Rumination On The Responsibility of Freedom Of Speech

One of our most cherished values, codified in our U.S. Constitution under the Bill of Rights, is freedom of speech. It’s covered in the First Amendment, under the same clause that establishes Freedom of Religion, and reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Freedom of Speech is much bandied about and also established in other important rights documents, such as article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). For Americans, particularly creatives, it is our most sacred value, one evoked frequently—whenever one’s words might be criticized or objected to—and held close to the heart.

But one of the things people often forget about freedoms is that having a right doesn’t preclude one from the obligation to exercise said right responsibly. And more and more as we see politicians saying outrageous and untruthful things and mass shootings, hate group marches, etc. we are reminded that freedom of speech can have heavy consequences.

During the tragic shootings in El Paso last week, the Mayor of El Paso said something that really irritated me. In a press conference, and later interviews, he claimed that only an outsider could have done “something like this.” No El Paso native would do such a thing. Well, I lived in El Paso, and during that time I dealt with my ex-wife’s mental health crisis, so I was around the mental health and legal system a lot. I saw a lot. And I can tell you: that’s a dangerous promise. It’s creating false expectations that the Mayor may come to regret. I hope not. I hope El Paso and no other place has to face this again, but realistically, there will be other mass shootings. Even if laws are changed. And to claim that locals are not capable of violence or even mental illness on that scale (most mass murderers who have survived long enough to be examined thoroughly have been determined by experts to have antisocial personality disorder in various forms—a mental illness as defined by the American Psychiatric Association and other qualified bodies) is irresponsible and unwise. Sure, it makes him and his public feel better but it also promises something that may not turn out to be true and can certainly never be guaranteed. I certainly found El Paso to be a welcoming place. It s the only city I ever lived in where I, as a while male, was a minority. And I loved it for that. But racism existed there just like anywhere else. From the guy who once complained to me about “the browns taking all the jobs” seconds before I introduced him to my Latina wife (now ex) to people I heard complaining about illegals around me at restaurants, malls, etc., the reality is that not everyone embraces that diversity and this is Texas, a state with some of the most lenient of firearm laws in the U.S. So those people also celebrate their ability to conceal carry or own arsenals while at the same time objecting to browns. It is a recipe for problems, if not disaster, and with politicians using fiery rhetoric to rile up people with such worries, the Mayor would be wise not to appear to guarantee something he simply can’t.

I say all this not to pick on El Paso or its Mayor. I love that city despite the personal crisis I endured there. But I give it as an example of the importance of responsible use of freedom of speech. As with the flaming political rhetoric regularly employed by our current president (quite irresponsibly in many cases) and other politicians (in particular a young freshman senator from New York comes to mind), these kinds of exercise of free speech can have heavy consequences. They can incite people to action and not all of those actions in response will be positive or appropriate. Some may even be deadly. I think it is always important to weigh what we say, how we say it, when we say it, where, and about whom with thought to such consequences.

Even worse was Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson claiming white supremacy in America is a “hoax.” Ridiculous. And we’ve seen plenty of evidence of it from KKK and Neo-Nazi rallies in the past few years to the Michigan cop under investigation for materials found last week in his home. It is an utterly irresponsible thing to say, especially for a journalist with an audience of millions. It seems Fox has rightly sent Carlson on vacation. They oughta make it permanent, but I rather doubt they will.

Let me give you another example. The Twitter mobs. If anyone knows consequences it is the Twitter mob instigators. They employ tactics designed specifically to take advantage of consequences. Call someone a bigot or homophone or etc. and you will evoke a reaction: angry criticism of the target at the very least and sometimes even bigger consequences. People have been fired, had book publications cancelled, etc. It is one of the easiest things in the world to throw out these accusations and be confident they will undermine the credibility of your target. The problem is: they don’t even have to be true and often are not. More often they are exaggerated exploitations of someone’s unclear wording or statements taken out of context. The Twitter mob accusers know this and they don’t care. A friend of mine once asked one such person who had attacked me if they really believed I was all the things they accused me of being. The response was telling: “Who cares. He’s not one of us so anything goes.” For those of us watching the destructiveness that results, this should be unacceptable. Irresponsible exercise of Freedom of Speech at its core. Reprehensible even. An action solely designed to discredit and silence an opponent so the accuser can gain credibility at their expense. Ironically, the accuser can be lying and misrepresenting, but who cares about that?

I think all of us should. Don’t you? You certainly would if you were ever the target as some of these very online bullies have found out when they found their own mobs later turning on them.

When politicians go down to visit sites and report exaggerated claims about the awful conditions or situations they observed to manipulate public opinion and forward their agenda, how is that serving the public? How is that doing their jobs well any more than Twitter mobs slandering good people into silence and harm? Neither one serves to make society better if you ask me. Because the exercise of Freedom of Speech carries with it inherently a moral obligation to use it responsibly. And there’s the rub. All too many don’t fulfill this moral obligation. Argue what you will about different people having different moral standards, etc. The reality is that while we live in a world of grays—one all too many of us wish was more black and white, especially the morally outraged Twitter mobster—there remains a black and whiteness to basic rights and wrongs. Misrepresenting the truth to manipulate others is wrong. So is misrepresenting someone’s words to make them look bad or get them punished. If you poll people—and many have—the majority of the public agrees with this. But until the public starts fighting back against these kinds of abuses of Freedom of Speech, nothing will change. And that means the consequences for all of us will continue: divisiveness, anger, uncertainty about facts and what is fake or real, etc. Until we demand responsible Freedom of Speech from others and practice it ourselves religiously (so to speak), the gray haze of the world in which we live that so often makes people frustrated and unsettled will continue to hang over us.

And that’s why Freedom of Speech is so important. Not just because it gives us th right to say what we want but because it carries with it the consequences of doing so and those consequences should be considered before one opens one mouth. Until they are, Freedom of Speech may be our most cherished principle and right, but it will also be one of our most abused and dangerous ones. (Not that I’d give it up in a million years.)

At least that’s how I see it. For what it’s worth…

A Different Kind Of Logic: Thoughts On Terrorism, Boston, 9/11 and More

I make it a habit not to comment on politics and such here very often. And I shall again try to do so with this post. But given recent events, I do want to share some thoughts on the Boston Marathon attack, terrorists, etc. Because these issues have faced our country boldface since September 11, 2001, and we continue to wrestle with how to react.

It’s always interesting to me how some people want to apply Western reasoning to people whose minds don’t operate like ours. Muslim extremists, Chechnian extremists, sociopaths — you can’t say if I was ignored, I’d stop crying for attention, so ignore them and they’ll go away. Because they don’t operate on the same system of logic we do.  For all we know, ignoring them will make them more determined. After all, these are patient people who spend years planning their attacks. They don’t tend to just fly off the handle and strike spontaneously. Meticulous planning is a part of their process. These are calculating people with specific goals, however warped those might seem to us. So when I hear people say: “Want to end fear of terrorism? Shut off the TV” or “keep on living,” it doesn’t compute to me.

Now, I am not in favor of brutality. I am not in favor of a country that has always valued life and held high ideals about morality and honor in how we treat others abandoning that tradition entirely. However, I am reminded of what a friend, a former U.S. intelligence officer, once told me decades ago. This was before September 11, 2001 by almost 10 years, in fact.

He said: “You can’t fight these kinds of people by being nice. You can’t treat them as operating under the same logic as everyone else. That’s just not who they are.” He went on to explain how the Russians dealt with terrorists when their people were attacked in the 80s. “The Russians found the terrorists, decapitated them, cut off their balls and sent the heads with balls stuffed in their mouths back to their families. Terrorists left the Russians alone.”

Brutal, yes. Horrifying even. I’m not suggesting it.

But his point was that when you deal with people who don’t think as you do, you have to approach them differently than people who do. You have to change tactics, take risks, and sometimes up the scale of response, as unpleasant as it may be.

I have spent a lot of time working cross culturally–in Ghana, Brazil, Mexico and other places–both living and working with people and working hard to understand who they are, how they think, how they view the world. My goals was never to impose my values or perspective but to understand theirs and offer tools they could apply in context to solve problems. I believe we had a great deal of success. Certainly we never heard the kinds of complaints so many other foreign groups get about trying to make them like us. I took pride in that. Still, do.

