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The Problem of Soundbites

vote_tory

Just look at that! Even after all the austerity, the UK debt is still going up! Just what is our Government doing with all that cash they’re meant to be saving?

Well, the real situation is just a little more complex.

As is often the case in politics, the poster is little more than a soundbite: it makes a strong political point while grossly simplifying the details. We can see those details by considering the amount burrowed by the Government each year, rather than the overall debt:

Source: ONS

Source: ONS

Put simply, the UK has had substantially more going out than coming in ever since the global banking crisis hit…which occurred under Labour’s watch. That is not to say that Labour should be blamed for that – it was a global crash, after all – but it does render the top graphic’s argument…well, a little hollow. Not to mention: since net burrowing has decreased since 2010, it would appear that austerity is saving money.

Let’s not let the Conservatives off the hook here, though.

Back when David Cameron’s Conservatives were elected in 2010, their promise on the economy was simple: to completely eliminate the deficit by 2015. Great cuts to Government spending quickly followed: cuts to welfare, cuts to public services, privatizations, and so on.  We are now coming towards the end of 2015, and…well, we are still very much in deficit. The deficit has gone down somewhat, sure – but that is not what was originally promised. So, the Conservatives utterly failed to meet their original pledge and caused great hardship to many in the process – not bad going, eh?

Of course, you’re never going to fit all that on a single graphic. That, presumably, is why the graphic at the top was done in the way it was – as well as why politics always comes back to simple soundbites, rather than proper discussions on the issues.

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A switch in priorities

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve lately been spending much of my writing time on short fiction. This is not to say I’ve given up on writing my novel – I’ve still been working on it every now and then – but it’s true to say that the novel is no longer my priority. My priority now, at least where writing is concerned, lies in projects that I can start and finish in a reasonable length of time – fiction shorter than a novel, in other words.

My reasons here are pretty straightforward. I’m an Astrophysics PhD student, going into my third year; as such, my “day job” revolves around a single long project with no clear end in sight. There are plenty of false starts, plenty of false stops, delays aplenty – you name it. It’s fascinating work, if I do say so myself, but it’s also often frustrating. And I what was I doing for a hobby, to provide a break from that? I was working on a novel – a single long project…with no clear end in sight…with plenty of false starts, delays, and so on.

yeah. 

Honestly, I was starting to get tired of the whole business. I was getting far too tempted to stop writing and spend more time on something…well, easier. And the last thing I wanted to do was to stop writing altogether.

And so, I’ve switched to writing short stories – for the time being, at least.

Short stories do indeed have a lot of things going for them. The main thing, of course, is that they’re short; more than once now, I’ve written out a skeleton draft of a story in a single writing session. They’re a great way to play around with fresh ideas, too – ideas that I’d otherwise just have to sit on until more time became available. Lastly, they’re an excellent way to learn about pacing: when you need to keep things brief, extraneous and overwritten scenes suddenly become so much easier to see.

It’s not a perfect solution, by any means: short stories and novels have vastly different structures, so short stories are not ideal practice for writing longer works. It is a good solution, though – good for me, at least – and I fully intend to see where all it leads.

And my sci-fi rec of the day is…

DSF

Lately, I’ve been looking into writing short science fiction as a way to get some time away from my novel without cutting down on my writing. I’ll be doing a full post on that towards the end of the week *. In the meantime, here’s a little something I came across today that I particularly approve of for…uhhh…some reason…

EDIT – Okay, fun fact…the reason I have that DSF graphic up at the top there is that a completely different “featured image” shows up otherwise…from a post in my drafts…that has nothing at all to do with this post. Isn’t technology fun? 😛

*Or not, as it turned out…

Solarpunk? What is THAT?

So: in addition to writing great books, Danielle Shipley keeps a lively blog. Some time ago now on said blog, I came across the following cover reveal:

wings-of-renewal-front-cover

Now, this cover is gorgeous in my opinion: the art is great, and the whole thing is very nicely laid out in my view. What really got my interests up, though, was the tagline. I’d never heard the phrase “solarpunk” before, let alone read any stories in such a genre. Just what, I found myself wondering, did “solarpunk” entail?

So, I did some googling. And I’ve done more googling (and reading) since then. And I’ve very much liked what I found.

Solarpunk is essentially an ideological rebuttal to the dark and dingy settings which frequently appear in science fiction works today. It deals with bright futures in which clean and renewable energy sources are the norm, and in which modern-day problems can and will be solved. Solarpunk is effectively, then, about optimism: optimism for the future, and optimism towards the nature of humankind.

Of course, bright futures are hardly ideal from a narrative standpoint. Such settings are not obvious sources of conflict, after all, and conflict is a vital component to any good story. How then, you might wonder, would a Solarpunk story work in practice?

One approach here is to write about the struggle towards an ideal future, rather than writing about that future itself. This is the approach taken by many of the stories in the Shine anthology, which shares many elements with the Solarpunk concept. Most of Shine’s worlds start off in bad shape, or are at least far from ideal, but a better tomorrow is always shown to be just around the corner.

This isn’t to say, though, that one cannot make a good storyline out of an optimistic setting; a utopian setting never stopped the writers of Star Trek, to name an obvious example. A writer could chose to focus on characters’ personal conflicts instead, or else to write of interactions between the “ideal” society and others. No society is ever going to be completely without its little problems, after all; some conflict or other can always be expected to arise.

So, in case you couldn’t tell from this brief write-up, the idea of Solarpunk now interests me a great deal. I’ve actually starting writing some short stories in that direction, and I can see myself doing more later on.

And I will indeed be buying Wings of Renewal when it comes out. Because…well, see above. And dragons. Can’t forget the dragons. 

