06 September 2011

Order Is What You Make of It

These link sausages have grown over several days and appear in largely random order on the platter.

  • Congratulations to the finalists for this year's Booker Prize for best UK-citizen-authored novel. It's an interesting group... and, unlike over here, there's actually "controversy" at "omissions" from the slate. OK, it's a pretty pathetic excuse for "controversy," but it's more than happens over here, even for popular-vote-nomination awards with pay-to-play voter pools.
  • Pharyngula notes the dubious relationship between elected-official piety and drought.
  • Some interesting musings on the local influence of IP piracy point out, however indirectly, how insane the continuing emphasis on territorial rights in the arts is in an era in which the entire world is physically less than a day away. This is an example of the downside of "settled expectations of the parties" in contract law: The context has changed so radically from the early twentieth century (when the terms of publishing contracts and publisher weltanschauung — for print, for music, for film, for everything — became etched in stone) that continued reliance on ephemeral physical borders as control points for the arts is counterproductive.
  • Last week, Dean Wesley Smith had two rather interesting posts on topics of interest to writers. The first is an homage to Heinlein's "rules" for writers. I'm going to focus on the two of the five rules that are excrutiatingly wrong, except in the tiny little universe of Heinlein's own preexisting success: Numbers 3 ("You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order") and 5 ("You must keep it on the market until sold"). These rules are wrong because they ignore the conflict among artistic vision, commercial acceptability, and authorly ego. They might work for that extraordinarily rare author whose artistic vision, commercial acceptability, and authorly ego form a single circle of 100% overlap from all perspectives. Heinlein himself was not that writer, no matter his ego nor his inflated reputation among a certain subset of fandom (Exhibit A: every novel he had published, all of which — specifically including the two best, Double Star and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress — would have benefitted from substantial further rewriting). The key assumption that Heinlein makes — and it alters the meaning of each of the five rules, but these two more than most — is that "You, as a writer, must already have a commercially valued, consistent brand and identity before you can effectively apply the following rules." That is, the rules work only for writers whose shopping lists scribbled on napkins have commercial value due to their authorship. That's not to say that there's no value at all in these rules, even for beginning writers; only that they require application of some artistic sense and literary and commercial analysis. At some point, when too many readers are expressing the same sort of problem with your manuscript, it needs to be rewritten. At some point, it makes no commercial sense to continue circulating a manuscript that is not getting licensure offers.

    I'm much more enthusiastic about debunking the myth of the "hot topic"; if anything, Smith does not go nearly far enough. Not only is every writer unique, but so is every reader... and the quick-buck attitude of publishing conglomerates (both for books and for periodicals) does not accurately reflect reality. Consider, for example, the income-stream history of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, or the cyclical sales- and library-circulation history of Slaughterhouse-Five and of military science fiction. Then remember that if you begin writing today, your manuscript will not be complete for t... and fashion can change in that era. Now, if you're focusing on commercial publication for that manuscript, add a minimum of 14 months to t for the publishing cycle — and it'll be that little if, and only if, the first editor who is sent the manuscript snaps it up and fast-tracks it; 36 months is much more likely, unless you're already under contract for "untitled manuscript in field x" as part of an option agreement. We can't even predict the median length of skirt hemlines or the "hot" colors for interior decoration that far ahead, let alone something as diverse as the arts... and then someone like Joanne Rowling comes along and makes something ice-cold into something red hot.

  • Finally, after a thoroughly dispiriting summer, a short thought on democracy.

    Democracy does not merely tolerate dissent; democracy is founded upon, and celebrates, dissent.

    Both major parties in this country — and political parties throughout the world — don't get this. The objective of a democratic government is not to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. It is, first and foremost, to govern — not merely to attain power... because in a democracy, change is coming, and those driven before you now will be driving you before them at some point in the future. Doing unto others before they do unto you might work for Macchiavelli's princes, but one must remember that governance at that time was a matter of proper ancestry alone.

    So, I caution voters: Always consider that the electoral alternative being offered to something that is less than satisfactory — and today, it's almost always a binary alternative and not a nuanced consideration — might actually be worse. I'm very unhappy with the centrist Obama administration; I'm even more unhappy with the prior administration (and, for that matter, a legislature and judiciary) that is/was to the right of center, and largely focused on careerism and cronyism instead of governance or service. The obvious rejoinder that "well, we should just shrink government instead!" fails if one knows anything at all about company towns, because for all of the faults of democracy — and, in particular, all of the faults of our implementation of it — government, even when less formally accountable than a democracy of any sort, is more accountable for missteps than is anything based either solely upon the market or upon highly advantaged initial capital positions, such as any "libertarian paradise."