As a result of that time, I learned how to listen and study more, different questions to ask, and became aware of a much bigger box than the one in which I typically live. And it broadened my world in ways I can’t escape and don’t want to. The lens through which I view the world is a different one now, and it is through that lens that I view anyone I encounter whose actions, attitudes, culture, etc. are different from my own.  And that’s the case with these terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center, airlines and the Pentagon. I feel certain it’s the case with those who attacked Boston as well. And I know it’s different with those overseas who continue to terrorize or plot terror and attacks on others around the world.

When I worked with African or Brazilians, I very quickly learned I couldn’t assume they think as I do. That was a direct route to conflict. I found myself surprised at times by the differences in our perspectives, how our minds worked. Not that they were necessarily wrong. I was not there to make judgement calls. But they saw it differently, so to understand them and relate and work with them, I had to make an effort to understand their perspective. It was the only way we could find satisfactory solutions.

I believe the same is going  to be true in dealing with terrorism and the many problems we face in the world today. As I watch our country grow more and more divided by ideologies, I am more and more certain that’s going to be required here as well. In a country founded on compromise, at least in government and media, we seem to have forgotten that history, the art of compromise. It’s us v. them. Every ideology must be right and the others wrong. We’ve seen the results of that already–failure of the government to solve problems, angry citizens, and an increased sense of disunity amongst Americans. Sometimes, I wonder what America is anymore? I don’t recognize it many times.

Whenever a different kind of logic is at work, such misunderstandings are a risk, but they are also a danger.

And that’s what we face with these sociopaths who plant bombs or shoot up schools or attack us in other ways–a different kind of logic.

I’m not proposing particular answers, per se, but I am suggesting that to continue looking at it through our cultural eyes and understandings, through our mores and beliefs, is never going to provide a solution that ends the problem. It may prolong it. It may ignore it. It may make it worse. It won’t bring peace or a conclusion.

That’s scary stuff when you think about it. I was reading author Dan Simmons’ 2006 essay imagining a message from a Time Traveler  today and it demonstrates that very much, in so many ways. Until more of us realize this and act accordingly, I fear the heartache will continue. I fear the struggle will not be resolved, and I fear the harm will be caused as much by our ignorance as that of our attackers. And, if you ask me, we’ve suffered enough harm.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website or Facebook.

#Write Tip: Why Do You Write? Knowing Yourself Is Key

Recently, Writer’s Digest posted a contest based on Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he addresses the questions: WHY DO YOU WRITE? Now normally I ignore such things, but I’m in a very contemplative mood today. And it’s a very valid question, one I think many writers may not be asking themselves enough.

We all do what we do for various reasons, but, in my experience, understanding your motives is a key factor to great satisfaction and success. It allows you to focus and to fine tune decisions. It keeps you pressing on when obstacles and frustrations arise. And it gives you a sense of purpose, which, as writers know, can be hard to hold onto and easily lost in the midst of  the labor of creating a manuscript.

Pamuk’s reason is quite compelling and worth looking at (use the link above), but what it did for me is cause me to reevaluate what my own answer might be. So here’s what I posted at Writer’s Digest’s site:

WHY DO YOU WRITE? Love to hear others’ answers but here’s mine: I write because I can’t NOT write. It’s a compulsion, an addiction. It’s not about money or fame. I write because there’s stuff I need to get out there into the world. I hope people are moved by it. I hope they’re entertained. I hope it makes them think. But I’ll still write regardless, because I don’t have a choice. At least the writers will understand that, I think. It’s a way of processing the world, understanding the meaning of life, making decisions and striving to grow to be a better man. It’s a way of exercising demons, demonstrating better ways and exploring human nature. I write because there’s a voice inside me crying to break free. I write because it’s who I am. That’s why I write. The question becomes how can I NOT write?

You hear a lot of arguing these days about people who “sell out” by  using various antics. The guy who made himself into a bestseller via paying reviewers and other dishonesty or the person who leveraged hundreds of thousands of twitter following strangers into decent sales. But to me my mind, these are gimmicks that mean very little for the long run. They may make a big splash for a moment, but what happens in twenty years? Will the fame still exist? Will they still be writing? Will they still be getting bestseller rankings? Will they come to realize the fleeting satisfaction was empty and couldn’t last? Only these people probably will know the answer and not for a couple of decades.

Whether you believe in a Higher Power or not, you are the decision maker for your destiny in so many ways. You are in charge of who you are and who you become. You may ignore concern for it. You may just pretend to go with the flow. But the act of deciding to do that is choosing your destiny, in every sense. “Damn the consequences, I’ll deal with it later” is a decision. It may be a decision to deal with regrets some other day, but it’s still a choice you’re making.

For me, I prefer to have more direction. My SFFWRTCHT friends will mock me as being anti-chaos. But I’ve had my share of chaos in life, especially the past three years. Anyone who’s ever dealt with unemployment and a mentally ill spouse and all that comes with them at the same time, constantly, will understand what I mean. If you haven’t been through that, you really don’t. But even before all that, I’ve always been a purpose driven person–wanting to do things for a clear reason and with certain deliberation. It doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous. For example, I rarely do much outlining for novels or short stories and I am really good at improvising as a musician. But both of those have an overarching framework that gives them a sense of boundaries and structure. In one case, it’s the story idea, characters and/or setting. In the other, western musical theory. And I don’t think that means I can’t live in the moment at all, frankly. I just may put more thought into than some. Is that really so wrong?

You have to do what’s right for you, of course, but I do think asking yourself the questions to have a sense of boundaries–knowing where you want to be, where you are and how you plan to get there is helpful, especially for writers. Most writers will never achieve stardom and wealth. Many will toil in full time jobs and lives, while writing on the side, for their entire lifetimes. Others strike lightning. Good for them. I don’t know which I’ll be, and, honestly, I don’t care. I’d like to make a living from this. This month I will likely make half of what I need to live from freelance writing and editing. Full time would only put me mid-20k per year, which is not rich. But what it is is satisfying, and I can’t tell you how valuable that is.  After 29 months of unemployment, my wife’s illness, divorce, cross country moves, near bankruptcy, unemployment problems, and more, to be doing something I enjoy sitting down to do and earning my living from it is such a blessing.

In my 43 years, I have worked many jobs that didn’t satisfy me creatively or fulfill my goals. I did it for the paycheck. I did it because I had to. I sacrificed stability to found a non-profit and teach the arts in developing countries to people who couldn’t afford or get that training any other way. I worked freelance so I could do fundraising and take time off to travel. I loved every minute, but it gave me no financial stability and benefits to help me through the crises I now face. What it did give me was a longing to be doing what I love, to chase my passions. And that I am being blessed with the opportunity to do that now is so gratifying.

But I know why I write. Why do you write? What keeps you going? Where do you want to be? How will you get there? I’d love to hear thoughts from fellow writers and readers.  I hope this encourages yet challenges you. Most of all, I hope it makes you ask those questions to be reminded there’s a motive and reason that drives you. We all need that from time to time. I know I did.

If you’re interested in the Writer’s Digest contest, enter here with a comment: Click here for Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

I wish you happiness and continued success. May you live your dreams. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming and Beyond The Sun via Kickstarter. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

A Humble Plea For Help To Any Who Would Hear

Well, this is very hard to write. I hate being anything but positive in energy, and more than that, I hate asking for help. I was raised in  a family that helps and gives to others, not the other way around. We’re mostly very lucky and blessed and have always had a lot of blessings some others don’t have.

But the situation is dire. As depression goes, today is one of those days where you feel like you could lay down, go to sleep, and never wake up and the world would be a better place. It’s been a long time since I had a day like this, despite being on depression meds for almost eighteen months. But the burdens of the moment feel so overwhelming.

For those who don’t know, in May 2010, I was laid off/fired from my technical writing job. There were excuses made about work being adequate but no great and not having enough for me to do, but no one could or would provide concrete examples. Up to that point I’d been praised for my work. Some clients friends did some checking and found that the company had financial issues and one of them was providing health insurance, as a small business for their fifteen or so employees. Since my wife’s mental illness issues were flaring and she was on a lot of meds, in and out of the hospital, and having lots of medical appointments, I began to suspect it was more about that liability than my performance. Never had enough to prove so I had to let it go but I was offered a six month severance package and asked to sign a termination agreement to not sue the company now or in the future for anything. This just made me more suspicious.

