Current Reads: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

I really didn’t plan to read this novel next. I was planning to read either A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess or Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

But… I picked up The Unbearable Lightness of Being… because I was struggling with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I was almost completely turned off by both of them… but felt compelled to read them… because they are supposed to be the be the best examples of authors who write Science Fiction satire. Actually, I think Asimov does a much better job personally.

I read the first chapter of The Unbearable Lightness of Being… and I was amazed…. One of the most amazing compositions I’ve read in quite a while. REALLY drew me in. Because… Kundera is clearly not constrained by the current disease of Political Correctness that is constricting… stifling… creative thought in America and Western Europe….

Kundera starts out with a very interesting concept: the idea of eternal return, which he ascribes to Nietzsche. And then… he justifies his premise by stating that a war fought between two African Kingdoms in the XIVth Century carries no meaning… has NO effect… in modern civilization! Has he not read Joseph Conrad? None of the Existentialist Writers? Does the man have no idea of the “Burden of White Guilt”?

And… then he goes on to state that the heroes of the French Revolution… are only heroes… because the massacres that they committed against the Nobles… as justified as they WERE… are only acceptable… because they aren’t repeated…. Constantly….

Kundera… is a Czech…. He was raised a communist…. And… he is SCHOOLING America… and Western Europe… on morality… and ethics… and political correctness….

How come THIS Eastern European author understands the fallacies of Political Correctness… and Communism… which can only really exist as a Fascist Regime… and our leaders don’t…?

Because he’s lived it. Because… he was one of the masses. And… he found Kool-aid to be an eye-opening energy drink….

A truly Dystopian society is constructed of many diverse pieces-parts….

Recent Reads: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Finally! I finished!

To be honest… I was apprehensive. Because I was so-o-o-o disappointed by Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut is supposed to be the epitome of black humor and satire from the Science Fiction perspective…. And… I found Cat’s Cradle lame and vapid….

But… I did find some parts of this novel entertaining. A lot of it was repetitive. Which is fine. I really didn’t find much Science. At least Douglas Adams comes up with some interesting Science bits that are intellectually interesting enough to be entertaining….

Vonnegut offers some teasers, but rarely ever gets around to explaining anything in detail. Such as… if the entire city of Dresden was in ruins, how were they so easily able to get the door of the Slaughterhouse basement open? That seems rather mysterious… and even magical… or miraculous….

Deedlee-balls. Had to look that up. Didn’t know what they were.

He does a very good job with names. But… this is a satire… so meaningful names is OK.

Lot of mockery of the American Ideal. Social Satire. Historical perspective.

Most of the humor in the Vonnegut (and Adams) that I’ve read so far… seems to be aimed at justifying the superiority of his religious and political philosophies. Over Christianity. Over Conservatism. Of Peace at all costs… over War at any cost….

I get that the humor is supposed to be very intellectual: atheism is superior, and therefore mocking and ridiculing Christianity is always funny and entertaining…. Progressive Liberals are smarter than Conservatives… because… well… because the writer believes he is smarter than anyone who may disagree….

As I have stated before… I am Southern, Christian and Conservative…. I’m not offended…. Because… I can’t get to the point where I’m capable of suspending disbelief.

My issue is simply this: I cannot suspend disbelief. When the writer goes to so much trouble to make his attacks on Christianity so clear… and his mocking ridicule of Christianity so clear… his belief in the superiority of Atheism or Secular Humanism so clear… the humor escapes me… when he so clearly injects Straw Man arguments. When he so clearly doesn’t understand his subject of ridicule.

As for War… maybe allowing Hitler to control Europe would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing Stalin… and Putin… unfettered control of the Northern Hemisphere would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing Saddam Hussein to slaughter Kurds and Shi’ites at will would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing the Alewites to slaughter the Christians and Sunni is the right thing to do. Maybe allowing the Chinese to control Asia and Iran to destroy Israel is the best way for the world to move forward… safely….

And… maybe not.

But… mischaracterizing something that I understand well… and ridiculing things you don’t know about… don’t lead me to believe you are intellectually superior…. Just proves to me that you’re a blind bigot….

Maybe some of these Science Fiction Satirists would do a better job… and even be funnier… if they were capable of criticizing things they know… rather than ridiculing what they cannot comprehend… because they think it’s low hanging fruit….

