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…

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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 atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

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#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: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/why-i-write-one-of-the-best-things-weve-read-all-week. 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.

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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 anchoredmusic.com is my PayPal. Or you can send by Dwolla at yaornw at yahoo.com. 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.

Blessings,

Bryan

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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.

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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 http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

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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…

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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…

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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.

Respectfully,

Bryan

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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…

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