In any case, I went on unemployment and began honing my resume and looking for work. As of this date, I am still unemployed. Three times I have reached third interview and had the company apologetically tell me they had a last minute hiring freeze. None of those freezes, to my knowledge, have yet been lifted. Twice I was a final candidate and told someone else had a slight edge and was chosen. I worked with many “resume” excerpts through this 26 months on various resumes and kept trying.

In the midst of this, my 18.5 year old cat died. She’d been with me half my life. I’m still getting over it and feeling like I lost both child and best friend.

Then my part time job decided since I was looking for work out of state, they couldn’t wait to see what happened and replaced me. About this time, misfiled paperwork from the full time job messed up unemployment in a cycle that cost us all income from November 2010 through February 2011. Just as we got it reinstated, my wife’s mental illness flared again and she spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. I was forced to commit her against her will multiple times and to file several thousand dollars worth of legal actions to get guardianship just so I could oversee her care. Although she did finally get the treatment needed and turn around, she also decided to divorce me as much for taking away her rights as anything else.

So I spent more money for a divorce and, finally, last Fall, relocated back to Kansas to be near family who could help with the dogs, etc. and to have cheaper cost of living. After going through 2.5 years of hell with very little close support (new city, new friends, not enough established ties so people mostly walked away or kept emotional distance), I finally came back where I at least had strong shoulders to lean on. But try as I have, and I apply to jobs constantly, revise my resumes again as I have, I am still getting nowhere on jobs.

To their credit, Grail Quest Books and Delabarre Publishing have given me some opportunities to both edit, copyedit, and to write kids’ books, etc. This has been good to have, but it’s not enough to get me back to financial stability and it’s also case-by-case, not steady. I still carry the burden of web costs for SFFWRTCHT’s website as well as related materials when the publishers don’t provide them. This includes postage and packaging for giveaways, etc. (You’ll notice we’ve been having less). I do this without complain because I love what I do and am proud to help the SFF community and other authors. But there are costs involved like anything.

This weekend I went to Con-tamination in Saint Louis. They offered me a free dealer table. I stayed with family. I ate most meals free. Just had to pay for gas. Sales were slow and paltry but I did make connections. But I also arrived to discover that somehow my digital camera LCD had been damaged. Then, driving home my engine somehow burned out and has to either be replaced or I may have to get yet another car. This car was bought in February with help from my parents.

My dad and mom are retired. They have been helping us now for 2.5 years and carrying an incredible burden. Several hundred a month to over a thousand when things came up. I was left with significant debt in the divorce, a portion of which they paid to refinance for me. I’ve so far made no payments on that but instead have had to pay on other debt, student loans, etc.

Sum it up by saying, I’m in big trouble here. I am living as frugally as I can. But I can’t cover this car replacement or repair nor a camera and my parents are really overburdened.

So I find myself asking if anyone knows of work or financial aid or anything that might help. It really hurts to ask. But the economy is not getting better. Unemployment benefits may well run out again because I’m on my last extensions. And I’m feeling lost and hopeless as to how to change anything. In any case, if you pray, I appreciate prayers. But if anyone call beyond that bryan.thomas at is my PayPal. Or you can send by Dwolla at yaornw at It sucks to be in this position but I’ve kept busy doing SFFWRTCHT and helping others promote books, writing, freelance editing, and volunteering even as I search for work. If I was paid for the hours I put in it would be full time. This crisis, unfortunately, is one too many. My second novel releases tomorrow. And I’m getting ready to cancel the next two cons etc. if I can’t get past this and maybe even if I can. I just can’t go on like this. We’re waiting on the final estimate but for a new engine or car it would run $2-4,000. My camera can wait, as I have a film one that functions, but I’ll have to spend $100-150 for that, too, at some point.

Anyway, thanks all for listening. I have nothing to give back other than time and friendship beyond what I already do. There are stories free on my website but I am mid-novels with nothing new to offer as an extra, so I count on your good hearts.



Journey Through The SFF Classics: Isaac Asimov’s “Caves Of Steel”

Well, this was my first Asimov robots book, and I really enjoyed it. In fact, it’s been a decade, but I don’t remember enjoying the Foundation series as much as I did this. It’s a thriller detective story at heart with a SF setting.

The premise is that Spacers, descendents of Earth who have grown up on colonies in space, have returned to live outside the domed cities of Earth. In this case, New York. The spacers keep most Earthlings from entering their cities for fear of disease and are standoffish. Most of them don’t come into the domes either. Instead, they send robots. But the Earthlings distrust robots. In fact, many fear them. Then a spacer is murdered. Grizzled New York detective Lije (Elijah) Bailey is assigned to investigate and, in the interests of proving he’s fair, assigned a spacer partner named R. Daneel Olivaw. The R designates his species: robot, or really an Android, since he looks identical to his human creator, the murder victim. Lije’s natural distrust of robots and his own family’s fears are brought into play as they get to know each other and begin to investigathe. At first, Lije accuses the Spacers themselves of the murder as a plot to destabilize relations between the two group. But over time, he begrudgingly comes to respect Daneel, and, in fact, together they discover a far deeper plot.

Although there are moments of silly dialogue (Asimov isn’t known for great dialogue according to anything I’ve read) like “Why you need go in for–for no purpose?” AHEM, he is known for great ideas. His future view of the Earth could happen, but I’d hope it doesn’t. The idea of big cities encased in domes and a countryside run by robots solely for agricultural and resource gathering is a bit sad to think about. People so used to dome air they get sick in the open air? Wow. That would be disappointing for someone who enjoys the outdoors like me. Still, the story moves at a nice clip and the character building of the two leads is very strong. Supporting characters who get some attention include Jessi, Lije’s wife, a Spacer robotics scientist, and the Police Commissioner, who is Lije’s old classmate and friend. But mostly the story centers around Lije and Daneel as they investigate and interrogate various bit players and examine evidence.

Unlike today’s novels, the book is short at 191 pages. And there are a few archaic phrases such as “he took a wrong turning” which seem to have been proper usage at the time (1953) when the book was published, but which aren’t common now. So in that sense, the book feels dated. But Asimov gets a lot of plot into its short length. I was engaged from very early on. I wanted to know what would happen next, and I look forward to The Naked Sun, Robots Of Dawn and Robots and Empire. I may squeeze them into this Journey Through The SFF Classics as I expand that list. We’ll see. I have plenty on the list to keep me busy for a while, as you may remember from the introductory post.

In any case, this is a highly entertaining and fast read and I think it would be a great entry not only to classic science fiction and fantasy but to Asimov for anyone who has not yet read his work or many classics.

Next up on my Journey: Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

An Alternative To A Song Of Ice And Fire

I respect George R.R. Martin as a writer. He’s immensely talented. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. I respect the achievement that is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. I read the first two books. I enjoyed them for what they are. But I couldn’t finish book 3. A Storm Of Swords just lost me. I have wrestled with that for a couple of weeks now and finally sorted out why.

Why would I want to read a book that deals with heroes like reality does? GRRM takes all the archetypes and knocks them off one by one. Killing any admirable heroes and leaving us with mostly unlikable scum. Oh Jon Snow and Arya and even Tyrion still have likability, despite flaws. But you know, I get this kind of depressing reality on the news daily and the internet, I don’t need it in my fiction.  I read fiction to escape. I read it to hope for a better world. I read it to see possibilities, not realities that are depressing and sad or reminders of that.

Maybe I’m more thoughtful than some people. I’m painfully aware of my frailties, failures and inadequacies. My life’s quest has been to try and conquer them or at least counter them by living a life that makes a difference. From teaching to volunteering to mission  work, I have sought to help and encourage others and myself by seeking to make a better world, at least in the portion that I touch. And when I write, that’s why I write old fashioned heroes where the good guys are good and admirable, despite being flawed, and the bad guys are bad. You know who you want to see win and that’s okay because it’s natural. It doesn’t have to weaken the characters to have them be people who make us want to be better people ourselves; to make us hope people, including ourselves, can rise above our depravity and lead better lives, lives of significance that make a better world.

As my friend and editor Randy Streu states it: “It’s like, somebody decided that ‘nuance’ meant that, to be a real hero meant to be so flawed and depraved that actual heroism was dead. Acts for the greater good are a biproduct of self interest.” I guess some people do probably believe that. But I don’t. I think heroism is alive. I sometimes think the media wish it wasn’t. They go after anyone with character or fame like sharks at a steak cookout, tearing them to shreds, cutting them down to size, poking and probing at every potential weakness or flaw to tear them down. Reality TV thrives on this. It’s a celebration of mediocrity and failure. It’s about taking people we admire and bringing them down a  notch. That’s why it’s so wonderful when someone actually survives the reality TV feeding frenzy and comes out shining. Take Clay Aiken on the current Celebrity Apprentice or even Arsenio Hall. Arsenio lost it once, but then apologized and let it go. And he showed himself to be the class act most of his fans always hoped he was.