Vonnegut’s writing is rather sparse. Terse, I suppose. Leaves a lot to the imagination.

Vonnegut is not constrained by convention: he does a lot of things that the writing books say that authors shouldn’t do. Like skipping around in time. All over the place. That is essentially a synopsis of the plot.

He also writes in the third person omnipotent perspective… inserts the author into the text at various points… but never explains how the author comes to his omnipotence…. Unless… perhaps… he time-travels, too. As perhaps the other novelist he created in the book, Kilgore Trout, seems to do. Seems like a parody of himself. And one of the more interesting parts of the story. As is his liaison with Montana Wildhack, the XXX movie actress, in the Human Zoo on Tralfamadore. Every man’s dream. A reality. Somewhere in Space-Time. Unfortunately for me… I had already anticipated what kind of actress she was… so the reveal lost its thunder.

Same with the death of his morbidly obese wife, Valencia, whom he married for money. And… like I say… I was distracted by some of the details he missed: people who die of carbon monoxide poisoning are pink, not blue…. I understand the color symbolism: blue and ivory. Purple. But… details are details. Inaccurate details make it difficult for people who know the truth to suspend disbelief.

Interesting that he compares himself to Jesus Christ. Then explains that he did. Adds a different dimension to the symbolism…. Again… he does it through the plot of a Kilgore Trout novel.

Recent Reads: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

Immediately after I finished reading Cat’s Cradle, I began the second installment of Adam’s H2G2: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy….

I finished reading the book a few weeks ago. And… ever sense then… I’ve been trying to figure out… why I am not very enthusiastic about the book. The concept is nice. And… there are some good parts…. But… for the most part… I don’t find the execution to approach the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy….

With Cat’s Cradle and The Restaurant at the End of Universe both… I wondered if maybe it was just me. Maybe I didn’t get it. Maybe I didn’t get into it. Maybe I was in a hypercritical funk….

So… I read some other things…. Parts of things…. Like part of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and his Fortunes and Adversities…. And several of the mystery novels and short story collections of Robert van Gulik…. And… I loved those. I even read some of Moby Dick. And… the Bible.

First… I enjoy Adams’ writing style. And… he has some good ideas. The scene in which Marvin the Depressed Robot faces off with the Vogon tank is witty. The concept of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe is very clever. The black spaceship is very interesting. As is the Rock and Roll star and his Income Tax issues. I suppose that Adams was intentionally trying to be understated. Maybe even droll. But… the execution of the plot elements… struck me as being… somewhat less that exciting.

Adams must have been a brilliant man. He is apparently the ONLY person outside of the members of Monty Python ever to receive a writing credit for his contributions. And… his contributions were during a time when Monty Python was at its creative peak. And… I think Monty Python is hilarious! But… this… doesn’t measure up… to that….

So… I asked myself… WHY?

Two things. Two impressions….

One. Adam’s didn’t seem to be very passionate about his writing. At least not after The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published. He had an editor assigned to sit with him while he wrote so that he could stay somewhat on schedule. He famously admitted that he didn’t really enjoy writing. At least he was witty about it…. Adams seems like a literary genius… who probably took his talent for granted….

Two. And this is what strikes me about Vonnegut, too. He is preachy. Arrogant. Aloof. Speaking down from on high almost.

I don’t mind a story that delivers a message. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is one of my favorite books and it’s really hard to escape the message. 1984. Brave New World. Even Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. All of those stories deliver a message. And… all of those stories deliver the message effectively.

I don’t mind philosophical stories. For a long time my favorite author was Albert Camus. I read Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre not too terribly long ago… and THAT was a struggle…. But my struggle there was that I was draw into the story… and kept re-writing the story in my own head. Same with Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The short stories of Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges…. I LOVE Borges…. So… eclectic…. Such an imagination! So… I started reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being last night… and I LOVE that, too. So… I don’t think it’s just some kind of mental funk….

