposite pages when it comes to our philosophy of writing. I am guessing that these personality qualities you are identifying probably tie into the distance between our world views. How confident are you in the ability to make a direct connection between someone's personality and writing?

A: Reading someone's mind is always pretty dicey. What I can say with confidence is that written work definitely presents a worldview that can be described in my personality terms, and that in the cases where I can check, usually the actual personality matches. I'm sure there are super examples within science fiction, but I'll have to step outside of SFF. Take George Orwell. We have a large body of material about him: essays, books, and personal letters, as well as descriptions by people who knew him well. It's not hard to get a sense of who he was, and I'm confident in tagging his personality type as INFJ, which is one with Introverted Intuition—with the whole "B" polarity in fact. His works do tend to project various aspects of the B combination.

Orwell's 1984 is a great example of Introverted Intuition at work. He posits an idealized society in which every apparent archetypal appearance is covering something completely opposite. Not only that, but part of uncovering truth is to exercise Extroverted Sensing through sights, sounds, tastes and the sensual pleasure of sex. In Re-Modeling the Mind, I used a passage from one of Orwell's other works to illustrate the observational powers of Extroverted Sensing. He really does seem to have a close match of human personality and Perceiving worldview in his writing. This may not always be the case, but so far I keep finding it. We already talked about John's match between personality and work, and I think we can say the same for you, that you also have the "A" combination of flexible Intuition with strong preference for archetypal human images.


Q:  What about readers? Do reader preferences always match their own personalities?

A: That's a really tough question, and I think the answer is no, but with a qualification. When we find a work of fiction that presents a world we recognize as somehow ours, we're probably feeling the resonance of writing that does harmonize with our Perceiving worldview. These may be the books we go back to or continue to think about. Like John with the Night Land world. We can also fall in love with aspects of the artistry used in works that don't have the same resonance. My personality has the "A" combination like yours and John's, and not at all like George Orwell's, but I love his writing very much. I've read all of his novels, many of his letters and essays. I admire him profoundly. However, the message and world of 1984 don't resonate with me in the way that the message and world of Eliot's Middlemarch do. Eliot's personality was very similar to mine.

It's an important distinction because it would be too simplistic to see this series of articles as pinning down the personalities of readers. I am absolutely sure that there are people with both Perceiving polarities on both sides of the controversy. I still see a way that the issues line up, but it's not in a direct one-to-one correspondence way.


Q: When we were first discussing these ideas, we touched upon Eric S. Raymond's idea of literary status envy. His article had suggested that some folks in the speculative fiction field wished for the same kind of respect that literary writers received from the intelligentsia? Can you tell us what you make of his theory and whether it ties into your take on the B polarity?

A: Yes, I think this is a critically important piece that can only be understood by first understanding the fundamental goal of Introverted Intuition: using language to carry out the revelation of hidden truth. First let's stipulate that all good writing uses language to reveal truth.

Now I'll draw from Annie Dillar's 1981 work Living by Fiction, which distinguishes between "plain" and "fancy" writing. Plain writing is what Orwell meant when he said, "Good writing is like a windowpane." It doesn't distract the eye from its object. Fancy writing, on the other hand, creates a beautiful surface; if it were a window, it would be wavy or colored glass.

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" uses what Dillard would call fancy language, and there's a philosophical purpose. When we're writing about plain things, we use plain language. The same hospital room (in the story) could be described so that the words didn't call attention to themselves. Like a clear window, it would show us the bed with its coarse sheets and shiny rails, and the squeak of a nurse's shoes as she walks past. In plain language, the story would tell more of the story. It might end with the idea, "I wish you had been a dinosaur so that you'd have killed the men." But the story, written this way, would not explore the hidden true meaning of who the man was. It would present what Extroverted Sensing sees as an accurately-modeled appearance, but that wasn't the writer's purpose. The purpose was to meditate on the reality of identity and unreality of appearances. In order to present the inner-identity truth as primary, the story had to use "fancy" language.

There's a close link between abstract ideas and figurative language. When we present ideas, we can't describe them as if they were things. We convey them by making the surface of our art depict the ideas, so that the surface calls attention to itself instead of moving the "eye" directly to the things. Here's what Dillard said in her book:

" We have seen in twentieth-century painting that the art of mind and the art of surface go together. When painters abandoned narrative deep space, their canvases became abstract and intellectualized. With its multiple metaphors and colliding images, and embellished language actually abstracts the world's objects. Such language wrests objects from their familiar contexts. We do not enter deep space; we do not enter rounded characters; we contemplate them as objects."

Introverted Intuition is deeply interested in wresting objects from their familiar contexts so that we're not fooled into regarding the familiar appearances as their whole truth. Writers who have Introverted Intuition in their personalities may use plain, direct language: George Orwell is a great example of one who did. But when their purpose is to create verbal art that "wrests objects from their familiar contexts," they will be strongly drawn toward language that directs the eye away from the thing, and toward the new way it's being presented.


Q: That is an interesting and somewhat subtle concept.  Can you give us another example to help us grasp it more completely?

A: Yes, here's another good example of the same phenomenon, Eugie Foster's 2009 Nebula-winning story, "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast." In this story, a utopian/dystopian city ruled by a queen has one main law: every morning, you have to put on one of the masks that will control your identity for that day. The story's events first establish how this works, then depict the narrator's bitter discovery of truth. First, the concept of the story is a perfect fit with the B polarity: Introverted Intuition has two anti-mask revelations at once. The narrator learns the truth of how the techno-masks control them, but the story itself also suggests the extent to which roles we play are masks that control us. Second, the story's language is very sophisticated and beautiful, even as it describes at times ugly things. In drawing the reader's attention to the masks, it also draws attention to the words as they mask or reveal ideas.


Q: In the next article, we'll talk about how these ideas may explain some of the current controversy. Can you give us just a brief preview of what is to come?
A: I think that the gradual introduction of a different set of standards, and perhaps a different kind of "speculation" in "speculative fiction," is creating some identity crisis in science fiction. Both of the personality combinations I've described have always been part of the SF world, both in its writers and in its readers. But I think that Introverted Intuition has previously been caught up in logical questions about science and technology. It's been hunting down the hidden meaning of how we relate to rapidly-developing new abilities. Extroverted Intuition (in the "A" polarity) has generally used a what-if scenario to set in motion a wild adventure, while Introverted Intuition has most often presented scenarios of withheld truth that must be diligent sought, layer by layer. In exploring how human archetypes may be masks, it often showed corruption in government or a reversal of expectations: the ugly alien turns out to be morally good. Much of the interest in "transhumanism" may come from Introverted Intuition too, as it explores the ways an individual can cross over boundaries of appearance-archetypes, like how a robot may become somewhat human. Gradually, "speculation" about "identity" is moving away from this narrow vein of technology and logic, and this shift is materially aided by the introduction of new literary standards, ones that directly support the goals of the "B" worldview. Together, they support a shift away from technology and toward questions of persons. And then political identities invade and the Galactic War is on.


Thank you, Ruth! Another great installment in our ongoing series!


For more of Ruth’s work:

Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance

Ruth’s extremely interesting site on the Middle Ages: All Things Medieval

Ruth’s excellent book on Beowulf



Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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