But Song Of Ice and Fire as well written as it is, as deep as it can be, just leaves me cold. Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality? Don’t get me wrong, GRRM has a right to write what he wants. I stand up for his freedom of speech. I’m just saying that the alternative to A Song Of Ice and Fire appeals more to a lot of people and that’s not bad or wrong. I wish there were more of it.

I recently interviewed Robert Silverberg about the rerelease of the incredible Majipoor books which changed my life. The hope and excitement they inspired not only in the possibilities of what one man can do but what one writer can do have been formative in my life. Are there bad guys in that? Yes. Is the hero flawed? Yes. But there’s an underlying sense of wonder and optimism which is inspiring and moving. Lots of books used to have that. Less have it today and I wonder why. Is our nihilistic age destroying our ability to hope?  My childhood memories are filled with books which so inspired me: from Winnie The Pooh to Dr. Seuss to Huckleberry Finn and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of these books, like Finn and Wilder dabble close to the vest with reality. It’s not that characters don’t face real problems or flaws but that they triumph and grow into better people and the overall theme is hopeful and makes you want to do the same in your life. Is that such a bad thing? Does anyone who has kids really want them reading books with the tone of A Song Of Ice And Fire to set their expectations for the world and their lives?

Again, I am not saying A Song Of Ice and Fire is bad. I am just suggesting that another type of literature has its place and its importance and is still needed and wanted by many readers today and that, perhaps, the focus on moving away from that is misplaced. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are popular for a reason. They celebrate the triumph of flawed heroes over strong forces and great odds. And the protagonistic characters are admirable and likable.

It’s funny to me that so much of Christian literature took it to the opposite extreme. There, heroes are so whitewashed and villains so tame that readers living in the real world quickly grow bored and frustrated. The books don’t engage their reality enough, rather than the opposite of perhaps engaging too much. Instead of lacking heroes, they lack realistic people. The characters are cardboard and perfect and don’t resemble anyone we know and the world is too neat with too many rounded edges and not enough jagged ones. If that makes any sense. Whereas the Bible is filled with powerful heroes who are flawed men and woman fighting to rise above their flaws and facing incredible odds. Those character types still have power and meaning for audiences today. I think that’s why so many classics continue to be reprinted again and again, like the Majipoor series.  I’ll continue trying to write it, and I hope others will as well. I really hope the kids of tomorrow can find books to inspire them like I used to.  And I’ll continue to seek an alternative to A Song Of Ice And Fire.  Not that I refuse to read such things but that I’ll visit them sparingly. They offer me less of what I seek and need and thus don’t satisfy my cravings.  The HBO version has just made me feel stronger about it as they ditch the story and important POV characters like Arya for any scene where they can show more flesh and more gritty sex, violence, etc. They emphasize even more the darkness and they’re losing their way with the story in the process.

Yes, I still believe real heroes exist and the world can be a better place if we do our best to rise above our flaws and make a difference. I still believe story telling even on film doesn’t need to be darkly discouraging and total depravity, that there can be hope in its midst. And I hope I always will. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb

Climate Change

I have never discriminated against or hated anyone in my life intentionally. Despite my life long religious views, I have always interpreted them and applied them with compassion. For example, I once served at a camp with gay students. When the students found out I was Christian, I got persecuted as a gay basher just because of it. Even though I’d never treated them different than any other students, they refused to accept anything but total agreement with them.

In high school, I carried my bible to classes, didn’t drink or smoke, and didn’t party or chase girls to “get laid.” I was treated like an outcast as well.

These were my first exposures to being persecuted and discriminated against for who I am and what I believe, and because of them, I have been careful not to do the same to others.

Yet here I find myself discriminated against because I am Christian and conservative. Words like “haters,” “Bigots,” “fundamentalist wackos,” etc. are bandied about. I am reviled and disrespected. And yet, those doing it don’t even recognize that it’s wrong. My beliefs are offensive so it’s okay. I wonder what they’d do if they saw someone mocking a Downs Syndrome child at the supermarket or shouting racial epitats in a white hood.

The climate of the country has changed for the worst, and the Left is creating an environment of persecution, hate and intolerance against the Right that they say is intolerant.

This is not what our country was meant to be, and it’s not going to create a civil, peaceful society. It needs to change. Conservatives need to be sure of how they express themselves, too. There are bigots on both sides, haters. I’m just tired of being lumped in with them because we share some beliefs.

Land of the free, home of the brave, free speech reigns — not any more.

For what it’s worth…

An Open Letter To My Fellow Christians

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I run into people like Anne Rice alienated by the small minded antics of many so-called believers, I now find myself dismayed by the outcry of believers against this Muslim center in New York. It’s two blocks from Ground Zero, not on Ground Zero, and I don’t get the moral outrage. After all, this is not an Al Queda training center. Al Queda, as a reminder, are Muslim extremists responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Muslims, on the other hand, are often kind, gentle people with strong faith who abhor those who commit terror in the name of their religion just as I abhor terror committed by abortion clinic bombers in the name of Christianity.

Why is it immoral for such people to build a faith center near Ground Zero? They may want to lead the way to healing by seeking to show that Muslims are not extremists and that Muslims care about the victims. Many Muslims themselves died in the 9/11 attacks. Unless the particular group building the center can be specifically tied to terrorists, we cannot rightfully object. The same freedom of religion which we cherish also applies to them, and by the same logic, any Christian churches near abortion clinics should also be banned.

Freedom of speech and religion must be universally applied or they are at risk for being limited for everyone, not just your personal chosen few. And Christ is about love and compassion, not hatred and discrimination.

So I don’t get this outrage. And I am offended by the ignorance behind it. No wonder Christians are being so often vilified today. We cannot use our own anger or religion as an excuse to be irrational and immoral ourselves in falsely accusing and persecuting others. It is giving Christianity in general and Jesus Christ specifically a bad name, and I hope we can all agree that’s the last thing we’d want to do.

It is time we lead the way back with love and compassion toward healing for our country. I am as angry as anyone with Obama, the most unqualified man in history, being president. I don’t like the left’s anti-Christian rhetoric. BUT firing back the same rhetoric and ignorance is not productive. It just instigates more of the same. If we truly want to be heard and want our country to change, we must change. We must do better than our opponents. We must listen and love even when it goes against our nature. It’s what Christ calls us to do. It’s what He himself did on the cross when He died for us.

It’s what must happen if we ever hope to see change.

For what it’s worth…

An Open Letter To Anne Rice & Those Wounded By The Church

As I read your statements about leaving Christianity, I see people who have been hurt by the church as you have. I have been in ministry for almost 20 years and have been hurt by the church every year of that. I recognize that it’s the fallible, sinful people who cause the pain though, not the institution. The institution is as imperfect as the people who form it, but that doesn’t make the institution broken or invaluable.

God calls us to fellowship and tells us he brings blessings through it. It’s not about a mega church or small church model. It’s about a regular gathering to fellowship, pray together, worship and hear God’s voice. Now, you can do parts off this alone. I do it all the time. And the bible supports this. But it also calls us to fellowship because the church has many parts like a body, and the leg cannot function without a foot, and the hand cannot function without fingers. We don’t always know where our place is within that body, but we do know that we belong. Even though we may not always feel like it. If all the people who had issues with the church believed this and stayed to work from the inside to change it, the world of Christianity would be a different place.

The way to change it though is not to make it more like the world, but make it more like Christ. Christ suffered more than any of us can even conceive or will ever experience, but he never gave up on the sinful creatures He was sent to save nor the broken church which was to become His bride.

Arguing that none of the denominations are in the Bible is pointless. Denominations are man’s doing, not God’s. And I believe they grieve the heart of God because we have so separated ourselves from each other that we fail to recognize we really have a lot more in common than different. Instead, we start looking at each other like the enemy. And that divides us further and creates pain and anger which distract us from our focus on Christlike living and Christlike compassion to our world.