The best that I can come up with… is that I feel Vonnegut… and especially Adams… are preaching…. I get the same feeling with Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. That they are geniuses… and I’m an idiot… if I don’t immediately jump on their bandwagon. Not just their writings. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are intentionally contentious… and over-the-top… in their proselytizing their dogmatic religious and political beliefs. So is Lawrence Krauss. But they are also rather loose in their Science. They require levels of evidence… levels of proof… from their opponents… that they don’t demand of themselves…. They are perfectly willing to present an argument based on nothing but faith to justify their beliefs… while claiming that they have facts… while stating that they won’t be able to test their hypotheses for at least somewhere between a Century and a Millennium… if EVER!!!

So… I also considered that maybe I’m offended by Vonnegut and Adams. I concluded that I am not offended by the beliefs they present. I just can’t comprehend why they are so one-sided in their humor…. They leave a LOT of very funny stuff lying fallow… because they can’t seem to bring themselves to the point that have enough confidence in what they believe… to attack their own Sacred Cows…. And… that’s a pity…. They hold themselves back. And… that’s a big NO-NO in humor. Pulling punches… because of political or religious reasons… isn’t really satire…. It’s propaganda…. Ridiculing those who believe differently… while pasting over your own ugliness… is bigotry… not open-mindedness….

The issue I have… is one of integrity….

No one… no matter how intelligent they sincerely believe they are… can dissect someone else’ beliefs… as thoroughly… as they can their own…. It’s an issue of knowledge of the anatomy. Fetal pigs and cats and dogfish… and humans… are different. That’s why human Surgeons dissect humans: because other species are different. The anatomy is different.

Richard Dawkins’ criticisms of Christianity… and American Conservatives… lack authenticity… because he is only capable of constructing Straw Men to attack… because he is too close minded to actually listen to… to look at… to truly examine… other people’s opinions….

That is what I feel about Adams and Vonnegut, too.

Adams gives me the impression that he knows more than his readers. That his beliefs are superior. That his god… is unassailable…. And… Adams seems to be some sort of primitive Secular Humanist Progressive Liberal Communist Radical Environmentalist… just based on the views of government and leaders… and cataclysms… portrayed in his work.

Vonnegut is more subtle. His religious beliefs take a back seat to his political pursuits. Vonnegut is anti-war. Which is fine. But… their was a lot of unmined humor in the anti-war movement, too.

If you look at the list of authors and works that I listed as my favorites… or at least works I enjoy… and admire… you will notice that only ONE of those listed is generally described as being Christian. And that’s Dostoevsky. Who was the first Christian Humanist. And… I am definitely not a Christian Humanist….

Anyway…. I suppose my point can most concisely be described as… a criticism of the lack of equality… a criticism of the inherent bigotry… displayed in most social satire….

Artistic Detachment and Intimate Attachment: Managing Reader Expectations.

I sent some stories I have been working on to a few friends to read. I have been working on some really snarky stuff. Fantastic Science Fiction satire. Fantastic in the sense of Fantasy. REALLY out there. I was trying to be witty and biting… and cocky… and shocky…. Even crude at times. For effect. To manipulate the readers minds. That is the unabashed goal of Creative Writing.

Some of the responses were very… interesting….

Psychoanalysis… of the authors State of Mind…. Focusing on minute emotive details… and missing much of the humor almost completely….

Or… where am I in the story? And… if that friend is not obviously a character… how can I be so crass as not to include whomever…?

What happened? And… what can I learn? potentially to improve my writing….

If any aspiring author reads any manual on writing… fiction or otherwise… one of the first things they are warned is that they need to learn to put up a wall. To separate the author from the narrator. To write what you know… the more intimately the better… but… to disengage from the story…. Artistic detachment it critical.

But… readers… and especially friends… have a hard time separating their level of intimacy with the author from the work. So… when the writer writes what he knows well… and inserts meaningful… and recognizable… emotive pieces of his life… into his art… things get complicated… for the reader… who is a friend. They recognize the rag cut out of life and sew into the story-quilt. And… they wonder… is everything else in the story… just as real…. So… if you manage to make an intense emotional connection… manipulate the reader into suspending disbelief so radically and fully that they accept the story… as reality itself… even if the story includes characters who are aliens… or inanimate objects… or personified animals and plants and protozoa… then… you have truly reached an artistic pinnacle….

But… how do you deal with expectations of the reader? And… how can you learn? How can you improve your writing… if your friends cannot detach due to intimacy….

First… realize that they are expressing concern.