(A full description of Wings of Renewal, for those who are interested, can be found here)

TPG reviews: The Surrogate Sea, by Danielle E. Shipley

Another fine Wilderhark entry

Surrogate-Sea-cover-front

My rating: 9/10

The Surrogate Sea is a true gem of a novella, perfect for picking up at the end of a long day. Danielle Shipley’s writing flows as smoothly as ever here, resulting in a nice quick read that will easily be over in just a few days. Lovers of fairy tales should pick it up at once, as should lovers of anything that is just a little bit different.

This novella is, in essence, a love story – and one in which nearly everyone involved has severe personality flaws. Characters pursue their desire for love with little regard for their peers, while others plot and scheme behind the scenes. Things quickly spiral out of control, and the narrative pulls no punches as to the consequences. I was kept guessing right the way through, and found myself rooting for a number of different characters as the story progressed.

This is, I should point out, the sixth book in a series; as such, it’s really best to start from the first book rather than here. Even so, you do not have to have read the earlier books in the series to understand this one. The characters and setting are both introduced in such a way as to let new readers leap right on in.

So go ahead and leap into the world of Wilderhark, and enjoy the ride.

TPG Reviews: Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

I, uh…yeah.

When 17 year old Isabella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father she expects that her new life will be as dull as the town.

But in spite of her awkward manner and low expectations, she finds that her new classmates are drawn to this pale, dark-haired new girl in town. But not, it seems, the Cullen family. These five adopted brothers and sisters obviously prefer their own company and will make no exception for Bella.

Bella is convinced that Edward Cullen in particular hates her, but she feels a strange attraction to him, although his hostility makes her feel almost physically ill. He seems determined to push her away – until, that is, he saves her life from an out of control car.

Bella will soon discover that there is a very good reason for Edward’s coldness. He, and his family, are vampires – and he knows how dangerous it is for others to get too close.

Twilight_cover

My rating: ?!?/10

…Nope, not going to rate this one. I went into this expecting not to like it, and I didn’t like it; as such, a rating strikes me as unfair. The only reason I (finally) did a full read-through here, in fact, was as payback for recently inflicting Meyer’s The Host on a friend. He now thinks The Host is worse, whereas I now think that Twilight is worse; go figure.

So…yeah. It is my honest opinion that Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, is bad. Very, very bad.

Frankly, I doubt that I could ever list all my complaints about this book in concise manner. Every aspect of it has problems in my view – be it the writing, the setting, the characters, the plot, whatever – and it would likely take a blog post each to go properly go through them all. As such, I’m simply going to cut straight to my strongest complaint:

I did not feel as though  Bella genuinely loved Edward.

Seriously. I didn’t. Bella’s feeling towards Edward are remarkably shallow, usually focussing on his (informed) beauty and/or physical prowess, and just about every interaction between the two ended with one or both becoming angry at the other. Not to mention that by the end of the book, Bella seemed to care more about becoming a vampire than about anyone else – hardly a strong basis for a relationship.

To be honest, it doesn’t surprise me at all to have written the above: like I said at the start, my expectations here weren’t exactly high. But something did surprise me, though:

Even after reading it through to the end, I do not understand what readers see in this book.

This has never happened before. I’ve found myself disliking popular books before, sure, but I’ve always managed to see why others like them. I didn’t like The Lives of Tao, say – but a lot of that was down to my personal tastes, in retrospect, and I can see that the book’s blend of SF and spy fiction would be of interest to some people. I didn’t like Talonbut I did get the impression that the main pair at least cared about each other – more than I can say here – and the finale was admittedly pretty darn cool.

And since I brought up it up at the start: I would happily argue at length that Stephenie Meyer’s The Host is truly terrible work of science fiction…but it does have some cool cool concepts in it, and the characters again seemed to at least care for one another. It’s the sort of book that I can see working well for readers who are new to SF – who, incidentally, are exactly the sorts of readers it was originally marketed towards.

With Twilight, though, I just…don’t see it. I’ve discussed this with people offline, and the only thing we could come up with was that it obviously speaks to a certain demographic – a demographic which, clearly, does not include myself.

Anyone got any opinions on this point? As a fan of the series or otherwise? If you do, then I’d be very interested to hear it; feel free to comment at the bottom of this post.

The Ten Commandments of Online Discourse – a proposal

So, from repeated browses though Facebook and elsewhere, I have come to the conclusion that online discourse on science and politics is generally of poor quality.  I therefore propose the following set of ten commandments to guide all such discourse in the future:

1: Thou shalt not generalise from a specific event.
2: Thou shalt verify a meme/link/whatever before thou shares it.*
3: If thou disagrees with the claims made in a meme/link/whatever, then thou shalt verify it anyway. Because maybe, thou ist wrong.**
4: An hour spent researching a subject is not equal to a lifetime spent studying it. Thou shalt accept this.
5: Thou shalt not defend thy denial as “skepticism”
6: Thou shalt not defend thy prejudice as “opinion”
7: Thou shalt not quote statistics without giving thy source.
8: Thou shalt not dismiss thy neighbour’s source without reason.
9: Thou shalt accept that “it’s from a far-right hate group” is a valid reason for thy source to be dismissed.
10: Thou shalt not frame thy personal soapbox as a set of ten commandments…

…well, I guess I’m done.

*If nothing else, try googling it and see if something like Hoax-Slayer comes up on the first page. Seriously. It takes a minute, tops.
** This one is harder, certainly. But as a rule of thumb: if you cannot think of a rebuttal that does not rely on your emotions and/or your personal beliefs, then it’s safe to say that you have a problem.