Compassion is the heart of Christ and yet the church today often fails to show any evidence of it. We’re hardly compassionate to our own families, let alone needy strangers. That grieves God as well. Humans have to categorize everything because our hearts are competitive. It really comes out of deep seated insecurity which makes us want to feel we are okay by putting others down. But in the process, we fail to follow the humility of a Savior King who became a servant.

The church is not perfect. It’s broken. But the fact that you see that makes you invaluable to healing her. The people who are blind to the issues will never make a difference Those who see it and have powerful voices, like Anne Rice, are in a position to push for much needed change. And I urge you to consider the ministry possibilities that offers for you to serve both Christ and the church. Even though you will have to be humble to ignore your discomfort, and even though you will have to love on people who don’t love back or don’t often deserve it.

The church needs you, and you need the church. Only together can we all grow together to be more like the Master.

I hope you will continue to seek His will and wisdom in this, and I hope you will consider how your service to your fellow believers can serve Christ. We need loud voices of change, and though they may seem to fall on deaf ears, they will never go unheard.



Cultural Numbness: Since When Did It Become Funny To Joke About Rape?

Had a friend whom I really like a respect who couldn’t get why I didn’t think the FB link to a YouTube video of a rape news report set to song wasn’t funny. For one thing, my mother was date raped, which is how I was conceived, and as happy as I am to be here, I don’t think rape itself is funny. For another, it makes fun of the whole ghetto culture, and while I do think some people may choose to live in that culture, a lot of people are stuck there. I found the idea of mocking it, especially alongside a rape news story, racist. And that makes me sad.

Since when did we become so culturally numb that it’s funny to joke about rape? There’s absolutely nothing funny I can think of about rape or poverty or lower class living and low levels of education. Most people I know who have experienced any of these things first hand find no humor in it. I know of no lower class, uneducated, poor person I’ve met who doesn’t wish their life was anything but those things. I know of no rape victim whom I’ve ever heard say they’re glad they were raped.

For a long time, I have seen our culture moving toward culture numbness on the violence. A lot of this is related to graphic depictions in television and movies, which is ironic given that so many Hollywood liberals are pro-gun control and complain about violence. Video games have contributed as well. I see my friends’ young kids playing with guns all the time as if what they are depicting is no big deal. Even the parents scarcely seem to notice. Gun proponents would argue “it’s the people not the guns,” but I argue, laws are made to protect people from ignorant/irresponsible other people. Which is why I am pro-gun control. And don’t give me the crap about the constitution either. Bazookas and assault weapons didn’t exist when it was written and the Founding Fathers could never fathom the possibilities available in weapons today. Their goal was to prevent tyrannical governments from violating the citizens’ rights, not to allow every homeowner to possess weapons capable of blowing up the neighborhood or shooting through four nearby houses simultaneously in the name of home defense.

My objection to rap music, besides the lack of musicality, are lyrics which glorify crime and killing. Shooting cops, raping women, robbing banks — rappers glorify these things all too often.

We are becoming more and more numb to things which once appalled us as a society, and perhaps that’s why those who argue for the return to traditional values with clear definitions of right and wrong are vilified. We don’t see those things as wrong any more and don’t want any one to remind us how ignorant and numb we’ve become.

Yet gun violence, killing, robbery, rape, abuse, racism — these things remain unfunny. They are tragic, disgusting, and horrifying. If they ever become less, we become less for that thinking. And I think we’ve sunken far enough as a culture. It’s time to come back up.

For what it’s worth…

The Challenge of a Dual Culture Nation

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and working cross culturally. In fact, since I’m married to a Brazilian, my home life is that way, too. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the conservative v. liberal antagonism dividing our nation these days, and it occurs to me that part of the problem is we have two cultures living side by side: a Christian culture and a secular culture.

The Christian culture believes in traditional values which once formed the moral compass of our nation. These were the values our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the founding documents of our nation. They may not have been believers or lived these values, but with the church of the day being the dominant voice of moral standards, these values nonetheless were a compass for them and influenced their thinking.

The Secular Culture consists of people who, for various reasons, believe that religion should be private and kept to one’s self; that people of faith shouldn’t share their faith with others or attempt to push its values into the public arena. Some of these are Agnostics and Athiests. Others are people of other religions than Christians. Others are members of mainstream Christian churches who may separate their faith and life in ways the members of the Christian culture don’t know how to do.

These are far from complete descriptions. They’re merely meant as sketches to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. The groups are far more complex than these few words can describe or explain.

The point is that Christians like myself, in the Christian culture, believe that our faith informs our lives. The way we live, think, breath and act is influenced by our beliefs. Like other humans, we are imperfect and don’t always live up to our ideals, but we are trying and constantly adjusting ourselves to learn from mistakes and live more like the Savior we believe in. As a result, we can not separate our values in the church from those in the rest of our lives. We believe that biblical values are God’s intention.

For example, murder is against God’s law, and babies are humans, so abortion is killing babies. Human beings are possessors of finite minds and thus incapable of deciding if a baby is worth living or not. I was the child of date rape, but I have spent a lot of my life helping others, teaching, giving. I think my life has meaning. If I’d been aborted, I couldn’t have made that difference. Who are we to know the child a woman is carrying won’t turn out to be an amazing human being? Who are we to deny that chance?

Secular culture, however, looks at that and says that a woman has a right not to be forced to raise a child she doesn’t want. There are too many abused and abandoned children already. Forcing women to carry to term unwanted babies will just create more.

Another example, gay marriage. The bible says marriage consists of “one man and one woman.” It also says explicit things about the sin of homosexuality. Now one can argue that the church misrepresents homosexual sex as a worse sin than other sins incorrectly, and I would agree, because the bible says all sins are equal. But that’s not the point. The point is, marriage is a religious thing to them, and therefore gay marriage can’t exist because it is against God’s law.

Secular culture sees this as Christians imposing their values on others, but civil marriage is separate and if laws were properly written to define the difference between civil and church marriage, some of the conflict would be a mute point. At the same time, secular culturists insistence that their view be upheld, feels to Christian culturalists like secular values being forced on them.

In any case, these are two opposing world views and their clash has created a great deal of anger, resentment and struggle in our nation and world.

We need to find a way to dialogue better in these cultures. If both sides object to having the others’ values forced upon them, they must also admit that they have no right to force their values on the other side. A compromise must be reached and the gap bridge or our country will never recover and reunite in ways necessary to solve the problems we face. I have no solutions or compromises to suggest other than mutual recognition of our rights to not have others’ views pushed off on us, but we do need to come together and I pray that we will.

For what it’s worth…

Family History Interview: A Treasure Trove

When I was taking history at California State University, Fullerton, the professor gave me a challenging assignment. It was an assignment I approached with trepidation: how interesting could this be? The assignment was to interview a family member on tape about family history. I’d been hearing the family stories for years, I thought. Did I really want to subject myself to them again? What would this assignment accomplish?

I finally decided to do it with my Grandma Ethel Melson (Mom’s mom). I prepared a list of questions and took them with me when we visited her over the holidays, sat down with her and the trusty old tape recorder she always loaned me when I was there. What happened next was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. She spoke for over two hours, answering every question with insightful recollections. Often she told things in ways I’d never heard them or offered details she’d never mentioned before. When my mother heard the tape later, she said Grandma was telling stories she’d never shared before, not even with my Mom.

Grandma passed away a few years later, and I have since transferred the tape to CD and given it to the family. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to hear her voice, her laugh, etc. when you start missing her or feeling you’re forgetting. Even better, we can share it with people she never met, like my wife, or our kids.

Since then, I have encouraged so many people to do this with their families. I wish we’d done it with my Grandma Schmidt before her dimentia got bad. And I wish we’d done it with a lot of others as well. It is a cherished gift, and you should consider doing it yourself. You’ll be surprised and blessed and it will be something you’ll never forget.

For what it’s worth…

A Few Thoughts On Tea Parties and Freedom Of Speech

I know I’m behind again. Tomorrow I’ll review another book, but for now, here’s something I hope makes you think:

Although the Tea Parties of today have taken an approach I don’t support, I find it hard to disagree with their sentiments. Anger at the direction this country is taken has become endemic on both sides, and why wouldn’t? We have a president who promised change yet has basically run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the same way they were run by the previous administration. A president who sat back blaming others and reminding us Bush “was slow with Katrina” while he allowed one of the biggest oil spills in history to spread and do more damage. He could have sent in federal cleanup and charged BP for the bill, but instead, he sat back and played the blame game. With the problems our country faces, and this kind of leadership from Congress and the White House, we should all be mad and celebrate the freedom of speech our Founding Fathers secured for us. If they hadn’t objected to bad governing, we’d be hearing “Hail To The Queen” instead of “Hail To The Chief.” So the tea party history is important to this country.