Second… congratulate yourself for a job well-done. You’ve just sucked in someone who knows you well. So… if your story fooled them, you’ve got an excellent chance of fooling others who know you far less well.

Third… learn to read between the lines. Try to figure out what really grabbed their hearts. Don’t take those elements out. Don’t dilute ’em. Expand ’em. Explode ’em! Reinforce those elements.

Fourth… don’t cave. Don’t write people in where they shouldn’t be. Allow the story to tell itself. Unless they’re will to pay. Then prostitute yourself to the hilt! JK…. My point is… from my perspective… I am currently writing a snarky satire. No one in their right mind wants to be a character… because I’m trash talking EVERYBODY…. Do my friends really want a piece of that? No. They want to control the release of information. And… I ain’t gonna do that. And… neither should you.

Final point…. Fiction… and Non-Fiction, too… is a cooperative Space Opera. The writer writes in his world… from his knowledge… his life experiences…. And the reader interacts with the world the writer created… bringing in her knowledge… her emotions… her experiences… her desires… and her expectations…. Writers MUST work to manipulate their readers emotions and expectations in order to be successful. That’s what we signed up for. To develop our craft…. To become Master Emotional Manipulators…. That’s what building the suspension bridge of disbelief is all about…. Managing readers expectations through manipulating life events. That’s what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said: “The medium IS the message.” Anything can and should be manipulated to obtain the desired effect. Whether that is telling the truth. Or producing propaganda in order to obfuscate truth and promote an otherwise unacceptable agenda. It’s really all the same. The only difference is intent.

I think that often Psychoanalysis of the Writer… may really be Self-analysis by the Reader… unpacking the emotions brought to memory through their interactions with the story…. The memories… the emotions… are actually being stirred up… in their own cup of coffee….

Who am I? What do I Write? And… WHY do I write THAT…? Introspection. And… a Writer’s Rebuttal.

A friend of mine read some stories of mine today. She was concerned about my subjects. What I choose to write about. Why I choose those subjects. Why I can’t seem to just… move on… past the tragedies of my life…. Why I choose to linger…. To dwell…. In that Hell…. Of my own construction….

Good questions…. Legitimate questions…. Legitimate suggestions….

So… I asked myself… in a brief nanosecond of introspection…. “Is what I write… WRONG???”

And… here is my rebuttal….

I write about real life. Real situations. Reality. As I see it.

At times life can be overwhelming.

At times life can be depressing.

I choose to laugh… rather than cry….

I am a writer. And… I am a physician. I am a Scientist. And… I am a Christian.

I write Science Fiction. And Fantasy. And… I like to slip Theology and Philosophy into my stories. Because I am a Southern Conservative Christian. That’s just… who I am. And… to hide that part of me in order to become more popular… at least in my myopic… dystopic… worldview… would be closely akin to deceiving my readers.

Yet… I am definitely not a “Christian Writer”. Because I am not writing at Christians.

Christians have good writers to walk beside them. To support them. To tell them about God.

Non-Christians don’t.

So… I’m not writing at Christians. I’m writing about God as I have experienced him. Personally. So others can perhaps gain a glimpse of a different… but no less skewed… even screwed… perspective. On God. On Science. On Psychology. On Philosophy. On LIFE!!!

I’m writing about redemption. And I’m presenting a dirty, depressing, circuitous path towards that goal. So others can see. And know that they are not alone. Someone else has been there. Walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And lived to tell about the experience.

Many of the characters I create are tragic. Or… tragicomedic. Because life is tragic. And funny. If you chose to see life from that perspective.

I have judged. And… I have been judged. I have seen both sides. And… I have learned from both experiences.

Have you never experienced churchy people who completely lack compassion? Have you never felt rejected because of things completely beyond your control? If not, I don’t expect my stories will speak to you. But if you have experienced utter reject… out of the blue… from someone who promised they would always love you…. Death. Financial hardship. Bossy people. Bad work environment. Bad weather. Unexpected catastrophes. Any… or all of the above… then my stories should grab your heart… rip it out of your chest… and show it to you… while you cackle hysterically until you cry… trying the whole time to suppress the urge.

And… if anyone feels the need to judge me… go for it! I sincerely believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion. Their own interpretation of reality. Just don’t expect me to blindly parrot your beliefs. I chose to think for myself. Make my own choices. And hold my accountable.