Ignoring Our Stench

Okay, I have neglected my blogging duties and I’m so sorry. I have been so distracted with life, I just totally forgot to sit down and write here. My fiction hasn’t fared any better though.

Last night, our poodle Amélie drank my Milo. Milo is a chocolate drink you mix with water. It’s made by Nestlé but I discovered it in Ghana, and it reminds me of my great experiences there when I drink it. I have been feeling “homesick” or nostalgic about Ghana lately, so I decided to mix some up last night. I left the glass beside the bed and went downstairs to shut off lights. Usually the dog follows me, but since I was in such a hurry that I failed to notice she didn’t this time.

When I got back upstairs, my wife commented that the dog had chocolate all over her face and then I saw the glass was almost empty. That little stinker! Needless to say, she spent the night in the cage, because 1) dogs aren’t supposed to eat chocolate and she has a tendency to poop and pee in the house if she gets sick or has an overwhelming urge; b) I don’t have much Milo left and I had spent some minutes getting just the right mix; c) she needs to learn to obey like our Yorki does.

I bring all this up because today when she hopped in my lap to kiss me, which she often does, she smelled like Milo. The thought occurred to me how often do we really smell like our sin? You may have heard the phrase “You reek of sin.” It’s something I’ve heard people say when trying to convict a person who is really wallowing in a messed up life. But I’d never thought of it as literal, yet in this case it was. That made me wonder how we stink to God.

In my fiction, I often write about spiritual themes. This is not only because of my own faith but because it’s a fascinating part of how people interact. I don’t use my fiction to prosletyze, but I do use it to examine the human condition and part of that is sin. I show how even my “good guy” characters have sin. It’s part of being human and the results create dynamic conflicts most of us can relate to and which add tension to both the plot and the relationships in stories.

But what if we all smelled like what we did? What kind of world would that be? Over time, would we just lose our sense of smell? Would we so adapt that we didn’t even notice? Sometimes, I wonder if that’s what we do anyway. It’s so easy for us to overlook our own sins and yet find fault with others. We hold our nose at them while completely failing to smell ourselves. It’s kind of like B.O. Sometimes we’re blissfully unaware of our personal stench and its effect on those around us.

In any case, Amélie reminded me that I need to watch how I smell. It’s an interesting though I’m sure will find its way into a novel some day, and more than that, something I am going to think about over and over again in times to come. What about you?

For what it’s worth…

One of Those Lives – Ruminations on Lamentations (not Ken Scholes’ book, the other one)

Did you ever have “one of those days?” Well, I’m having on of those months. Being laid off with no warning and no explanation on May 24 has just thrown me through a loop. The economy is horrible. The severance is about to run out. I had no anticipation and no sense of calling to move or leave but now must seek wisdom and answers. And it’s hard. It’s real hard. I apply and apply and, except for two, the replies are “job already filled” or “excellent and impressive resume, but you’re not what we’re looking for.”

If any Bible passage could describe how I’m feeling it’s Lamentations 3:

Lamentations 3

1 [a] I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,

11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

Pretty hopeful stuff, huh?

I know, I’m supposed to have a positive outlook, have faith, trust the Lord, believe that He loves and wants the best for me and has a plan. I do believe that. The trouble is, He’s not telling me what all that is and I don’t like being in limbo and not know how we’re going to eat at the end of this month. It’s a scary place to be, especially since I spent most of 2003 out of work. The difference is, this time we have three pets, I’m married, and my retired parents are in no position to help out.

See? I need the Lord more than ever so where is He? The Bible tells us He’s there, in the midst of our sorrow, but I’m struggling to feel it.

Of course, as anyone who’s read Lamentations 3 knows, I can only wallow in the self-pity and hopelessness decribed by those first verses so long. Only until I read on and come to this:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

Wow! Do I feel like a chump now or what? I mean, God is faithful. I’ve sung the hymn based on this song so many times I know it by heart. In fact, we scheduled it at planning session today for this Sunday. “His compassions are new every morning.” Wow! “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him” Wow! “Great is Your faithfulness” Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect to be perfect. I don’t expect to be sinless. I don’t expect to never have trouble. That said, I also have walked with God for over 30 years now. I’ve walked with Him through periods where I could feel His presence so strongly it was like another human walking beside me. I’ve walked with Him through periods where I knew He carried me, where I heard His voice in my ear, where I never thought I’d ever be, let alone find Him. And God has been good to me. A good family, good income for the past seven years, ministry opportunities around the world, good songs which people like and sing in churches and languages I’m not even aware of. He’s blessed me. But here I am wallowing in Lamentations 3: 1-18, one of the most optomistic (NOT) passages of the Bible.

Why do I say this? Because so many of you have also had times when it felt like “one of those lives,” and from the midst of it, it’s not only hard to see God’s presence, it’s hard to see the way our or believe you’ll ever see His presence again. But I am here in the midst telling you that I have faith, trust the Lord, believe that He loves and wants the best for me and has a plan. And I know He’s here in the darkest depths and I know He’s picking me up right now when I can’t walk any more. I believe that and so should you because He doesn’t love me any more than He loves you. He loves us both same.

So whether it’s “one of those days” or “one of those lives,” He’s with you. Even in the midst of great despair as I am now. He’s with you, He cares, and He has a way out planned, so lean on Him, let Him carry you and get ready for one amazing ride.

For what it’s worth…

On The Blame Game, the Global Warming Myth, and Why Both Distract Us From Enacting Needed Change

I love this article. A Golbal Warming supporter saying a University’s investigation refutes the accusations of scientists’ tampering with evidence. Well, gee, most universities have liberal leanings, that has been proven, and on top of it, they stand to make tons of research dollars off Global Warming research, so is it any surprise they find a scientist innocent?

It’s just more of the same posturing back and forth. I have yet to see any evidence that convinces me of Global Warming as a fact, rather than an opinion or interpretation. I do not deny that humankind’s activities have impacted the environment. Nor do I deny that many of those impacts have been negative. However, that does not prove Global Warming exists. It proves environmental impact exists. Is that really news to anyone?

The Bible does hold us accountable for being caretakers of God’s creation and certainly we have not done a very good job in many cases. Mangroves and beach fronts are developed without regard for environmental impact to bring in resorts and tourists all the time. Factories create sludge piles or dump in rivers and ponds all the time without regard to the impact on wildlife or soil. These things have been going on for generations. The results are deteriorating natural development in such areas and often the destruction of habitats and even species. Is anyone really in favor of that if it could be avoided?

On the other hand, as the higher creature biblically, man has claimed certain dominion for himself, and I’d dare say the majority of the bleeding heart Global Warmists would think twice before giving up their creature comforts for environmental preservation — unless of course they were harangued into it by the press.

It’s so easy to point at the other guy and say blame him. Just look at the Obama Administration. They’ve been blaming BP for the oil spill for over a month and sent no government resources and personnel to clean it up. Not their fault, why should they? Forget the destruction the delay has allowed and contributed to. Bush was blamed for not responding fast enough to hurricane damage, but this is manmade and where’s Obama? Isn’t environmentalism important to his base? The Republicans do the same thing. All of a sudden it’s Obama’s fault for the failing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hey, I support both wars, but even I wish we’d done them better. I don’t think Obama is doing any better than Bush’s team at handling them, but saying it’s Obama’s fault seems a little silly.

In the end, the blame game is pointless. The reality is that something which might be done to combat damage or even prevent it is not happening because people with the power to enact change are too busy placing blame on someone else.

To me, that’s what Global Warming is: placing blame on big business and other interests, anyone but themselves. We are all, in the end, responsible for damaging the environment. Every time we use a resort built over a mangrove or enjoy vacations at cabins developed in natural wilderness. Does that make us gross offenders? No. But in our way, we have supported it. Blaming others for being worse than us does nothing but keep us from doing anything to help change things, and if we want it to change, we must all join together to make that change a reality.

Whatever term you apply to it, we have damaged our Earthly home, and some of that damage will never be undone. But some it can be stopped and some restoration occur, if we stop fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong and start agreeing to make efforts to lessen damages and improve the environment. Can’t we all at least agree on the need for that? One has only to look around to see the reality that parks are less large and less common in urban areas. To see that trees and animals are less frequent in the wild. That even birds seem to struggle more and more finding food and water in many places. We can see the residue of pollution coating nature. We’re not all blind, so we shouldn’t pretend to be.

I think the time has come to stop the blame and join the change game. For what it’s worth…

National Monuments Unsafe in Arizona because of border crossing drug mules

For all those who still say the Arizona law is discriminatory, I hope you read my earlier post showing how the law matches federal law. Here is a link to the kind of problems people on the border deal with. We have them here, too. Obama loves to blame but not to actually change anything. This is all about political capital not about what’s right, not about the law. The lawsuit is just posturing and we should all be disgusted the President is wasting our government’s time on this instead of actually making laws to fix it. He could do the same with the BP spill, but he’s too busy blaming careless BP. I thought we elected him to get things done? So far he’s not living up to it.

Okay, that’s the rant for today. I feel better having gotten that off my chest. For what it’s worth…

World Cup

One of the things I picked up on my travels is an interest in soccer. While little appreciated in most of the US, outside the US, soccer is THE biggest game in the world. Populations live and die with the successes and failures of their team. I started collecting soccer jerseys on my travels and continue to, which is why people often see me wearing them. They are certainly the least expensive of jerseys compare to other sports, and I find them quite comfortable especially in the hot climate where I live on the US-Mexico Border.

Soccer can challenge American’s expectations for sports because of its’ pace. While the players move fast and the ball changes hands a lot, the scores tend to remain low. Often games conclude with only 1 or 2 goals. On rare occasions, such as the World Cup Germany game against Australia, you might see 4 goals. For Americans used to basket ball scores in the 70s or higher, football scores in the 30s, baseball scores as high as the teens, this doesn’t evoke much excitement.

Another issue is often the name. While we call it soccer, the rest of the world calls it football. American football, the sport we associate with the word, is quite popular with a lot of physical action. And sometimes, Americans seem to resent the fact that another sport would share the name of their favorite. But soccer seems to fit the term better since the game is played 90% with the foot as opposed to American football where hands, arms, etc. are used often.

It may surprise many Americans to learn, however, that the World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Far more popular than our Super Bowl and World Series, and often even more than the Olympics. In my wife’s country, Brazil, people actually commit suicide when the national team loses. Players’ lives are threatened, their family members kidnapped. Some have even been killed. In other countries, these things happen as well, and you see news reports of riots or fighting at games. I know of certain places I have been warned not to wear jerseys of anyone but the local team to avoid being attacked.

Football (soccer) is serious business for these people, and they will never understand our lack of interest.

One of the few advantages of being laid off right now is that we have been able to watch almost all of the games. It’s fun to learn names of players we weren’t familiar with, to see countries like Ghana succeed against bigger countries. It’s fun to see how many countries are represented, and to watch the enthusiasm of the fans and commentators. Footbal is truly a cross cultural game. It can bring the world together, such as the World Cup, and tear it apart when teams defeat each other. Especially when sporting rivalries match political ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I still root for the Americans. I am patriotic after all. But I also root for the underdog teams, like Ghana, who somehow have made it onto the world stage and earned a level of respect they and their countries rarely see. It’s a truly magical success story, and I’m so glad God blesses them with these opportunities.

If you want to see what you’re missing, tune into ABC or ESPN and check it out. You may find you’ve found a new appreciation, maybe even a new passion. In any case, you’ll certainly know more about the world around you.

For what it’s worth…

Repaying The Blessing

Okay, well, it’s been far too long since I even logged on here, and I’ll admit, my goal of blogging here twice a week has been overshadowed by the judge search I am forced to undertake since being laid off with no warning. It’s funny how some people will lay you off or fire you and want to act like it’s just business and everything should be friendly and fun despite that. Maybe if I understand the foggy reasons, but if I ask what I did wrong and you can’t tell me, then I think we’re not going to be talking very friendly from that point on. Especially when my wife and I are struggling to stay financially afloat after some medical treatment last year messed up our credit (it’s what happens when you put medical bills first and credit cards second). They knew our finances were on the edge and yet they act like firing/laying me off is no big deal. For them maybe, for me, it was a blindside of the cruelest kind.

We are not bankrupt. At least not yet. And as long as I find employment again by the time severance runs out and can make comparable wages, we’ll be just fine, but I must admit that forcing me to sign a termination agreement to get severance and being unable to justify my dismissal don’t make me a fan. Of course, I’m forbidden by said termination agreement to say anything bad about the company. I certainly won’t have anything nice to say, so I suppose I won’t mention them by name at all.

In any case, that’s why my writing muse has been a little cloudy lately. I am thankful for the encouragement of friends like Jay Lake, Ken Scholes, and others locally who have taken the time to encourage me with a few words. Lake and Scholes are writer friends I met online. We’ve never met face to face despite having many conversations through PM and chat and FB comments, yet they took the time to encourage and support me at a most difficult time. And they and others who did speak, came up with the right words, too. Those words mean more than people may realize. Words of sympathy but encouragement. Nothing patronizing. Nothing condescending. Some people just don’t know what to say to another in times like these. Thankfully, in my life, those people mostly found the strength to just not say anything at all. But for those who did say something, what they said was well chosen and well received.

I appreciate that support and friendship. And although I wish them no ill will, I hope I can be as gracious with my words in the future when they or others hit rough spots as I am now. If so, I will know I’ve repaid the blessing.

For what it’s worth…

The Real AZ Immigration Law for those who Ignorantly Criticize

I live 15 minutes from Mexico. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear news reports of brutal murders. The drug cartels are at war, and the Mexican government’s paltry efforts have continually failed to stop it. Sometimes, the cartels even cross into El Paso and murder people. It’s a scary situation a lot of people live with daily. We see Mexican license plates all over town. Who knows who those people could be? Although the majority of those killed do seem to have ties to cartels in one way or another, sometimes innocent people are killed. So when I hear people from Wisconsin or Tennessee or Oregon or Mississippi criticize the immigration law passed by Arizona, it irks me. Especially since it’s very obvious they have not even read the bill.

People complain about the requirement for aliens (immigrants) to carry ID of their status, but that is in compliance with Federal law. My wife is required to do that, and I make a habit of it. It doesn’t bother me to have people check, which they do every time I cross the border. I’m glad they are paying attention to their job. Here’s the US statute:

In violation of 8 United States Code section 1304(e) [states: “Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.”] or 1306(a).

They say the law encourages racial profiling, but here’s what it actually says:

F. This section shall be enforced without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin.

They criticize the idea that police and other law enforcement officers can turn in to the Federal government people with illegal or unprovable status, but here’s what the federal law says.

A law enforcement officer or agency communicating with the United States immigration and customs enforcement or the United States border protection pursuant to 8 United States Code section 1373(c) [KEYTLaw Comment – Section 1373(c) states: “The Immigration and Naturalization Service shall respond to an inquiry by a Federal, State, or local government agency, seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized by law, by providing the requested verification or status information.]

Read the law for yourself here:

The law is not racist, and if they enforce properly, it never will be. Instead of lashing out in ignorance, inform yourself. Know what you’re talking about by reading the bill and recognize that if you don’t live near the border, you don’t really know what the issues are.

For what it’s worth…

A Surprising Influence

As a writer, you often get asked whom your influences are. For me, that’s a long list, but one of them may surprise you. Although I am focused mostly on writing fiction, he is a historian. He’s not world famous or even best selling but in Western Writers of America and in the Southwest he is well known as a great storyteller, especially here in El Paso.

Leon Metz grew up in West Virginia but came to El Paso to serve at Fort Bliss and never left. He’s written some important books about local and regional history, worked as a historian at University of Texas, El Paso, is in demand as a speaker, and even has his own radio show. He’s also a heck of a nice guy and very humble, and reading his books brought history alive for me in a whole new way.

I met him when he came to be a talking head on the A&E; show “The Real West,” which I was working on. I was assigned to drive him around and we struck up a friendship and corresponded back and forth a bit. Then we lost touch, as happens between friends. Two years back, when I moved to El Paso, I determined to look him up and renew our friendship and he’s been a great encouragement to me.

Leon’s history books read like novels. They are full of rich characterization, scenery and rich historical details that bring the events, people and places of the psat alive. I had always found history fascinating, but reading Leon’s books helped get me excited all over again. In fact, when we moved down here, it was memories of the history he taught me through his books that set me off exploring and immediately appreciating the rich history of this new place we call home. I visited the old Concordia Cemetery where the famous gunfighter John Wesley Hardin is buried along with the man who assassinated him. I visited the downtown locations where Hardin had his office, the bar where he was shot and so many more.

Leon’s book “The Border” taught me so much about the history of the US-Mexico border region we now call home. It’s a fascinating study of politics, culture crossing, and history colliding. And it has had a profound impact along the miles from the Gulf Of Mexico to San Diego where in the border lies.

I had the privilege of copy editing and proofing his latest effort on the early days of the Mexican War. It was so rich and exciting to be among the first readers of his work. Of all the people I hope will be proud of my work, Leon tops the list. Such a privilege to read his work, to know him, and to call him friend.

Our influences can sometimes come from unusual places. For what it’s worth…

Specfic Magazines

When I started writing my science fiction novel last August, I immediately recognized that I had been reading spec fic only randomly for the past decade, which meant I had a lot of ground to make up and a lot of research to do on the current state of the market. One of the challenges in writing speculative fiction is to not copy what’s already been done. Because most of the ideas anymore have been done is some way before, the trick is to find a new story to wrap around an old idea, a new way to tell it. That’s hard to do if you don’t know what’s been done.

After consulting with scifi fans amongst my friends, who seem to be more up on things than I am, I also decided to start taking some magazines to see what’s going on. I subscribed to the majors: Analog, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Realms Of Fantasy, and Locus. But I also ordered single copies of a number of publications like Black Gate, Tales of The Talisman, Outer Reaches, Encounters and Realms. In addition, I researched and checked out the online magazines like Fantasy, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Beyond Ceaseless Skies, amongst others.

One of the issues, of course, is finding time to read all these, and I admit, I am way behind. I have read enough, however, to tell you which magazines I like, and thus will likely keep, and which I’m not so crazy about.

Locus, of course, as the industry trade magazine, is a must. I enjoy the stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, Black Gate and Realms. But I found Realms of Fantasy disappointing because it is mostly adds and non-fiction, none of which have really appealed to me so far. Encounters and Outer Reaches just didn’t strike my fancy. The same with Tales of The Talisman as well. Asimov’s is good, but I find I like stories better in their sister magazine Analog, and so I have to choose one or both, depending on budget.

One of the issues is that my two favorite subgenres are not well represented in most of them. For science fiction, I have always been a space opera guy, and with fantasy, I like sword and sorcery. Perhaps because I am so far behind in my reading, neither of these has worn me out. As a result, Realms’ sword and sorcery really appeals to me. I have yet to find a mag to satisfy my space opera itch. But since I mostly write space opera scifi stories, I am still looking.

In any case, those are the thoughts so far on specfic print magazines. I can talk more about online ezines later.

For what it’s worth…

Five Reasons Science Fiction and Fantasy Are Important To Me

I’ve had a love affair with science fiction and fantasy since grade school. I will never forget the time my cousins dragged us to this film with the weird name “Star Wars.” Even at age 8, I was sure the title sounded dumb, but my cousin and best buddy, David, had seen the film several times already, and “you just have to see it,” he said.

The film did not disappoint. From its opening minutes aboard the Rebel Ship, I was on the edge of my seat. That opening scene remains one of my favorites of all time for any speculative fiction film. There’s nothing quite like the intensity of the battle between Rebel troops in blue shirts and leather vests against heavily armored storm troopers in the tight quarters of their ship. The intensity only increased when the heavy breathing dark menace, Vader, enters through the hole in the hull.

“Star Wars” blew me a way and opened my mind to possibilities I had never considered before. Always creative, always a dreamer, suddenly my wildest fantasies, fueled by my fascination with NASA’s space program, became real possibilities for me – maybe not for today, maybe not for tomorrow, but some day. I wanted to walk on the moon, launch in a space ship, float among the stars, visit alien planets. Even in other activities, my dreams filled my mind. When I went gliding in the alps on the engine-less glider plane, floating silently on air as we descended back down to the pad where we’d launched into the air on a giant bungee, my thoughts were of space. Was that what it would feel like on a space ship with silence all around? Was the abruptness of the launch similar to what it would be like to ride a rocket?

In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and see actual NASA craft, experience astronaut training simulations, touch moon rocks and buy NASA souvenirs. The brief NASA Adopt-An-Astronaut Program allowed me to communicate with the first shuttle pilot, read about their mission, and feel personally involved. When astronaut Steve Hawley, formerly married to Sally Ride, visited my high school, his family ties to my church youth pastor allowed me closer contact and the thrill of shaking an astronaut’s hand and asking the silly questions he’d heard dozens of times that I wanted to hear answers for with my own ears.

So the first of my five reasons why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they opened my life to possibilities which had only seemed far fetched before I discovered them. They made me believe the hope of possibilities was a viable thing to dream about and affirmed my sense of wonder.

One of the few movies and televisions shows my father and I could enjoy together was the 1978 animated “The Hobbit,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel which had exploded in the 1970’s with its release to mass market paperback. Where as the “Star Wars” books were my first science fiction reads, “The Hobbit” became my first fantasy read. I devoured the book, even though I was so young I couldn’t grasp a lot of it. Soon I was reading fan magazines, checking out other books, and making up my own stories.

I became a fan of Alan Dean Foster because his “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye” allowed me to revisit the Star Wars universe between films in a book almost like the movies. Since then I have read many more of his movie adaptations and original books, and he continues to be one of my favorite writers.

I discovered Robert Silverberg and Orson Scott Card, my two top favorites, when family members gifted me “Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “Ender’s Game” and insisted I read them. Having never heard of them, I was reluctant at first. I’d always been a picky consumer, wanting to feel confident of the likelihood I would enjoy a book or movie before investing time in it. Both books blew my mind, and since I’ve bought almost everything I can get a hold of from both authors and devoured each the same. I’ve reread both those books and experienced that thrill of first discovery all over again, then shared them with friends so they could experience it, too.

The second reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me then is the bonds they’ve allowed me to create with friends and family. They’ve helped bring our dreams and lives together in exciting, unexpected and enriching ways, allowing us to share our wildest dreams and celebrate our future hopes.

In working in television and film and as a writer in my adulthood, I’ve heard many stories about how science fiction and fantasy have influenced not only writers of other genres, but even the development of technology. NASA once sent experts to the set of the original “Star Trek” series to discover how the producers made the doors slide open and shut when actors entered and departed rooms. The producers actually had a crewman behind the doors manually sliding them over, but today there are many doors designed to do just that in everything from office buildings to vessels. Are they exactly like the “Star Trek” doors, no, but they are modeled after the possibility. Seeing the “Star Trek” creator’s view of future possibilities inspired others to dream of how they could bring those possibilities to life and changed our world, the third reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me.

I will always remember the first time I turned to the Sci-Fi Channel and discovered the new “Battlestar Galactic.” I had certainly heard of it, but like many fans of the original, had not liked what I’d heard about the “reinvention” and changes made by the new writers. To my great dismay, I loved it. It was darker and more serious than the original had ever strived to be, but it also provided an amazing commentary on our times, examining political and moral issues being faced at this moment in countries around the world. Like the original “Star Trek,” under the guise of “science fiction,” the new “Battlestar” was able to confront issues head on which most writers would never dare to.

The result was a compelling and inspiring television series, and one of the most respected and admired speculative fiction series ever created. So my fourth reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they can speak to issues in our own world and cultures in ways that contemporary works cannot, forcing us to think about things in a new light and consider possibilities we would never accept if they weren’t presented as “other world” instead of our own.

The final reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that without the possibility of dreams and imagination, my life would have been unhappy and incomplete.

My dreams and imagination have taken me from a small Kansas town to the tribal villages of Africa, from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the cobblestone streets of Europe and everywhere in between. Without being a dreamer, I would have never lived the life of risks I have lived in the thirty-two years since I discovered “Star Wars.” I would never have worked in film and television, written stories and scripts, released three CDs and a national single, or toured the world to speak, teach and sing. Some of those dreams had never occurred to me in Kansas, while others were the same ones my colleagues and classmates laughed at and mocked when I first mentioned them.

Ironically, at our 10th High School reunion, they all seemed to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing and instead of laughter, offered their admiration. I’d lived the life I said I’d wanted to. I chased my dreams and even caught some of them. None of that would have happened, if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t taught me to dream. And there are many others just like me.